Good news has finally come to the Shifflett family. After entering an essay contest sponsored by Fairfax County Public Schools, Kenny Shifflett won one of nine awards. He will receive the award Thursday, June 16, at the annual Partners in Education and MentorWorks Awards Ceremony. He will also read the essay, "Someone Who Made a Difference." That someone was Marjorie Ginsburg, volunteer at Hollin Meadows Elementary School.
When volunteer and mentor Marjorie Ginsburg started working with Shifflett in first grade, she knew that he needed help. She was working in Betsy Triplett's class and noticed that Shifflett needed help reading. His older brother had been killed the year before and he was struggling.
"It was clear that he wasn’t picking up," Ginsburg said. "He had been through a terrible trauma, yet he was an extremely hard worker and gave every bit of attention to what we were doing. I started working with him in first grade and for some reason we stayed together. There’s a calmness about him and intenseness about wanting to learn. He is open and friendly — a very endearing child."
Triplett said, "I had Kenny for two years in the first grade. He struggled with the language part of the academics. Knowing that his family was dealing with an incredible tragedy, I walked a fine line between nagging Kenny to get his homework done and not nagging him, trying to lessen the emotional burden for his family. Thank goodness for Mrs. Ginsburg. She came faithfully once a week to read and write with Kenny – for two years.
"If I remember correctly, it was when Kenny was about to start second grade or he had already started it. He said that he and his family wanted to do a puppet/music show for the school. It was such an uplifting and touching performance when Kenny, his dad, and sister brought their puppets out of storage and presented a show for the primary students at Hollin Meadows. They were terrific. I think all the teachers cried. All the students and teachers cheered. The performance was a wonderful example of how Kenny’s family has worked together to keep viewing life and learning in a positive, creative vein.
"I congratulate both Kenny and Mrs. Ginsburg for all their hard work and commitment.
Ginsburg is one of many volunteers from the Civic Association of Hollin Hills who have given their time for the past 15 years. The association will be honored as an outstanding mentoring partnership.
GINSBURG WAS a speech pathologist for many years, returning to school to receive an advanced degree in special education counseling. She worked as a counselor with the Fairfax County Prison System for almost 20 years and started the family support group for prisoners. She has been involved with the community in other ways, started the Reading Is Fundamental (RIF) program at the South County Health Center and serving on the board of the Sherwood Regional Library
Ginsburg worked with Shifflett throughout first grade. She didn’t see him much while he was in second grade, but was then reintroduced in third grade when she started helping him again.
Erica Leahy, Shifflett’s second-grade teacher, said, "When I first met Kenny, I was surprised by how big his smile was. Knowing about the challenges he had had to face in the previous year, I was hoping to convey to him my support and encouragement of his continued growth through the adversity that surrounded him. Academically, Kenny began the year expressing some discomfort when having to speak orally amongst his peers. He hesitated to contribute during conversations and was obviously awkward when I called on him. I knew that he was well liked by his peers and I saw his genuineness as a friend each day as he interacted with them.
“With this in mind, I knew that a goal I had for him was to help him find his voice. One that made him proud to speak in front of others, encouraged him to offer his thoughts during a classroom discussion, and that he was confident when called upon to answer a question. Kenny worked hard to overcome frustration with reading, writing, and math, but his enthusiasm outweighed these frustrations. By helping Kenny to identify his successes, he was able to then find a voice to talk about them as well."
Leahy said that initially, she tried to create opportunities for him to be a leader within a small group activity, or to present to the class something that he had brought from home that was important to him, or to simply read a piece of writing he had worked on.
“Over time, he began to approach me about sharing something with the class or a chance to be the leader of a project. He wanted to read aloud from a book or from his writing and he did it with so much pride. I enjoyed watching him grow and change during those 10 months. But the only thing that did not change was his smile."
SHIFFLETT IS NOW in fourth grade and has given up recess time twice a week to work with Ginsburg as part of the Virginia Young Readers group.
"She's helping me to read, it’s a strong friendship," Shifflett said. "I’d like to keep working with her."
Melissa Winn, Shifflett’s fourth-grade teacher, said, "Kenny has grown and matured quite a bit this year. In September, it was hard for him to come to school. New situations made him uneasy. He would have to go home sick many days. Over the course of the year he has become more comfortable with himself and his peers. He laughs and plays and his able to handle the responsibilities of the day. He has had much to overcome. Emotional trauma has made it difficult for him to progress academically. Kenny, however, is working hard to do well. He started after school remediation and used his recess to attend Virginia Young Readers.
"This year Kenny grew emotionally. Next year he will grow academically. When it is all said and done, I believe Kenny will grow into a caring and good man with much creativity and laughter to share with the world."
"It's really an honor," said Glenna Orr, reading specialist at Hollin Meadows who was instrumental in putting together the application.
All of the students who had mentors had written essays, but Orr felt that the relationship with Ginsburg and Shifflett was special and encouraged Kenny to submit the essay.
"They’ve just had such a relationship — I felt it was worthy of submission," Orr said. "Their friendship is to be honored for their dedication to each other. Ginsburg has nurtured his year-to-year personal and academic needs.”
Orr said that the Shifflett family is celebrating the award and nine family members are coming to the ceremony.
"I think it's wonderful," said Tammy Shifflett, Kenny's mother. "He really likes her — he needed a mentor."
The timing for the award was very special coming at this time; Kenny and his family had recently taken time off to mourn the anniversary of his brother’s death. Ginsburg said that Kenny talks about the incident when something hits the newspapers about the man arrested for Shifflett’s brother’s death.
"He would bring it up, not dwell on it, but mention it," said Ginsburg, who was there to listen.
"I'm so pleased that he had this boost — winning this contest. I'm so delighted for him,” Ginsburg said. "This has been a rewarding relationship for him and for me."