Roxanne Henke’s granddaughter, Simone, celebrates a milestone.

Simone, the granddaughter who made me a grandma for the first time, graduated from elementary school (fifth grade in Texas). I know, an elementary school graduation might be an eye-roll event for some people. What’s the big deal?

School came easy for me. I hardly remember studying, although I must have. I didn’t get the top grades, but I was consistently on the B honor roll. Algebra II and physics were my downfall. Geometry was the worst!
School came easy for Simone’s mom, Rachael, too. She was much better at math than I was and graduated near the top of her class.

So, I think both Rachael and I assumed any child/grandchild would follow in our footsteps. Easy.

That’s not Simone’s story.

When Simone talks about school, she mentions her “first” second grade and her “second” second grade. She struggled through first grade. I tried to help from afar, Skyping flashcards some evenings. Her parents wanted to hold her back, but the school system assured them she would be “fine.” Well, she wasn’t. She struggled through second grade, too. So, her parents insisted she repeat that grade.

Yes, she’s been tested. She doesn’t fit any of the categories. She does not have ADHD. She does not have dyslexia. She was assessed as having an “eye-tracking” problem, so we tracked down therapy for that issue. She was so diligent about her eye homework, which helped. But, it wasn’t a be-all-end-all solution.

She tries SO hard, it’s almost painful to watch.

In the early grades, when Simone read outloud, it sounded something like this: “Ta-ha-e. Ta-haa-e.”

“The,” I’d slowly prompt.

“The,” she’d echo confidently. “C-c-caaa-ta? The ca-at? The cat. Whe…wen…t…t. Went?” She’d look at me with a question in her eyes. I’d nod. She would start over. “The c-cat went oww..t…out? Sssss…iii..da…de. Sssiiddee. Owwwt…sside?” Then I chime in and verify. “Yes, the cat went outside.” Another nod and she tackled the next sentence. I was exhausted just listening. I can’t imagine how she felt.

I have to give her kudos, because the kid could sound out words like no one I know. She knew every letter of the alphabet and the specific sound it made. But, sounding out whole words and putting those sounds together was such a painstaking endeavor. By the time she got to the end of a sentence, she had no idea what she just read.

But, she never gives up. Every one of her teachers has commented on how hard she tries. One year, she was given a “perseverance” award. They should put Simone’s photo in the dictionary. She is the epitome of the definition: “persistence in doing something, despite difficulty or delay in achieving success.” Her tenacity is a talent all its own. There should be some kind of “grade” for that. I give her an A.

A year or so ago, her mom, younger brother and I went mini-golfing. Axel was all about winning. If he flubbed a putt, he stomped his foot, or pouted until he beat one of us on the next hole. Simone played the game in her own fashion. She aimed one direction and the ball would fly off another direction. She would laugh, go get it and set up to try again. She kept it up for all nine holes. She was having fun. There should be high marks for that, right? Another A.

She put aside her shyness and tried out for the middle school dance team for next fall. She choreographed a solo routine. She put together a short statement telling why she wanted to be on the team. One of the reasons she cited is “because dancing helps me express my emotions.” That’s deep insight from an 11-year-old. She told me she didn’t expect to actually make the team, but she wanted to try. Because of her struggles in the classroom, Simone is used to not being first. She was ready to hear, “Sorry.” Instead she heard, “You were selected!” A+.

She is artistic, creative and has an eye for the smallest details. She makes beautiful beaded jewelry. And, she can mimic most any animal sound you mention so spot-on you would swear there was a kitten in the room, or a loon on the lake. Certainly those abilities should count for something. An A.

When I asked what her favorite subject was in school, without hesitating, she said, “Poetry.” Then she explained, “Well, that’s really not a subject, I just like to write it.” Shouldn’t there be a grade for that? Of course there should: A.

Unfortunately, those talents aren’t how “the system” works. Simone has scores of hoops to jump through in the years ahead. But the skills she’s learned from her struggles – persistence, tenacity, perseverance – will serve her well. I’m positive, come high school graduation, Simone will graduate with all A’s in the subject of AWESOME.

Roxanne (Roxy) Sayler Henke attended school in rural North Dakota, where she still lives. She graduated in a class of 50 students. The top 10 students were “honor students.” She was number 11. (That math!) You can contact her at