These things are leading to the rampant suicide, addiction, and mental health problems of today (Pt. 1)

Current social, extracurricular, and educational climates are stressful and harmful to our youth. This week’s guest blogger provides a heartfelt and insightful piece. -MWM

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When I was a junior at the University of Minnesota, I struggled with depression and suicide. On the surface, nobody would would have guessed…I was going to school, had some good career prospects, a seemingly fulfilling social life…but I was silently suffering. And every day I contemplated whether or not continuing life was worth it.

It was a slow slip into this hole and I didn’t know what to do, I had never had these thoughts or feelings before, and I had never talked to anyone about them. (watch me explain more here in this TEDx talk)

It took me awhile to get professional help, but when I did, I realized I was not the only one. When telling my friends, I could only get about 2 or 3 sentences into my story before they would blurt out how much they were hurting too (nearly 1 in 3 college students meets the criteria for a diagnosable mental illness). So I started making videos about people sharing their mental health stories (now over 50,000 views!).

I realized there was something going on with young people as I was not the only one who felt this way.

Over the years, I’ve been fighting to de-stigmatize mental health and support by public speaking at high schools, churches, and other youth orgs. I volunteer as a peer-to-peer mental health group support leader for NAMIMN.org, and am developing ways for people to improve their mental and emotional health. Our latest project is called Marbles. It’s an iOS and android app for people to monitor mental health and find anonymous support, 100% troll and stigma-free.

Many of these anonymous posts and conversations have similar themes and come from people of all ages, but we know the average age of our users is around 24 years old.

What’s the bottom line? Overall, a lot of people feel worthless.

And…it’s not anyone’s fault.

It’s only our responsibility to reconcile. Below is a list of some reasons that a person, particularly a millennial young person, could feel worthless. At the end, I give a few tips as to how to overcome that sense of worthlessness:

An overemphasis on outcomes

The grade has become more important than learning how to learn or the score has become more important than how hard we try in the game.

We tie our sense of self-worth to our performance on tests, in games, our careers, relationships, everything. So, when we encounter inevitable failure, it’s crushing to our bubble-wrapped sense of value and self-worth instead of viewed as a learning opportunity from which to make better choices.

Thus, people avoid situations that could lead to failure and personal growth is inhibited. We are protected from failure in many ways by helicopter parents, more rules — across the board, school, politics, relationships, athletics, getting into college — there are just more written and unwritten rules for young people to abide by, and the stakes are way higher than they used to be.

Parents tried their best to help because they saw the stakes were now higher for their children, and like all things, this involvement is also double edged sword.

Too little has consequences and too much has consequences, and there’s never a correct amount. It’s only after someone crosses a line do they realize a line was crossed…and if you or they don’t cross the line, well then nobody knows where the line is! So please, forgive yourself.

The devaluation of hard work

People think it’s cool to be naturally gifted. The American Idol generation grew up celebrating people who seemingly out of nowhere become instant stars. And most American Idols never even amounted to that much! But that’s not what we saw growing up. We observed over the course of a 30 minute feel-good television program how problems arose, somebody apologized, and everybody was happy by 7:28pm.

Grit and resiliency were never celebrated. There was never a story about the person who studied for 2 hours every night for above average grades, it was all about the gifted athletes, socialites, and scholars who naturally rise to the top and overcome a miniscule bout with adversity.

Even “cool” kids in school were the ones who looked like they never did anything. As a high school senior I was embarrassed to say that I studied for my AP calculus 2 test because if I tied my friend’s score, but I admitted to him that I studied, that meant I was dummer…that I was less than him.

Worthy achievement seemed to be a mixture of good looks, perfect parents, supportive friends, and a quirky and inspiring mentor — none of which are actually accessible for an average 15 year old from Omaha!

But in these formative adolescent years, the messages of what it took to be successful, popular, and therefore worthy, were almost the complete antithesis of what it actually takes to have a fulfilling life.

The wrong goal

All this contributes to young people having the wrong goal, and we are still reconciling with this one. Never once did anyone tell me to seek out activities, hopefully one that pays you for it, that fulfill my life. The closest anyone came was “find something that makes you happy.”

Happiness is the wrong goal though because in happiness, there is no room for sadness, struggle, disgust, fear, hopelessness, failure, frustration, confusion, anger, and whatever else that are natural emotions we all feel.

We thought it wasn’t ok to feel bad.

So, we teach ourselves to emotionally inhibit, avoid, and numb ourselves from those emotions. How? Any distraction we can find — drugs (legal and illegal), alcohol, self-harm, suicide, social media, porn, gossip, bullying, achievement, etc.

We learned to push our own emotions, our own feeling interpretations from the world, away in favor of more “desireable ones.”

It’s been the deepest, darkest, and most hopeless times when I’ve realized what’s really inside me, others, and what’s important.

But it’s not a very fun commercial to watch Adam huddled in his room alone, tears streaming down his face, overwhelmed, thinking about dropping out, filled with guilt and shame.

No…meaningful progress and worthiness appears to be beautiful people cheersing outside on a sunny day.

Yes, that certainly can be what success looks like, but it’s about balance. All I’m saying here is we are out of balance. Too much of the aforementioned ingredients. Too much self-interest, not enough compassion.

Too much salt, not enough diversity. We may benefit from a little sweetness…some savory…maybe a hint of spice in our soup of life, our own personal marinade as my friend Kenny calls it.

What can we do about it?

It’s pretty simple, do all the usual stuff, spend time in nature, eat well, exercise, be with family, celebrate one another, forgive. And, get to know yourself.

Figure out what luggage you are bringing to the situation and relationship. Instead of focusing on other people’s luggage, get to know your own.

What’s the best way to recognize your luggage? Spend time with it, just it.

Sit in a quiet room, close your eyes, and listen to your thoughts. Some call it mindfulness, some call it meditation, call it what you want, just listen. Listen to the luggage of your thoughts.

Simply observe what happens. Continuously let go of the thought-creation side of you, just listen to the luggage of your thoughts…listen to which suitcases the thoughts are stored in.

And if you don’t know how to do that…maybe someone on Marbles does.

Thank you,

Adam

Part two of Adam’s blog will air next week. His post will enlighten us about his personal journey towards recovery. 

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About the Author:  

Adam is an advocate for youth mental health support and understanding. His passion about mental health awareness led him to develop Marbles Inc., an Android/iPhone app that offers 24/7 peer-to-peer mental health support.

Guest blog posts are welcome additions to the content on this website. Guest blog posts represent the views, opinions and experiences of the author and do not necessarily represent Our Young Addicts. Together, we provide parents and professionals with a variety of perspectives and information.

©2017 Our Young Addicts   All Rights Reserved.

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From College Drop-Out to Graduate: The Gift of Collegiate Recovery Communities

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When your kid is using drugs, it may seem like sobriety – let alone college -is impossible. Today’s guest blogger, Teddy Rybka is proof that it’s possible. He’s a young person in long-term recovery and the program director of a popular, growing collegiate recovery community. Enjoy his post. MWM.

I was introduced to recovery at a young age, 18 years old to be exact. I had been an active user since 15 and the summer after high school graduation I decided to reach out for help. Two days later I found myself in inpatient treatment. I immediately regretted fessing up to my parents that I was chemically addicted as it meant I had to miss my first semester of college. What a bummer. I was all set to study business management and play upright bass for the college’s jazz ensemble, and here I was in a facility with other young junkies.

After inpatient treatment and a subsequent outpatient program, I found myself on a college campus. I was so excited about school. Finally, no more living at home with my nagging parents! I remember vividly standing outside my residence hall after my parents dropped me off and screaming at the top of my lungs, FREEDOM!

I was serious about staying clean and sober.

Well, sort of. The clean part, yes, but not the sober part. I could admit drugs were a problem, but I had a hard time grasping being powerless over the alcohol bit. How could I really be an alcoholic? I wasn’t even legal to drink nor had I ever had a drink in a bar. I figured I could control my alcohol use on my own and drink socially. How hard could it be? Little did I know the effort I needed to put into recovery, the support needed, and how recovery was an all or nothing deal. Within a week I started drinking almost every day again and a week after that I was back on my drug of choice. It was so sudden. Within a month of “partying” (in my case isolated drinking and drugging), I knew I needed to give it all up in order to survive in college.

I tried to stay clean AND sober. I realized that drinking led to my drug use and once I picked up that drink there was no telling when I would stop. I sought out help. However, the university I was attending had no support for students in recovery. The counseling support didn’t have any resources besides area AA meetings filled with old people I couldn’t relate to. I tried outpatient treatment again and also hooked up with a therapist who ended up telling my parents that I was a lost cause because of my continuous relapses and excuses based on endless lies.

I managed to complete 3 semesters of college. I got passing grades, but I was a wreck physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I knew I couldn’t go on so I dropped out, and for three years I bounced in and out of treatment centers. I put my parents through the merry-go-round of deceit, lost a lot of friends, and destroyed my self-esteem and motivation.

I never thought college would be possible.

Despite my out-of-control behavior I knew deep down inside that I was better than this; a testament to my parents and their unconditional love and support. A college degree was my dream, but my previous attempt had traumatized me. I thought the temptations around me would be too strong to overcome. How could I find friends who were also clean and sober? How could I have fun? These thoughts almost destroyed any hope of becoming a college graduate.

While at an inpatient treatment center in Minnesota in the fall of 2009, I learned about Augsburg College’s collegiate recovery community called StepUP from a couple of students who came in to share their testimony. A comprehensive program on campus where students in recovery can receive an education while enjoying college life clean and sober?! I was so overwhelmed with hope that I knew right then and there that was where I needed to go to obtain my college degree.

I was sent to California after treatment for after-care which was a great experience. My sober living roommate was a celebrity, we went to meetings in Hollywood, and for the first time I really started to have fun in recovery. Everything was going great until my best friend, and using buddy, was sent to the same place where I was for aftercare. Bad idea.

Within a week of being together we had relapsed and were kicked out of our sober living home. His parents took him back home, but mine would not. To this day my parents say this was the hardest thing they have ever had to do; to stop enabling me and let me go 2,000 miles away from home. I found myself with three options: homeless shelter, the Salvation Army Adult Rehabilitation Center (ARC), or suicide. I chose the Salvation ARC, but soon after getting admitted I contemplated suicide. Here I was, going through withdrawal, the youngest in a facility of 110 men – the majority facing 10+ years of prison time, and stuck working 9 hours a day in a rat-infested warehouse.

That was my rock bottom; but instead of jumping to my death I got on my knees and prayed. I had an overwhelming sense of relief and calmness come over me. I had a spiritual awakening, surrendered to my disease, and have been clean and sober ever since.

I ended up hand writing my application while in the Salvation Army and was accepted to Augsburg College and the StepUP Program. I had never stepped foot on campus, but I knew that’s where I needed to go. I needed 6 months of sobriety so I really immersed myself into my recovery. I went to 4 support group meetings a week, and worked the 12 steps with a sponsor. I really had a goal which made it easier getting through the initial few months of sobriety. I went back to school in the fall of 2010 and immediately hit the ground running.

People in recovery are the most perseverant people in this world.

I am a testament that if you put just 50% of the energy you put into getting your drink or drug into something healthy and positive you can achieve anything. For example, I decided I wanted to get into shape and play the sport I love most again, a sport taken away from me from my addiction. I accomplished that and played baseball collegiately. I wanted to take on a leadership role and become a Residence Assistant and mentor for a group of students in recovery. I got the position and thrived. I wanted to graduate magna cum laude and I needed to get straight A’s my senior year. Success.

Before graduating with my degree in Marketing, I heard that St. Cloud State University was starting a collegiate recovery community and needed a graduate student with residential life experience helping students in recovery. What an opportunity! I could use my experience mentoring students in recovery while the university paid for my master’s degree. I got the position. Little did I know those would be the 3 best years of my life.

To be continued…

About our Guest Blogger:

Thaddeus “Teddy” Rybka has been a person in long-term recovery since February 2, 2010. Hailing from the Chicagoland suburbs, he has lived in Minnesota now for six years. He currently is the Program Coordinator for the Recovery Community at St. Cloud State University. In his free time, Thaddeus enjoys fishing, listening to music, exercising, and spreading the message that recovery works.

Guest blog posts are welcome additions to the content on this website. Guest blog posts represent the views, opinions and experiences of the author and do not necessarily represent Our Young Addicts. Together, we provide parents and professionals with a variety of perspectives and information.

©2017 Our Young Addicts      All Rights Reserved

Red Flags Parents Can Look For When College-Aged Children Come Home For Break

College kids are arriving back home for Thanksgiving, and it can be an eye-opener for families – especially if there is substance use involved. Today’s guest blogger, Rose Lockinger, alerts us to red flags. MWM

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As a parent one thing that I worry about is whether or not my children will do drugs in the future. I worry about whether they will follow the same path that I went down. I wonder if they will be tempted in High School or go off to college and fall into a bad scene, and I sometimes think about what I can, or will able, to do in order to prevent this.

Luckily, my kids are still pretty young so this concern may be a bit preemptive, but with Thanksgiving break just around the corner and college students all around the country returning home for a quick visit, it got me thinking about what parents can look out for to see if their kids are doing drugs.

For the most part your children will never come right out with it and tell you that they have been smoking pot in college or that they tried cocaine, and what’s more is if they suffer from some sort of substance abuse problem, and are not just recreationally experimenting, they will do anything in order to hide their addiction.

The thing that is perhaps most concerning for a parent is that adolescence is a time when they can be especially defenseless against substance abuse.

That being said there are some red flags that you can look out for in order to see if your child is using drugs in college and I have listed a few of them below.

 Red Flags That Your Child May Be Abusing Drugs In College

  •  Their grades begin to drop

This is not always indicative of a substance abuse problem, but often times where there’s smoke there’s fire. Usually during a student’s freshman year their grades will decline compared to what marks they received in High School and this has to do with getting acclimated to the new environment and the higher degree of difficulty that college work brings. But if you notice a decline in grades that appears to be unrelated to anything, or a continued decline in grades then it may mean that your child is having issues with substance abuse.

  •  They continuously ask for money

Many college students are broke and have to rely on their parents for money, but if you notice that the $200 you sent your child just last week is gone because they needed to [insert excuse here], and this is a reoccurring theme, then your children may be having problems with substance abuse. Often times money is the easiest way to find out if your college aged child has a problem with substance abuse, and this is because drugs and drinking excessively takes a great deal of money to do. So if you find that you are giving your child more money than normal, talk to them about what is going on.

  •  You sense a disconnect in them

Once again this is not always a sign that substance abuse is at hand, but as a parent it is fairly easy to tell when something is off with your child. There is a difference between the normal teen discontentment and substance abuse, so if your gut is telling you that they may be using drug, you are probably correct. As much as people who use drugs believe that they do not affect them in a negative way, abusing substances of any kind creates a shift in the personality and it is noticeable to those around the person using. If during Thanksgiving break you notice that your child is acting strangely, ask them about it, and don’t just brush it off.

  • They begin to associate with drug related pop culture

I am going to date myself a bit here, but in the past if someone listened to Phish, The Grateful Dead, Bob Marley, etc., there was a really good possibility that they were using drugs. Children believe that this shift in their cultural tastes goes unnoticed by their parents, but in reality it doesn’t, and while it is completely normal for a kid’s tastes to develop as they move into young adulthood, if you find that their penchant for drug music or drug related movies increases, they may have an issue with substance abuse.

  • You actually find drugs or drug paraphernalia on them

This isn’t really a red flag, but more of a smoking gun, because the reality is, if your child felt the need to bring drugs home with them during a short break from school, this means that they more than likely are using quite often. It could possibly be indicative of a substance abuse problem or it could just be a phase they are going through, but either way it is important to address this with them, so that if there is a problem, it can be dealt with.

I think the best bit of advice I can really give, and one that comes out of my own experience with substance abuse, is that if you think that something is wrong, it more than likely is.

Drug addiction and alcoholism operate in such a way that they attempt to produce confusion and doubt in those closely affected by it.

This means the person addicted and their loved ones have just enough deniability as to its existence that they can turn the other way comfortably. This however does nothing but allow the addiction to grow unimpeded and results in more damage down the road.

So if you think that there is something going on with your kid then address it with them. If you are wrong then great, but if you are right, you may have the possibility out getting out ahead of their addiction and help them to avoid years of pain and trouble.

About Today’s Guest Blogger

Rose Lockinger is a passionate member of the recovery community. A rebel who found her cause, she uses blogging and social media to raise the awareness about the disease of addiction. She has visited all over North and South America. Single mom to two beautiful children she has learned parenting is without a doubt the most rewarding job in the world. Currently the Outreach Director at Stodzy Internet Marketing.rose-lockinger-guest-blogger-2

You can find Rose Lockinger on LinkedIn, Facebook, & Instagram

Guest blog posts are welcome additions to the content on this website. Guest blog posts represent the views, opinions and experiences of the author and do not necessarily represent Our Young Addicts. Together, we provide parents and professionals with a variety of perspectives and information.

©2016 Our Young Addicts   All Rights Reserved.

From the classroom – coming soon!

Several of my students at Metropolitan State University have written blog posts for Our Young Addicts, which I plan to post over the next few days. I think you’ll appreciate their perspectives – I know I do.

It’s an honor to teach these aspiring professionals, who are willing to share their stories.

Midwestern Mama

Guest Blog: A Student Athlete Overcomes Opiate Addiction

PrintA brave, confident young man candidly shares his story of opiate addiction – initiated by using a friend’s prescription pain medication following a sports injury during high school. Now in recovery, he has an important message for parents, coaches, student athletes and more.

It will never go away. The pain, excitement, joy, sadness, fearful, obsessive, happiness, fulfilling, and euphoric feelings I still experience when just hearing someone mention any form of opioid. I can still feel every emotion bundled into one every day of my life. Having experienced the addiction of opioids I am forever lost in its vice grip that will never let go.

It honestly came out of nowhere.  I was the stereotypical high school jock playing two intense contact sports, football and lacrosse. I came from a wealthy, supportive, and loving family with both parents and a younger brother.   I went to a well-respected high school with high academic standards. I grew up with every advantage in the world.

I started drinking my freshman year of high school like many others do. I took my first hit of weed my sophomore year and usually mixed the two on most weekends with several friends. I had access to all the money I ever needed so no amount of anything was out of reach.

My senior year of high school was when I transitioned from a weekend user to an everyday abuser.

I didn’t drink alcohol every day but smoked weed before, during, and after school. Two of my best friends sold large amounts of weed so I never had to worry about getting any and never paid a dime to smoke. I continued to smoke and never considered myself an actual addict of anything. I was still getting high marks in school and still excelling on the sports field. It was one day at lacrosse practice during the spring of my senior year that everything changed.

I suffered a minor knee injury during a practice but thought it would keep me out of upcoming games. Our team was ranked top 3 in the state and I played on the first line so I believed I owed it to my teammates to make sure I stayed on the field. One of my teammates had surgery the previous year and was prescribed 30 oxycodones to help manage his post-surgery pain. I told him about my knee and said he had something that could help me manage my pain and possibly keep me playing.

That day I used opioids for the first time and never looked back. Some people describe their first time using opioids as making them sick, drowsy, or nauseous but not me. It was the most euphoric feeling I ever had.

Smoking a little weed on top of taking that cannot even be described in words. I was HOOKED. I did anything and everything to continue to find them from peers or strangers.

I continued to dabble through the summer after my senior year and into my freshman year of college.

Once I began college, I had cut back considerably for the most part with my usage mainly because I did not know anyone right away who had access to them. I actually stayed clean for the most part during my freshman year and the summer after but my sophomore year at college is when everything changed. I moved into a house with people I knew and some I did not but one thing we had in common is that everyone used opioids and I again had access. I also had met someone who did not go to school there who told me he could get me large amounts of oxycontin for a cheap price. Being they are extremely marked up because the demand is so high (sometimes $1.25 per milligram) I took full advantage. I continued to use this connection for the next year in which I would obtain roughly three hundred 80 milligram brand name oxycontins for half of the street value. My friends and I would pool our money together but buy every single one of them.   I started using them every day again. At one point I would regularly use 80-120 milligrams, smoke an eighth of weed, and drink 10 beers every day. I was completely lost in the addiction and did not even know what would soon come thereafter.

About three years ago is when it went from bad to worse. In an attempt to stop the abuse of oxycontin, manufacturers created a pill that was wax based and people were unable to crush and snort the pill anymore. I saw what happened next coming from a mile away. Because people could no longer get high from the prescription opioids, they began resorting to buying and using heroin. This was exactly how I started. After my sophomore year I had dropped out of college and moved back to my hometown to live with parents.

My hometown was and still is a place where heroin has taken over. I bought my first “foil” of brown heroin and it was 1/10 the price of what I was paying for the prescription drugs. I used that for several months while I lived there before eventually moving to Minneapolis. Once I moved back I connected with a fellow user from college friend who was now using black tar heroin as a result of the oxycontin extinction. I began using this with him every day and was considered now a regular user again.

Over the course of the next year or so I had drained all of my bank accounts and went flat broke. I would call and ask my parents for money weekly to help me get through life. It had taken over me.

It was when I finally met a girl through a mutual friend that finally made me stop. I began hanging out with her more and more and began weaning myself off of the drug.

It took the power of a connected someone through a friendship and eventually a relationship to make myself realize there was still a future for me and I could still get back onto my feet.

I no longer am dating this girl but am forever grateful for the hole she helped me dig myself out of.

I am extremely proud to say that I have been clean for 3 years but still find myself thinking about it every single day.

Our community, teens and especially parents, need to understand the dangers of prescribing synthetic opioids to people to manage pain from sports injuries and injuries in general. The downward spiral that happened to me from managing pain to play a high school sport is something I can never get back and even though I have been clean, I am forever an addict.

©2015 Our Young Addicts      All Rights Reserved

Making the Grade – From Addiction to Academic Achievement

Whoo-hoo! Midwestern Mama’s son has successfully completed a semester of college – sober and with good grades.

Until this week, my son had taken college classes here and there. A few he took as part of our school district’s PSEO (post secondary education option) program – mostly because he’s gifted in math and had taken all the courses available at high school. A few he took after high school graduation, but these he either didn’t complete or didn’t meet minimum grade requirements to continue.

When he graduated (just barely) from high school in 2010, his addiction was full on and he had no interest in going to college in spite of a wonderful scholarship and opportunity to play on the men’s tennis team. Instead, he enrolled in community college and then proceeded to skip classes and within a month or so dropped out without paying the balance of his tuition.

In 2011, he decided the college opportunity was better than what he was doing at the time, so he gratefully thought he’d get his act together and start up for spring semester. That didn’t go so well. Readers of this blog know that the first weekend on campus landed him in the ER and detox, and soon after in getting kicked off the tennis team and out of campus housing.

A year later, one of the treatment programs he attended encouraged us, and him, to go back to community college. Same old, same old. He was using drugs, didn’t do assignments, didn’t go to class. While he technically completed two classes, his grades reflected his lack of commitment and the college placed him on academic probation.

Fast forward, at age 22, as his childhood friends were graduating and getting “big-boy” jobs, he embraced sobriety and recovery. He decided to go back to college for spring semester 2015.

With hopeful trepidation, he addressed academic probation with a heartfelt letter of appeal and asked for admission. It was granted and he signed up for the maximum number of credits allowed as part of academic probation – 8 credits, two classes.

He took the placement exam and scored well but it indicated that he should go back a course or two in math. Stubborn as always, he decided proceed with the next course anyway – differential equations and linear algebra. Tough classes regardless of having completed the prerequisites … even tougher when that was five years ago.

The first week, he realized he was in over his head. It’s like taking a language but not speaking it for five years and then thinking you can pick up right where you left off. Instead of dropping the class, he put in long hours and took out a highlighter as he used “Calculus for Dummies” to reacquaint himself with the topic. Night after night, he struggled.

Social anxiety precluded him from connecting with the teacher or other students, and he failed the first test miserably. At this point it was too late to drop the class, and being on academic probation from his addiction days meant that he might not get off it if he didn’t get a B or better in the class.

Of course, I went into problem-solving mode. (Old habits, right?) My son said he was well aware of his options, including getting tutor. (Old communications style, right?) Being aware of options and taking action are two different things, so he continued to struggle.

Shortly thereafter, another mom on Twitter turned me on to tutoring source, so I signed up and found local options for my son. My husband and I said, this is our gift to you – here are names, contact info and we’ll pay the fee. To our surprise and delight, he took us up on the offer.

The first tutor he met with was a dud. I encouraged him to try another. He did, and this one turned out to be, “awesome.” They have worked together several times now and my son’s grade and confidence have soared.

He continued to put forth significant effort – hours and hours each day to mastering the material. The final exam is today, and while we don’t know what grade he will receive, we do know that he’s learned something of infinite value and we are confident that he will be off academic probation.

Never in 22 years have I seen my son put forth such effort and discipline. I am proud. More importantly, I know he is proud, too!