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By Elana Warsen

Turning a life around isn’t easy. Just ask 17-year-old Beau Anwiler.

A couple of years ago Beau’s future looked bleak. He was in trouble with the law, using drugs, and failing at school. Now he’s sober, raising a daughter, and setting his sights on a rewarding career. Beau credits his recent success to his own hard work and the faithful support of caring adults. The high school junior and Great Minds Learning Center student recently decided to share his story in hopes of inspiring others to believe in second chances.

“I struggled in school,” Beau says. “They kept passing me along from grade to grade. I didn’t want to ask questions and have somebody make a big deal about it. So I just didn’t learn.”

Ninth grade brought big changes for Beau.

“My mom finally got fed up with me not knowing anything,” Beau explains. “I was at a second grade math level. I didn’t know two times two.”

He left the Grand Rapids school district and started at Northern Lights Community School, a project-based charter school in Warba. Around the same time, his mom Patti Jo heard about Great Minds Learning Center from a relative and requested a dyslexia screening for Beau.

“I performed a dyslexia screening and found convincing evidence of dyslexia,” says GMLC Executive Director Marianne Jylha. “In ninth grade Beau was still having significant difficulty reading and spelling and he lacked the basic skills for reading new words. I really don’t think Beau thought he could learn math when we first started. He just wanted to leave it as is. People with dyslexia quite often have difficulty memorizing random things like math facts and lack of this basic skill prevented Beau from learning other concepts.”

The findings came as a shock for Beau, who had long ago given up hope of ever experiencing academic success.

“It hit me the next day,” he says. “I had a feeling of relief. Finally we knew a cause for all of the struggling.”

Beau began tutoring with Marianne two mornings a week for one-hour sessions. According to Marianne, his progress was “immediate.” Following a reading lesson in spring 2016 Marianne documented her observation, writing, “Beau is such a fast learner. I tell him once and he’s got it.”

Marianne gives the credit to Beau, whose work ethic she believes will carry him far in all of his endeavors.

“Beau comes in eager and ready to work,” she says. “We work on reading, spelling, math and vocabulary skills. He always attends his lessons and comes prepared to learn.”

Beau says working with Marianne has been life-changing. It took time to break some of the bad habits he had formed over the last several years, but Marianne’s steadfast presence supported him each step of the way.

“When I started tutoring I was still using drugs. I wasn’t all there. I was struggling really hard,” he says. “Marianne was consistent. She stuck with me. The first few weeks were really hard, then I got in a groove and it went really fast. We made learning plans and it started to click. Within the first year I knew basic math and now know algebra. I’m caught up to grade level.”

As Beau experienced academic success he also aspired to higher standards of personal conduct.

“I was going down a bad path,” he recalls. “Drugs and other bad stuff. I was on probation and in the criminal justice system for three years. My not learning was a big part of it. I wasn’t passing school, so I thought, ‘what’s the point?’”

Starting at Great Minds was the new beginning Beau needed to turn his life around.

“Tutoring helped!” he says. “For me it was a huge life changer. I got off of probation in tenth grade. Overnight I was just done with all that bad stuff. I grew up.”

Chance encounters with people who knew Beau during his lowest days highlight his recent improvement.

“I used to play on the Grand Rapids travel basketball team. People didn’t want me around their kids because of my bad choices,” he says. “What really meant a lot to me was when the parents of one of my former teammates saw me at the store after I had cleaned up my act. They said I was looking really good and should start coming around their kid again.”

Lately Beau has been spending a lot of time around one kid in particular: his one-year-old daughter Izzy. Measuring formula and reading bedtime stories are just a couple of the practical applications for the skills he’s developed at Great Minds.

There soon will be professional applications as well. In June Beau begins basic training for the National Guard in South Carolina. He’ll return to Minnesota to complete his final year of high school, and then pursue a career in welding or heavy equipment operation.

Beau is first to admit that the goals that are within reach now would have seemed unattainable for him a few short years ago. He wants other people to know that change is possible, even in the midst of difficult circumstances.

“It’s all about having people have an open mind because once the door opens to change your situation and address learning disabilities it changes everything and everyone around you,” he says. “That one step into Great Minds made me a better father. If I hadn’t gone to Great Minds I probably couldn’t have helped Izzy with her math homework in middle school.”

His mom agrees.

“Before, Beau’s self-esteem was so low that it was affecting his choices. Tutoring helped his self-esteem,” says Patti Jo. “Beau says he will keep attending Great Minds through college. If he wants to, I will schedule it. It saved him. I can’t say enough about how wonderful it was to find Great Minds.”

Beau wants other people to know that change is possible for them too.

“My message to anyone questioning whether they can improve is to go out in the community and see what resources are there,” he says. “Just jump in and go for it!”

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