My son Ellis is not necessarily an easy kid. School was difficult for him from the beginning. Not for lack of desire to learn, definitely not for lack of ability. More for lack of patience, for the visceral need to control situations. More for his symptoms of ADHD, though we’ve never managed to get him diagnosed anywhere ‘on the spectrum.’ His former inability to make a day at school WORK was never for lack of my trying to figure out just why it was so hard for him.
After the horror that was our attempt at kindergarten, I home-schooled him for two years but, in classic Ellis-style (sensing something before I do), he knew at age 8 that he needed to be among other kids. So we tried again. I can’t tell you, especially now (as I am now a Special-Ed para-educator with Tacoma Public Schools), how frustrated I am that his third-grade general education teacher gave up on him so easily, and am, in retrospect, amazed at how hard I had to fight to learn about the program (TLC, Therapeutic Learning Center) that would give him the support he needed to stay in school for full days. Before that, I received phone calls EVERY day to pick him up, get him off school property. Once I arrived to find the (now former) principal restraining him by holding his wrists in the corner of her office. He once told me that, when he finished his work early and told his teacher he was bored, she dumped his desk and said “clean that up, now you have something to do.” I have had a difficult time not reaching out to that particular teacher personally, to let her know just how far he has come.
Last Friday he, an avid writer at home, read an essay he had written on his vision of the future of Hilltop, a historic, and storied, Tacoma neighborhood, to a large group of strangers at the Inaugural Hilltop Action Coalition Luncheon. He was among four students, all who had submitted to the HAC writing contest, that were asked to do so. He had never done anything like that before, he was nervous, I watched as he self-calmed then read it with only slightly, and understandably, wavering authority to a wonderful, supportive crowd. The look of pride on his face when he was finished, as he returned to his seat in the wake of applause, was something I’ll never forget. The other students were equally amazing, and there were tears in the room, for pride and joy in this movement to, not simply maintain, but sustain and uplift this special corner of Tacoma, Hilltop.
The Hilltop Action Coalition is a place to connect the Hilltop community with the services and benefits available to them. It is also the venue, virtual and, in this case, literal, for those who may have a more difficult time finding their voice among misunderstanding, presumption and unfairness.The HAC was that for my son.
This was another step in his journey to rebuild his self-confidence, broken as it was after being called a ‘bad kid’ and a ‘problem student’ for those who did not take the time to look deeper the way his current educators do. The way Hilltop Action Coalition did when they invited this ‘problem student’ to address dozens of supporters, Tacoma fixtures, community members, etc., at their luncheon.
For this, I thank them. Here is the transcript of Ellis’ speech, written solely by him, age 10:
2025. The future of Hilltop, nobody knows… what will happen? The beginning of the end, the end of the beginning. Like me, it will not stay the same.
My school, McCarver Elementary, is new, but also old. Renovated about six months ago, it is the daily education spot for many students and, of course, me, also growing up with Hilltop after stressful days and nights in the Park Place neighborhood.
I am in TLC and attend one hour daily regiments of general education, having gone through three schools that were not a fit: Fawcett, Roosevelt, Stanley. At last, I found McCarver.
Whatever happens, I know I can rely on Hilltop.
I feel, in 2025, Hilltop will be more loved, more like its intention. An incentive is what the readers think I’m hinting at, but it is not that. It is not about profit, but determination. The only incentive is Hilltop itself. I believe in a future foundation of support for Hilltop. Foundations of support are not plentiful, in fact there are very few compared to those only caring for and supporting themselves. Hilltop supported me and, no matter what, I will support Hilltop. The real money-maker is what is in the heart…
Ellis, pictured with Kristopher Brannon (Tacoma’s The Sonics Guy) and actor/filmmaker and writer Gregory Marks. Ellis is holding a copy of the Hilltop Action Journal. In their quest to give EVERYONE a voice, the Hilltop Action Coalition published every single submission to their youth writing contest. Bravo!
Here is a link to a beautiful short video about Hilltop that brought down the house.