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Saturday, May 17, 2014

MUST READ: "Superhero Without A Cape" by West Virginia 3rd-Grader Sawyer Hinton

May 17, 2014

The following story was an entry into an essay contest sponsored by the Central West Virginia division of the National Writing Project, which seeks to focus the knowledge, expertise and leadership of our nation's educators on sustained efforts to improve writing and learning for all learners.

The National Writing Project believes that access to high-quality educational experiences is a basic right of all learners and a cornerstone of equity.

To put the matter of equity in perspective: Sawyer Hinton, the statewide 3rd grade winner, lives in West Virginia's Mingo County, population 26, 839 and shrinking, where the median income for a household in 2012 was $21,347, and the median income for a family was $26,581. The per capita income for the county was $12,445. About 25.90% of families and 29.70% of the population were below the poverty line, including 38.90% of those under age 18 and 18.60% of those age 65 or over.

According to some 50 studies reviewed by the the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, in terms of health outcomes, for mortality, Mingo County ranks 54th out of West Virginia's 55 counties. For morbidity (quality of life), its rank is also 54th out of 55. For health behaviors (tobacco use, diet and exercise, alcohol use, unsafe sex), Mingo County is at the very bottom, 55th out of 55 counties. For clinical care (access to care, quality of care)? 54th out of 55 counties. For social and economic factors (education, employment, income, family and social support, community safety)? 48th out of 55 counties. Only about 18% of adults over the age of 25 have 4-year college degrees.

The challenges are great, and yet, there is this, proudly read aloud by Sawyer Hinton at the NWP awards ceremony at the University of Charleston, W.V.

Remember and re-tell his story if ever you find yourself confronted by someone willing to give up on a child. 

"1st Place" Grades 3 - 4
Sawyer Hinton, 3rd grade
Superhero Without a Cape
Lenore PreK-8
Mingo County
Teacher: Peggy Hannah

Did you know that not all superheroes wear a cape? I have a superpower that makes me very special. I am completely different from every other 8 year old that I know. The thing that I call my super power is what most people call Autism.

I know that it is normally seen as a disability. But I look at it in a different light. I would much rather call it a special ability. Autism allows me to process everything in the world around me differently than the average child. My family has helped me cope with my diagnosis. So hopefully after reading my story, you will discover that there are superheroes all around you. They just don’t wear capes.

I have been called some really ugly names for being different. But being peculiar is just who I am. I want to explain how you could always turn a disability into a superpower by just looking at things in a different way. Take my obsessiveness of order routine for example. Most people consider that a disability. I, on the other hand, just think that I am more organized than everyone else. Now doesn’t that sound more positive by just changing the words?

I prefer to be alone most of the time. But I really have more time to think, read and dream. I come around people in my own time and at my own pace. Is that not how most people get to know one another? I just take a little longer.

My brain is larger than normal. Seems to me that is a positive trait. I have room to learn more. One of the stigmas placed on people like me is that we are mentally retarded. That could not be farther from the truth. I am a genius when it comes to certain things. Putting what I know on the outside is what I struggle with. However, the ability to retain information by just hearing or reading it once is definitely a perk.

So, has it become more apparent that I am super special? I cannot bear the thought of certain textures, smells, tastes and things that have to do with sensory perception. Guess I am just set in my ways. But isn’t every single person that way? I am a little extreme but still not disabled.

I have not mentioned all the quirky things that I do. But what superhero reveals all his secrets? I just hope that I can make a difference to someone else like me. I urge you to take the time to look at the things that make you different and embrace them. Never accept something as a disability, look at it as a special superpower that makes you unique!

Hopefully, now you can see the superheroes living all around you."

Paul Epstein (Sawyer Hinton's former teacher): "The audience erupted in strong applause which built and built. People began to stand and the applause continued. I stood behind the lectern and watched as the whole audience began to rise to their feet. Tears come to my eyes as I recount this moment, probably the most powerful moment of my teaching career, and coming as a punctuation mark..

This is what it's all about. This is what it's all about.

I've been e-mailing the parents and learned they took video. I hope to have it soon. I think this is a powerful story that could spark national interest in this child and in writing and in NWP.

I warned the father that putting this out on the web might change their lives, that, it's possible that if the story got big, for awhile he and his wife might become parents similar to those who travel around with a child who is a sports star, an actor or beauty contestant, and the father wrote this:

"It was an amazing experience! Thank you all for acknowledging how difficult it was to share something so personal. Writing and sharing it was hard but it was also an avenue of escape and release for him.

He said if he helps even one child like him then it was worth it."


Paul Epstein is the former director of the Central West Virginia Writing Project, the West Virginia Young Writers Contest and a West Virginia teacher.

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