By Frank Lopez
I call myself the reluctant student because I always had a very difficult time trying to enjoy the educational process. In the beginning it was especially difficult because I was legally blind since birth, but not diagnosed until I was halfway through third grade. By then, I had repeated first and second grade and was about to repeat third grade. Eventually, after taking a number of IQ tests and having been found to have above average intelligence, my parents sent me to see a battery of doctors. They determined that though my eyes were practically normal that I have a progressive disease of the optic nerve called progressive nuclearopthamalplasia. My parents then sent me to school for the blind and visually impaired.
I started to learn to read and write and do basic math but I was always playing catch-up. I could never quite compete with those around me. This was very challenging. Though I had worn glasses since I was two years old, most of my teachers assumed any visual problems were already being addressed. I am the second oldest of nine children, with none of whom had any visual problems nor wore glasses. My brothers and sisters did extremely well in school and I was always being compared to them.
As I progressed in school, my studies got easier for me. I started using large print and Braille, though I resisted being identified as one of those blind kids going to school. I took mobility classes but I did it reluctantly. Eventually when I got to high school, I was fortunate enough to be assigned to a resource specialist by the name of Irene Froyd. She was a tall, surly woman who was very demanding, and took a personal interest in all of the blind students going to my high school. She was more than just a teacher to us; she was a mentor. Mrs. Froyd’s husband, Bob, was also was an educator who taught math at California State – Los Angeles. They worked very hard to manage their careers and their family, and take time to mentor the blind students at my high school. Each year they would take the seniors to special events that the blind students would not otherwise have the opportunity to experience, such as plays, museums, circuses, outings, and baseball games. We even went on a trip to a Beatles concert! They also took us to college campuses to tour them to encourage us to go on with our education.
I started high school with a very low self-esteem and a grade point average to match it! But by the time I graduated, my GPA was 3.8 and I was eligible for a half-dozen scholarships. The Froyds were truly inspirational teachers who gave far more than most teachers were willing to give, especially to blind students.
Little did I know at the time how important the roll of my mentors would play in my life, but later on I realized how important this experience was to me. I used to keep in touch with Irene and Bob over the years via phone calls and Christmas cards. I’ve lost touch with Bob and Irene as they grew older and relocated to Oregon. The good work that they did and positive role models that they were will have a long lasting, positive effect on my life for years to come.
Hopefully through my work as a high school teacher, I was able to mentor my students. To this day, I still run into students that I taught 5, 10 or 15 years ago. They will come up to me on the street and say, “Hi Mr. Lopez… do you remember me?” Of course their voices have changed and they’ve grown taller. They introduce me to their spouses and children, and they’re very excited to see me. Often times they will tell me about how much they enjoyed my classes in which they regret not being a better student. I have come to realize how strong the influence of a teacher could have on the student. I always try to remember how important it is to be a positive influence on your students by providing words of encouragement. These are some of the lessons that I have learned from my mentors who helped a “reluctant” student to succeed.
Frank Lopez lives in Sun Prairie.