How can struggling students attain and maintain a solid level of academic performance? WIRED DIFFERENTLY: My School Journey is a valuable resource that “helps parents and students understand and support their children’s learning issues and behaviors by providing concrete strategies to help children reach their full potential,” according to Dr. Abby Baker a renowned Philadelphia-based psychologist and assessment expert. According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), a sector of the U.S. Department of Education, 84 percent of Black students lack proficiency in mathematics and 85 percent of Black students lack proficiency in reading skills. How do we begin to improve the academic performance of these youth?
This book helps students, parents and professionals work together to overcome the stigma associated with “Learning Differently.” University of Maryland star basketball player Donta Scott draws upon his personal experiences to cover special education related topics. He provides clear, sound and practical advice for parents seeking guidance.
Most importantly, Scott emphasizes the importance of fighting for educational help. He provides a personal roadmap for young Black boys and other youth trying to achieve a healthy balance between accomplishing academic goals and meeting social and emotional needs.
“I’ve been doing this so long, there have been so many great stories,” said Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon. “But this is one of the all-time great stories. Where he is now, and hopefully where he can end up.”
Seven years ago, I was watching the coaching staff of the nationally prominent St. Joseph’s Prep (PA) football team conduct clinic for the Darby Township Eagles Youth Football Club on a hot August day. One of my good friends approached me with a lanky teen in tow. Howard Hudson, a longtime grassroots basketball coach, had a strong track record of identifying and developing really talented basketball prospects very early.
“He’s next… I’m telling you, he is the next one.”
Howard was pointing toward a 6’4” 13 year old rising 8th grader named Donta Scott. Over the years, hundreds of coaches and parents have introduced me to kids and made similar predictions. My response is always the same, I urge caution. All too often, anointed middle school prodigies are passed by their late blooming peers.
“Ok.. Ok… Howard… I’ll catch him when he’s playing varsity high school basketball.”
I just don’t find middle school basketball very appealing, same with freshman and junior varsity competition. Generally speaking, I start paying attention when the kids put on the varsity HS uniform. But, I knew Howard was dead serious about Donta and I figured I would hear about Donta down the line.
Almost a year later, Howard reached out again as Donta and his parents were narrowing down their high school options. As Howard had predicted, Donta had emerged as one of the top 8th grade prospects in the mid-Atlantic region. He had a lot of options including some of the top private, public and Catholic high schools in the region.
A loyal coach with old school values and sensibilities, Howard wanted to help Donta make a high school choice and then see him graduate from that school four years later. We both disdain the school-hopping that prevails among elite HS student-athletes these days. Howard wanted him to have a complete and fulfilling high school experience. I agreed completely with Howard’s approach and felt that far too many of the top student-athletes end up attending 2, 3 or even 4 schools over the course of their scholastic career.
During the course of the school selection process, Donta’s mother, Sandra Campbell, shared his Individualized Education Plan (IEP) with Howard. Sandra wanted to make sure that Donta’s educational needs were fully understood, considered and that an adequate plan would be in place to meet these needs. Howard, Donta and I discussed the importance of the next four years of Donta’s educational developments.
We made sure that Donta understood that he “learned differently” and that he was entitled to certain accommodations and supports to ensure that he could succeed in HS and beyond. Donta, while reticent about his feelings, was extremely attentive to everything that was said about him during these meetings. As a 14 year old, he was reluctant to speak up. But he would make comments and ask questions after the meetings were concluded making it very clear that he fully understood his academic situation. Moreover and more importantly, he grasped what he needed to accomplish to meet his goals of qualifying for and accepting a basketball scholarship.
After considering several private and catholic options, Donta and his parents chose to attend Imhotep Charter High School. While Imhotep is one of the most prominent and successful high school basketball programs in the country, the decision to attend was based primarily on the strength of the special education program and the commitment of coach Andre Noble to holding Donta accountable in the classroom.
With the support of the Imhotep teaching staff and the steadfast encouragement of Coach Noble and his staff, Donta easily exceeded NCAA eligibility requirements.
His four year run, as a starter, at Imhotep on the court will go down as one of the greatest in the history of Philadelphia Scholastic basketball. Donta never lost a regular season Public League game. His teams were routinely ranked in the top 10 nationally and he led the Panthers to 3 state championships as well as wins over programs like Camden, Montverde and Oak Hill.
The University of South Carolina offered Donta a scholarship when he was a sophomore. Over the next couple of years he would receive offers from La Salle, Saint Jospeh’s, Temple, Seton Hall, Penn State, Auburn, Florida and Maryland among others.
Just as we had during Donta’s HS selection process, Howard and I held his hand during the college recruitment process. I told Donta we were like “training wheels”. During the first couple of college visits Howard and I would take the lead during discussions about Donta’s academic background and goals.
We would document academic accommodations, advocate for needed accommodations & services, identify his interests, abilities, talents, needs, learning style preferences and goals. Donta would always listen intently. Then one day, while we were visiting Penn State and entering a meeting with the academic support staff for student-athletes, Donta took the “training wheels” off.
“I got it.”
With those words, he let us know that he was taking control of this process. He proceeded to eloquently discuss his learning “style” and probe the academic counseling staff regarding their approach and the supports they had in place.
From that moment forward, Howard and I took a back seat and Donta assumed full control of his academic development. Ultimately, he chose to attend the University of Maryland. Truth be told, his decision was based in large part on the level of comfort he felt with the Maryland academic support staff. Donta felt comfortable on and off the court during his visits to Maryland.
After a brief period of adjustment and a very minor hiccup during his first summer session, Donta has done very well academically. His GPA has hovered around the 3.0 range and he is ahead of pace to graduate on time. Howard and I have repeatedly told Donta that he is a role model for young middle and high school students that learn differently and struggle academically. He has gradually accepted this role.
Armed with academic confidence built up over two years in College Park, Donta has written a children’s book, WIRED DIFFERENTLY: My School Journey, that will be published by Black Cager Press next month. His book is intended to help parents and students with learning disabilities navigate the high school selection and matriculation processes. Everything was proceeding as planned.
On August 15, 2021, Howard and I met at Donta’s family home in Norristown to spend a few moments with him and his family. It was a beautiful summer day. We laughed, we joked with Donta… under a bright summer sun. We talked cars with his stepfather and then we went on our way.
And then mother nature intervened…
Two weeks later, on September 1, 2021 Hurricane Ida finally made her way from the Gulf Coast to the Philadelphia region. She brought along torrential rainfall. So much so that the banks of the Schuylkill River quickly gave way and the dark, nasty, coffee colored floodwater spread across Norristown and quickly enveloped Donta’s entire neighborhood. The murky, smelly water invaded their home and spared none of their belongings. In a matter of hours, everything was lost…
Fortunately, the fire company rescued the family by boat and carried them to safety. For the past two weeks, Donta’s mother and the rest of his family have resided in hotel rooms as they struggled to regain their bearings. Donta has tried mightily to balance his responsibilities as a college student, leader of one of the nation’s top college basketball programs and a loving son, brother and uncle.
Ultimately, he decided to do what he could within NCAA rules…
“I got it.”
Earlier today (September 14, 2021) he organized a GoFundMe fundraiser and shared this message:
On September 1, 2021, my family and I were displaced from our home in Philadelphia due to the effects of Hurricane Ida. It caused extreme flooding throughout our home and my family was forced to evacuate. We aren’t sure if we’ll ever be able to return. In a matter of hours we lost just about everything we owned. Water levels reached four feet high in our house. We lost TVs, laptops, dining room furniture, our entire family room set, kitchenware, clothing, bedding and countless other items. My family is currently forced to live out of a hotel and expenses are rising rapidly. My mother Sandra has always been the rock of our family. I would not be where I am today without her. She has always worked so hard for our family to make ends meet.
I’m asking you to please consider helping my family get back on our feet. Any little bit will help during these difficult times. I know with your help and our faith we will manage to get through this. Thank you all for anything you can do to help.
Donta Scott #24
As of 10:38 pm, the fundraiser had been active for 11 hours and Donta had accumulated $32,659 out of his $50,000 goal. His extended family has truly been embraced and lifted by his Terrapin family. Donta’s GoFundMe campaign will likely exceed his goal within 24 to 48 hours.
I was there when Donta first visited Maryland. I was there when he took his official visit. I was there when he made the decision to commit to Maryland. I was there when he moved into his apartment.
There were some prominent naysayers that questioned his decision to join the Terps. Never once, not for a millisecond has Donta wavered in his commitment to the University of Maryland. He is truly a Terp for life. In the face of tremendous adversity, he has discovered that the larger Maryland community loves and values him and his family.