By Starla Pointer • Staff Writer • 

Shadow Project book encourages courage

Starla Pointer/News-RegisterGrandhaven teacher Jolene Heinrich reads “The Boy Who Learned Upside Down” to her students.
Starla Pointer/News-Register
Grandhaven teacher Jolene Heinrich reads “The Boy Who Learned Upside Down” to her students.

“The Boy Who Learned Upside Down” is based on the same circumstances that led her to start the project for special education students.

Her son, Alex, struggled with learning challenges. He was placed in special education classes, and, with help from teachers and encouragement from his dog, Shadow, he worked hard, persevered and learned to believe in himself.

Now 25, Alex has spoken to school groups, describing his journey and encouraging them to never give up, his mother said. And Scatterella has taken the Shadow Project’s goal setting, perseverance and incentive program to numerous schools in McMinnville and Portland, thereby encouraging hundreds of other students.

She hopes her book will reach even more children. It begins with reading class.

“As Alex ran his finger under each line, the letters began to wiggle and squirm. ‘Hold still!’, he hissed, pressing his finger down to stop them.

“It was no use! Suddenly, whole words seemed to be jumping out of the book and scurrying down the hall.

“Alex slumped in his seat. Reading was too hard. Everything about school was too hard.”

Teachers intervene and help Alex by placing him in special education. And the teacher there offers incentives, including the chance to earn a cool stuffed rat.

“You can earn it by being a courageous student,” said Mrs. Sandy. “First, tell yourself I can! instead of I can’t. It takes courage not to give up. Next, help someone else. And finally, believe in yourself. That takes the most courage of all.”

At Grandhaven, Scatterella distributed copies of “The Boy Who Learned Upside Down.”The Standard Charitable Foundation made it possible for each special ed student to receive a copy.

Teacher Jolene Heinrich, who uses the Shadow Project, read the book aloud to her class. But first she posted words associated with the book on her classroom’s “concept wall.” In addition to the main concept, “courage,” she added related words such as “bravery,” “spirit,” strength” and the district’s word of the year, “grit.”

“What do these words have in common?” she asked her students, who knew they all related to courage. Then she asked, “What does courage mean?”

“To believe in yourself,” Connor Wilt answered.

He and other students gave several examples of times they have struggled, but believed in themselves and refused to give up.

“It takes courage to not give up,” the teacher said.

“And it takes trying,” Connor added.

Scattarella demonstrated courage and perseverance in starting the Shadow Project and in turning Alex’s story into a book.

She originally planned to make “The Boy Who Learned Upside Down” a text-filled chapter book. But her publisher encouraged her to make it a picture book, instead.

The author said she is delighted with the results. Illustrator Winky Wheeler “really captured what it’s like to try to read, or to think about what it might like to be placed in special education,” she said.

For instance, she pointed out the drawing that accompanies a section of the book in which Alex discovers he’s being placed in a “special class,” when all he wants is to be like everyone else. Wheeler’s illustration shows him imagining he’s tied to a chair in a dungeon, overseen but mean books and spelling lists.

When Heinrich read the book to her students, they nodded at Alex’s experiences, many of which they could relate to. They loved the humor Scattarella had added, as well.

Midway through “The Boy Who Learned Upside Down,” Alex’s teacher announces a spelling test.

“Spelling made Alex feel stupid. Too many letters looked one way and sounded another, and sometimes they didn’t make any sound at all! ‘I’d rather pour milk on a bowl of broccoli and eat if for breakfast,’ Alex thought.”

“Yuck!!” the Grandhaven students cried, laughing with delight.

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