NHD Ambassador BOEHNING Overcomes Dyslexia

Maya Hirano, Reporter

Since she was a child, MHS Social Studies teacher Amy Boehning has been living with dyslexia. Dyslexia is a learning disorder that makes it difficult for one to read or interpret words, letters and symbols while not affecting overall intelligence.

    “Dyslexia wasn’t diagnosed when I was going to school. It wasn’t something they knew really what it was. It wasn’t until my first year in college that my English teacher wanted me to be tested for my dyslexia. When I took the tests, I had a third grade spelling (level) with a post graduate vocabulary. I had a fifth grade math level with the perfect logic score. And their test, which shows the extreme difference between the two, shows how severe my dyslexia is,” said Boehning.

    Dyslexia is a lifelong condition that affects an estimated five to ten percent of the world’s population. The condition is a common learning challenge, and makes simple reading and writing skills such as rhyming, letter recognition and remembering sequences particularly difficult. “I can’t sound out words; every word is actually a picture that I draw. I can’t memorize my own telephone number, but I can put puzzles together in my head,” said Boehning.

    Despite her condition, Boehning strives to help students achieve success. Boehning has been involved with National History Day (NHD) for over 20 years. The NHD contest is an annual competition held to encourage students to research a historical topic of their choice while also helping them to develop critical thinking and writing skills. Boehning has won multiple awards such as the State Patricia Behring Teacher of the Year Award for the state of Hawai’i. “I’m honest with my students from the very first day and explain my dyslexia; it’s nothing to be embarrassed about because there’s nothing I can do about it. I just have to figure out how to work around it. I think the positive is my students see that I have my own problems, and if I can overcome them, then they can overcome them too. You know, not make excuses,” said Boehning.

    While still trying to overcome her recently diagnosed dyslexia, Boehning started her journey with NHD in college as a judge. Today she is a NHD ambassador, has judged final rounds of competition for four years, and is participating in this year’s rules revisions. She first got hooked on NHD when she helped to lead a group of students all the way to Nationals at the beginning of her teaching career. “It’s not just a paper and it’s not just a project; it’s something that provides them (with) the skills on how to analyze the real world — to ask questions, to research or find evidence for the answers and to draw conclusions and make their own decisions. And that is so important,” said Boehning.

    Boehning has had a love for traveling since she was young. She has visited 34 countries and all 50 states, recently traveling to Croatia. Her travels allow her to further her knowledge and acquire hands on experiences, as well as give her the opportunity to educate students abroad. “What I see, what I learned outside of the classroom, I’m able to bring into the classroom and make it real,” said Boehning. “The other exciting part is (that) the two years I was in Korea, I actually presented History Day in the classroom and worked with students from South Korea. I remember sitting down and having a conference (where) we talked about possible topics, and I got to see the ending part where they placed second in the nation.”

    Boehning always finds time to assist students with their research. She also leads by example through her research. “What history has taught me as a teacher is that I need to continue learning too, and watching my students do their projects I’m inspired to do my own,” said Boehning. “I did interviews—one of my soldiers from Hawaii I contacted through Facebook. I found his children and they gave me pictures of him. I actually got to put his life story together that they didn’t know because they were too young to remember him. I got to give it back to them — all of my newspaper articles and research and for that family. I reconstructed their father’s life for them.”

    Additionally, Boehning mentors elementary students after school at Mililani Waena and Mililani Ike. Boehning helps them to complete history day projects of their own and even compete at the state competition. The students learn how to better accomplish historical inquiry and research projects. “Both schools have been very competitive and that is just amazing,” said Boehning. “It’s not about memorizing facts and dates of people, but to really dig in deep and learn about different points in history. That’s why I love (National) History Day, because students draw conclusions that people sometimes never thought about, and students teach me something new every day.”

    This October, Boehning attended a three day meeting in College Park, Md. where the NHD office is located. She worked together with the NHD committee on this year’s NHD rules revisions.