Alumni Profile: Heather O’Donnell
“Hill is a treasure you never want to let go of. I wouldn’t be the person I am today without Hill,” says Heather O’Donnell. Graduating from Jordan High School in 1997, Heather received a Bachelor’s degree in child development with minors in art and psychology from Meredith College, worked in early childhood education, both in the classroom and in professional development, and is now an independent business owner.
Heather was enrolled in the summer program at Hill as a rising sixth grader. While she admits she was “craving help of any kind,” spending part of her summer in a classroom was not what she wanted to do. After the first few days, Heather says she did not want to leave. She immediately felt like she “was somebody”.
Each year at Hill Heather gained something new. The middle school years were focused on enhancing her reading skills, learning to do research, and becoming a more proficient writer. In high school, Heather learned vital study strategies and organizational skills; she felt like Hill was “a family” where her academic needs were understood and met. Heather commented, “The teachers genuinely cared about us. They made each of us feel like we were their favorite. Through her experiences in high school, she felt her confidence soar. “I was more than just a little girl who couldn’t read.”
Apprehensive about leaving the security and support of Hill, Heather found the perfect fit at Meredith College. She advocated for essential accommodations, relying on the experiences she had from attending IEP meetings with her parents when she was younger. Not everything was smooth sailing; studying occupied just about all of her time. “I wanted Hill to be proud of me.” One English professor, who admitted she did not understand or believe in learning differences, told Heather at the end of the semester that she was one of the best students that professor had ever taught and had dispelled all her stereotypes. Many of the skills Heather gained during her years at Hill were utilized later, both in college and in her professional life. She is confident meeting new people, speaking in public, and advocating for herself and her child.
Because of her own experiences, there was no hesitation when Heather and her husband John watched their daughter Lily begin to struggle in school. Lily was enrolled at Hill and thrives in the structured but nurturing environment. The support from Hill teachers has helped the O’Donnell family advocate for Lily in her base school. They want to give Lily “the best so she can be a successful citizen.”
Heather has advice for current and future Hill Center students: “Remember, you are someone. You are not alone; Hill is always there. You represent Hill, so show that we rock and can do as well – or better – than anyone else.”
From a preschool teacher who told her parents she could not learn, and a high school guidance counselor who tried to direct her away from attending college, to a wife, mother, college graduate, and business owner, Heather O’Donnell is truly an example of Hill Learning Center’s mission of transforming students with learning differences into confident, independent learners.