Mrs. Grace Adkins is a hero, mentor, and teacher to many. With a 56-year generation-spanning career as an educator, Mrs. Adkins approaches her 90th birthday still teaching, loving kids, and riding over 100 miles on her bike each week. Meet a truly remarkable woman and a personal mentor, Mrs. Grace Adkins.
Below is an enhanced transcript, modified for your reading pleasure. For guests and hyperlinks to resources, scroll down.
Amazing Grace Adkins – my 89 year old learning lab director and the most amazing woman I know
Monday, November 13, 2017
Vicki: This week we're airing some special episodes of interviews of people that I am particularly thankful for in my life.
Now, Ms. Grace Adkins was my fourth-grade teacher and an inspiration to me. She has been teaching for 56 years. She is our Learning Lab Director here at Westwood Schools. I can tell you, in my life, she's probably the most amazing person that I know.
She inspires me every day. I want to be like her when I grow up. She is just an incredible person.
So, Ms. Adkins, you've taught for 56 years, so you've taught for quite some time, and you're not even slowing down yet. You don't look like it at all, and you're getting close to that 90th birthday there.
What keeps you in education?
What keeps you in education?
Grace: There's always another child to help. And you don't give up on children.
Vicki: Now you have some amazing kids that people had given up on. Tell us some of the things that your students who struggle with learning differences are now doing.
Grace: Well, I have one that is a vascular surgeon. He wrote everything backwards, had ADHD, and we had an educational prescription that we filled – and his parents filled at home – and he didn't give up. His family didn't give up. And WE didn't give up. And so there he is.
And of course, I have many others, too, that you wonder if they're going to make it. But you keep on working with them every day. And… they make it. Big time! (laughs)
Vicki: Yeah. I mean, two of my children have learning differences. And you just always helped me coach.
What's your secret for not giving up?
What's your secret for not giving up?
Grace: Well, that gives me a reason to get up every morning! I get up at 3:00, ride my exercise bike 10 miles, drive 18 miles to school. So I'm inspired to meet whatever comes each day.
Vicki: So let's talk about that routine, because actually, you have some family members who have ended up on the radio in Atlanta because nobody can believe your routine. Tell us your routine of what you do in a typical day.
Grace: Well, I just told you part of what I do, but I get up and I ride my bike 10 miles in the morning. And then I have my morning devotional.
I am the guidepost for a book of devotions that Mr. Woodruff funded. I didn't know he did that until after he was dead.
And then I have another Bible study that I do every morning. And then I write down quotes that I want to go through the day with. You know, we're never alone. We always have somebody with us. The Lord provides.
Vicki: Now you read more than anybody I know.
Grace: Oh, I read 30 or 40 books a year.
Vicki: When do you read?
Grace: Well, I read some this morning. I'm now reading another book by Pat Williams.
Vicki: Oh, we love Pat Williams! Ms. Adkins and I talk books all the time.
Who is this Mr. Woodruff?
Now, we want the listeners to know about who this amazing Mr. Woodruff is, that Ms. Adkins is talking about. Would you tell us what your husband did, and a little bit about Mr. Woodruff because he's really instrumental in us even having a Learning Lab here at Westwood.
Grace: Well, my husband and I moved to the plantation when we were 27 years old.
Vicki: And we're talking about Ichauway Plantation in Baker County.
Grace: Mr. R.W. Woodruff. He was one of the greatest men I ever knew. He wanted to help everybody and make a difference. He started his plantation in 1928. The year we were born, my husband and I. And then my husband was there from age 27 until he died at age 80. He was still a consultant for the plantation.
But Mr. Woodruff, when he bought the plantation, saw someone have what they call a “rigor.” And he asked what was wrong with that man. And they said, “Well, he has malaria.”
Vicki: That went on to become the CDC (Center for Disease Control). Of course, Mr. Woodruff's claim to fame, I guess, is being the head of Coca-Cola. And I have to say that my husband, Kip, also works at the Joseph W. Jones Ecological Center, which is on Ichauway Plantation now. So we do have quite a love of that.
Grace: There's just no end to what he's done.
Vicki: Yes. There are many, many books on Mr. Woodruff. I think the thing that's amazing about Ms. Adkins is that so many of his habits – his habit of reading, his love of people, his desire to make a difference – are all part of who you are, too. You've kind of spread that to us, to me.
- My favorite book is Mr. Anonymous: Robert W. Woodruff of Coca-Cola
Let's go back to learning differences. I know some people call them disabilities, but I just feel like everybody learns differently.
Pioneering Work With Learning Disabilities
So you were one of the pioneers in reaching kids with learning disabilities. Tell us what you did.
Grace: Well… the first year I taught was 1946. It was my mission from then on to find out why bright children did not always do well in school. I knew they were bright. From 1946 on, that was my mission to find out.
It took me 30 years, because I was in the Reading Department.
And your answers are not in reading.
I met a neuropsychologist after 30 years. So the way to reach these children is through neurology and psychology applied to education. That's what we've done since 1976.
Vicki: That was Dr. Wagner, right?
Grace: (agrees) And then I met another neuropsychologist. I'd been all over the country to international conferences. This other neuropsychologist that I heard speak in Atlanta in 1981, again in 1983 in Washington D.C., and again in New York in 1986. Then I flew her down here.
Vicki: What was her name?
Grace: Dr. Rosa Hagin. The Center in New York Medical Center was named for her.
I flew her down from New York to Atlanta, and my daughter brought her here to try to help us at Westwood.
Now what I found in 1981 was an evaluation she and Dr. Archie Silver had developed at the Rosa Hagan Center. It was to identify pre-academic skills necessary for academic success.
So from that, I came back. A friend of mine Louise Stevenson. I said, “I found what I've been looking for – an evaluation to identify those children that don't have the necessary skills to be in academics. We started using it, and she said, “Rosa Hagin, a college classmate, and was voted the most likely to succeed.”
Vicki: That's the Search and Teach Program…
Vicki: … Which is really the reason that all of our kids are reading… Pretty much most of our kids are reading at the end of K-4.
Grace: I found another evaluation, and I got the school psychologist up on it. She evaluates our 3-year-olds leaving – some of them are 4 by then, leaving that program. And we have an evaluation on them when they leave the 3-year program now.
Vicki: What's the name of that program?
Grace: Well, it tells whether their social skills and all different types of skills that are necessary for success – whether they are in place or developing.
The Learning Lab Organization
Vicki: People all over the world, I guess, can understand. She always has guests coming in and watching what we're doing in the Lab. So much of it is one-on-one personal attention, isn't it, Ms. Adkins?
Grace: (agrees) It is. All of the work is done one-on-one in the Lab.
We have children in the elementary side through fifth grade. If they have a prescription, we bring them in. At first, we do the Search Screening and give them two weeks to get into their routine while we grade summer work. Then we start filling those Search prescriptions and they're psychological. And that's one-on-one.
Vicki: Now all these years that I've struggled having two of my three kids with learning differences, you've always encouraged me. What do you tell the parents who are listening who – they know their child is bright. They look in their eyes. They know they're bright. But right now, they're just not performing. What do you say to those parents?
Grace: I tell them, “Don't give up.” We see possibilities in each child. And we don't stop until we find out how they learn. We develop a program fitted to them.
Vicki: Yeah. But that can be done anywhere, right? Not everybody can come and be in your Lab. You've done – you know, there are some parents who know that their child is bright, and they can't find anybody to help them.
Grace: Well, I'm having that all the time, from all over southwest Georgia and from the Florida panhandle and Orlando. All around, they've brought their children for me to evaluate.
Vicki: But you know, here's the thing… Doesn't it make you angry when kids aren't able to get the help they need?
Grace: Well… I try not to let that happen if I meet them.
I saw a lady in the doctor's office yesterday, Dr. Goldsmith. And I saw these two little boys smiling, and she was. When I sat down, of course, I spoke with them. They were looking so pleased. She said, “I know you. You taught my little boys. And I couldn't bring them from Worth County, but I'm homeschooling him, doing what you told me to do.”
And I told the little boy – he's sixth grade now – and I said, “I taught Dr. Goldsmith in sixth grade.”
Grace: And that's who he was seeing. So, the parent is feeling what we had set up.
Vicki: So, Ms. Adkins, have you ever made a mistake? What do you think your biggest mistake is that you might have ever made, somewhere in that teaching career?
Grace: Well… I don't know. Every problem I saw, I tried to solve. And I didn't stop until I found a solution. You can't give up when it's a child's life.
Teaching the Whole Child
Grace: One of my students on the board told me the other day, “I know the ‘artist' because you taught me in third grade and sixth grade.
Vicki: She always brought artists in and then checked them out from the library, and so we all know our artwork. It's not just about reading and writing and arithmetic. It's about living life.
Grace: You teach the whole child.
So as we finish up, I know that recently you got certified for Growing Leaders, so you're still educating yourself often.
One time you told me something about how you organize your money. I don't know if you remember the percentages.
Grace: I have a young lady who does houses, and she doesn't do anybody's but mine now, but she's going to do mine. She's gone into photography and made a lot of money going into photography. So she quit doing houses.
The first time she ??? on Phillip Phillips. She was the photographer. She came to my house on Saturday, and she walked in and said she was going to give her money to give her first 10% to the Lord. She's going to give all that money.
I said, you've got to get on this 70-10-10-10 (plan). You live on the 70%. You put 10% on a passbook savings. You put 10% like if you need a new camera…
She said, “Oh I do need a new camera!”
And the other 10%…
Vicki: It's your tithe, isn't it?
Grace: Oh yes. Tithing. It's 10% to tithe, 10% to passbook savings, 10% to buy new equipment. If you need a lawnmower, buy a lawnmower.
And she said, “Oh I do need…”
Vicki: You invest in yourself, and you invest in the things that you need.
Grace: That's right.
Vicki: And it just makes so much sense.
So you're big into motivational books and motivational quotes. You're kind of one of the first people that really – besides my mom, who got me into reading.
Who are your favorite authors?
Who are your favorite authors?
Vicki: Love Henry Cloud…
Grace: Andy Andrews… and those are, in the last 10-20 years. But I've had some over the years, like Norman Vincent Peale.
Vicki: So Ms. Adkins, as we finish up this interview…
You have lived an amazing life. You still live an amazing life. You have more energy than almost anybody I know. You're riding all these miles on your bike, and what do you think the secret is to living a great life?
What is the secret is to living a great life?
Grace: Well, first, you put the Lord first and do His will.
But then you have to do your part by eating right, exercising… and read. Keep your mind alert.
So I read good books, 30-40 a year, and I share them.
Vicki: So do you think that teaching and working with kids with learning differences for 56 years has been worth it?
Grace: Oh yes. And that's what keeps me going, is my family and my connections with my children at school and my church.
Vicki: Well, Ms. Adkins is one who is remarkable. I talk all the time about being remarkable.
I hope that you can see that having her in my life, inspiring me to be more remarkable…
I don't feel like I can even hold a candle to you, Ms. Adkins. You always inspire me.
I remember one time somebody said they went off with you to some professional development. Maybe it's been 20-30 years ago. They woke up at 5:00 in the morning at you were jumping rope. (laughs)
I think you were in your fifties then. So you were a spring chicken, and you're jumping rope. And you always exercised. You always worked hard to eat right.
And you are just amazing, and doing so well. And you're still transforming lives. It's just who you are.
Grace: Well, I couldn't take my exercise bike with me, and my trampoline, so I have a mini-trampoline. I would jump rope, jump on the trampoline every morning before I came to school. And ride my bike. But now I can take my rope with me.
Vicki: That's right. Well, I hope you've enjoyed getting to meet Ms. Adkins. She's an amazing woman. I love her very much, and I'm very grateful for her role in my life.
Honestly, I went to her my junior year. I didn't have the SATs I needed to go to Georgia Tech, which was my dream college. And way back – this was in 1985-86, she actually had computer software to help me improve my SAT score. My score went up about 200 points with a lot of hard work.
I was able to go to Georgia Tech. Now I'm back here. So, you could say that I wouldn't be anything at all, really, without Ms. Adkins believing in me and helping me and helping every day when I was a child.
Transcribed by Kymberli Mulford
Bio as submitted
Grace Adkins is the Learning Lab Director at Westwood Schools in Camilla, Georgia. She earned her M.Ed. at Georgia Southwestern State University. She has been working at the school for decades and was Miss Vicki’s 4th-grade teacher. She is an avid reader and shares many of her books with the students at Westwood. She believes every child is a winner and it is her mission to help them become winners.
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