Interview with alum Meredith Shankwitz
It started with a confession; “When I was in 4th grade I could not read. That summer, I was tested for a learning disability and, sure enough, I ended up having one.” The confession was not to a close friend or family member. It was to 320 members of the St. Louis Park High School graduating class of 2015. It was part of Groves Academy alum Meredith Shankwitz’s valedictorian speech on June 4 as a graduating senior.
Meredith vividly remembers an early elementary school experience when her class was reading Betsy-Tacy and Tib. Her teacher separated the class based on reading ability and she had placed Meredith by herself. She couldn’t read. Her parents, Kathleen and Craig, had a tutor help her after school for a total of almost two hours per day. Meredith knew that something was going on but she didn’t have the words to describe it. It was her tutor who talked to her parents about Groves Academy.
Meredith came to Groves Academy to “shadow” school in the spring of her 4th grade year. “I still remember everything I learned that day. The teacher talked about the Demilitarized Zone and tied lots of different activities to that one theme.” At the start of the summer, she was tested for a learning disability. “I have a little dyslexia and dysgraphia and have trouble with organization and putting things together and in chronological order.”
Meredith started at Groves Academy in 5th grade and stayed through her 8th grade year. “Groves Academy taught me how to ask for help in a way teachers can understand. I learned study skills and, of course, how to read. Groves Academy taught me a lot.” Meredith transitioned to St. Louis Park for high school. “I was super scared to transition. I did not want to regress and take backward steps after I had worked so hard to make progress. I was nervous about falling through the cracks and getting the help I needed.” What were her keys to success? Meredith calls herself an obsessive studier. If she had a few minutes before practice or a school activity, she would spend that time studying. She also asked a lot of questions. “Groves Academy taught me to be proactive and pursue the help I need and ask the right questions when I don’t understand something. I knew that if I didn’t understand the first thing, I would not get the next concept.”
Meredith stayed connected to Groves Academy through her high school experience with visits to teachers and friends, talking about her transition experience to current Groves Academy parents and helping another student transition to St. Louis Park High School. “Groves Academy also helped me a lot with ACT tutoring and preparation. I took the test at Groves Academy and received the accommodations I needed.”
Eight days after her graduation speech, Meredith left Minnesota for New York to work on a farm for the summer and to gain valuable experience for her future. “My neighbor is a holistic veterinarian and has a friend in New York near Cooperstown. They have an all-natural, grass-fed beef farm. I’m working and living on their farm for the summer. I always wanted to live in the country and have horses and cows and lots of land. I went to camp for a month and loved working on the farm, gardening, and working with some cows. This summer I wanted an experience with a larger farm and a bigger operation.” A normal day means getting up 5:30 a.m. and getting home from the field at 6 or 7 p.m. She goes to bed at 10 p.m. and does it all over again. “It’s a little intense, venturing into new waters, but I love it, and it’s so beautiful.” For fun, Meredith likes to run near the glacier lake on the farm and ride horses.
Meredith’s decision on how to spend her summer was purposeful. She intends to start studying agricultural engineering at college this fall. “I love agriculture and my dad is an engineer, so I put the two together.” Meredith said choosing a college was a difficult decision. The summer before her senior year, she applied to six of the Midwest colleges she was interested in and was accepted at them all. She narrowed it down to Montana State and Iowa State and wrote a long list of pros and cons. She ultimately selected Iowa State. Meredith wanted to be geographically close to home, but at a big enough campus to have lots of different opportunities. “I’m pretty nervous (about college) but that’s okay, I’ve been nervous about school before.” And, like her graduation speech says, “With hard work and dedication, you can achieve many goals.”