By Cindy Adams


Hunter's first conversation with his Wytheville Minnick high school English teacher, Amanda Funkhouser, was full of both honesty and hope.

"I need you to know that I can’t read well, but I want to," Hunter said.

And he meant it. In ninth grade, Hunter was reading at an early third grade level, but Amanda said she has never seen a student work so hard. He made her work harder. And he hasn’t let up yet.

"The staff at Wytheville Minnick really stayed on top of making sure Hunter had what he needed to succeed," said Terri Webber, Vice President of Program Operations at enCircle’s Minnick Schools. "There have been behavior challenges along the way, but they dug in and kept pushing forward. They engaged the family and kept their eyes on the prize — graduation."

The challenging behaviors were often born out of stress. Writing, in particular, was a source of anxiety for Hunter. But he recently passed his writing SOL, the final test needed to earn a standard diploma. He said he was nervous, but he managed, and that is its own victory. Hunter is very intelligent, with a lot of common sense and even more determination.

Amanda vividly remembers the day he was reading a lengthy and complicated passage from the overhead. He sounded out a big word and turned to her to ask if it was right. What he saw was a proud smile shining through her tears. In that moment, they both knew what had happened. It had clicked. Hunter has now been reading above grade level for two years.

But what Hunter really wants to do is work with numbers. He hopes to get a job that will earn him enough money to begin investing in stocks. He reads books and watches videos about it, and it shows. He speaks of the value of dividends and their financial implications in the most calm and mature fashion. He says this is something he has always wanted to do.

"Hunter has received his standard diploma through hard work, positive reinforcement, and determination from everyone," said Susan Hill, Special Education Director for Wythe County Public Schools. "He has opened a door for opportunities in his future, and we wish him the very best."

Hunter acknowledges that, while he wants to focus on investing in his future, the highlight of his academic achievements is learning to read.

"The hardest part are words that don’t sound like they look," he said. "I still don’t know how I do it, but I do."

Amanda said he continues to practice the consonant-vowel blends and the multi-syllabic words, but his toolbox is full, and his work ethic will take him from here.

"I feel really good about where I am," Hunter said.

And his sights are set on where he is going. Watch out Wall Street!