ECU graduate heads to the front of the class

Out of more than 5,000 graduates in the class of 2017, many are headed back to school

WALLACE — All families have their own traditions that make them unique. For the family of Alexandra “Grace” Perry, the tradition of teaching and being a member of the Pirate Nation flow through the family lines.Grace is the third generation of her Duplin County family to graduate from East Carolina University. Majoring in special education, she graduated magna cum laude from ECU’s College of Education over the weekend and is poised with a desire to make a difference in future generations.”I always wanted to have that type of influence on a child — to encourage them and help them find the best in themselves,” said Grace. “Teaching is in my blood. I always knew I had it in me.”Her grandmother Grace Sanderson Farrior graduated in December 1952 from East Carolina College and her mother was a teacher as well.”I always wanted to be a teacher. I remember hearing my mother talk about her experience. At that time, if you had children, you had to quit working. She taught until I was born in a one-room schoolhouse in Duplin County,” said Grace Farrior.”Mama taught me and my brother for a half-day in language arts. She integrated the arts into the curriculum. There was no art, music or drama in the schools then, so she put those activities into the day,” said Sarah Farrior Perry.Farrior’s daughter and Grace’s mother, Sarah Farrior Perry, graduated from East Carolina in 1983 with a bachelor’s in art education. Farrior taught fifth grade for 37 years and earned a master’s in 1958. Sarah Perry recently retired after 32 years in the classroom.”My mother and my grandmother are my biggest influences. I am honored to continue the tradition of teaching and graduating from East Carolina. I hope to be half of the great teachers they were,” said Grace.Farrior, Sarah and Grace have all had their own experiences in education and teaching. Farrior was the first Teacher of the Year for Wallace Elementary School in the early 1980s. Sarah has spent her years teaching K-12 the value of arts in a curriculum, while Grace advocates for children with special needs, something she knows about first hand.”When they come into my classroom, they might have trouble reading or not be able to do math. When they come into the art room they can be successful and that success carries on into the classroom,” said Sarah.”‘Maybe I can do this math problem or maybe I can read this book because I just painted so-and-so.’ I gave them a problem to solve. That’s all art is, it’s problem-solving and building critical thinking skills. It’s helping them understand someone designed that rocking chair or that house. Art is everywhere, without art there is nothing,” she added.Everyone agrees that helping children feel confident in the classroom is key to encouraging learning. Grace was diagnosed at a young age with severe Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). She has trouble focusing, with repeating noises, and classrooms are not always quiet, but Grace has adapted techniques over the years to help her focus.”Her fifth grade teacher created a list of Grace’s behaviors made from her observations to be passed on to every teacher after her that details, ‘when Grace does this, it means this,'” said Sarah. “It helped her education in the classroom considerably from fifth grade forward.””For instance, when I don’t look at you directly or I fidget with my hair, it doesn’t mean I’m not listening to you, I just need to refocus my attention,” added Grace.By living with ADHD herself, Grace feels she has a better understanding of how children with special needs learn and how to adapt programs and techniques in the classroom to help students find the best in themselves.”It has helped and hindered me, as well as challenged me in different ways,” said Grace. “I can relate to my students more. Learning does not come easy for people with disabilities.”I try to teach my students some of the same strategies I use. For example with reading, they can underline key words, draw a box around names, and use those strategies to help them refocus on reading a paragraph,” she said.Grace spent her teaching internship in a special education classroom at West Green Elementary School in Snow Hill working with 13 students with disabilities ranging from autism to ADHD to emotional behavior disorders.”I loved my experience and the kids. The school has great partnership with ECU so I was able to be a part of a co-teaching model and be paired with a teacher who was very involved in helping make me a good educator,” said Grace.She wore the thumbprints of each of her students on her mortarboard during graduation.