Erica Allenburg does everything for her son, Paul. This winner of a Connecting With Kids Leadership award is dedicated to her child and education in Edina. She was the PTO president at Creek Valley Elementary and volunteered for the Edina Football Association. But her favorite topic is Arete Academy because she says it changed her son’s life.
In 2014, Paul was placed in Creek Valley’s gifted reading program because he could read and comprehend at a high school level. However, he was struggling with writing.
“He was basically failing gifted reading,” Allenburg says. “Because of that, he very quickly became down on himself. He couldn’t keep up with that work. He started doing poorly in his other class work and his gifted teacher suggested he might have a learning disability. That’s when we found out that he had a pretty severe form of dysgraphia.”
Dysgraphia is a learning disability where it is difficult to write and express thoughts and ideas on paper. The combination of being gifted and having a learning disability is what the educational world calls, “twice exceptional.”
“Imagine having the brain and being as bright as these kids are…[but] you can’t get anything out of your brain,” Allenburg explains. “A lot of these kids get measured in a school setting on traditional measurements and they feel like failures. It’s just a tragedy to me.”
Allenburg looked into private schools for Paul. She’d become desperate to find a place to correctly teach her child. That desperation prompted Allenburg to open up Google and type “twice exceptional” into the search field. That’s when Arete Academy popped up on her screen. The Allenburgs toured the school and Paul started there in January 2015—the school’s first year.
Paul began to feel comfortable at the school, which has close to 30 kids. Now, he enjoys going to class every day and having teachers who understand him.
Allenburg says the difference is like night and day.
“She’s just so appreciative,” Leah Brzezinski, Arete’s founder and team leader, says. Allenburg created a PTO and organized a successful fundraiser for the school.
Jen Berge, who volunteered with Allenburg on the Creek Valley PTO, nominated her for the CWK Award.“I looked all over [Arete’s] website to see if her name was anywhere on it, but it is not. That is the type of person she is. She lays herself out there with no desire for recognition,” Berge says.But it’s what Allenburg’s done behind the scenes that Brzezinski says matters the most.
“She is a parent that pushes us to be our best in a kind way. The expectations of Erica have always kept us being better,” Brzezinski says.
Allenburg insists her volunteering is not about her.
“I would do anything to keep my son here. I would do anything to help a place that helped my son thrive,” Allenburg says.
Brzezinski smiles and says, “She is an advocate and a leader and doer. She’s very capable of getting stuff done, regardless of the organization. She’s being humble about Arete. That’s why she got the award.”