By Cindy Adams


Robert has been walking the halls of Wytheville Minnick since he was in first grade. He started in the Adapted program and transitioned to the General Education building in third grade. This spring, he will walk out the front door as a student for the final time. He will carry with him a standard diploma, just like students graduating from public schools. He is an A/B student, considering community college. He is remarkable.

"Rob is an absolute success story," said Kim Thompson, Community-based Special Education teacher for Pulaski County Schools. "He wouldn’t have made it without Minnick. The personalized instruction and unwavering support of the staff and administration helped him get where he is today."

When Rob arrived in the Adapted program, he could barely speak, and learning to read was a major hurdle. In ninth grade, Rob was reading at a kindergarten level. He struggled to recognize common words. He knew some letters, but he couldn’t associate sounds with them. Amanda Funkhouser, his high school English teacher, and Allison Kirby, his assistant teacher knew he had refined auditory skills and strong retention. He had even developed a rich verbal vocabulary. He could also sketch about anything in minutes and was particularly fond of drawing monsters.

His teachers decided to leverage his drawing prowess to help him overcome his word blindness. They asked him to transform each letter of the alphabet, both capital and lowercase, into the form of a monster. Then, they asked him to name the monster using the sound of the letter. For example, "Mule" is the name of the uppercase "M" monster and "monkey" is the name of the lowercase "m" monster. Rob’s letter-monsters connected sounds with letters, creating the basis for forming words and the foundation for reading.

Robert Woody Mule and Monkey

"When they are engaged, that’s when the topic you are teaching becomes a part of their world," Amanda explained. "Rob is a talented artist. We just had to find a way to use his giftedness."

Rob says Amanda and Allison are his "rocks." They provide him the safe space he needs to grow.

"I'm grateful for all the people I have met along the way," Rob said. "Sometimes I wonder what it would have been like in public school. Would it have been better or worse? I cannot say."

Rob's sister, Ariel, says their family is particularly proud of the life skills he has learned at Wytheville Minnick. His social maturity is evident as he is quick to shout-out a fellow classmate, Hunter, who is also graduating this year. He also acknowledges his emotions about leaving his friends, and he admits that he is a little nervous about the next chapter.

"It's a new point in life. It's a big change," he said.

But Amanda says Rob has a personality that draws you to him. She’s not as concerned. She clearly sees his strengths.

"Rob has always challenged me," she said. "He makes you think."

Amanda and Allison have made Rob think as well.

"They taught me not to sit by and just let stuff happen," Rob said. "You get up and you take care of yourself."

And he certainly did.

Robert Woody poses with his teachers