Changing Lives

a story about Liam Healy, Summit School Graduate

Liam Healy is the Morning Meteorologist for WVNS 59 News, bringing the weather to thousands of West Virginians every day. Creating weather graphics, studying patterns, and reporting on TV, Liam has made a career out of his love for all things outdoors. With the success he has achieved today, it may be surprising to know that Liam did not have a good high school experience. In school, his mental health struggles put him in a position where he was performing so poorly that he had to enroll in a special education school, the Summit School at Nyack’s Summer School program. After the summer, he was hesitant to stay any longer but in the end realized it was best for him to start living at the school. In part with the help of Summit School staff, he developed an ability to effectively cope significantly with his mental health issues. From there, he believes the staff put him on the right path by motivating him to get up in the morning and pushing him in the direction of his goals.

For Liam, the key to success for a struggling student is to realize that the people in your life want you to get better and that you have to accept the resources offered to you in order to improve your life. Once he realized the staff at Nyack was on his side, Liam’s life changed. And to his surprise, his high school experience prior to Nyack was a lot better once he let people help him target his problems. From the perspective of the Summit School in Nyack, the individualized approach Liam experienced is something they try with every student so that they can get them where they personally want to be. Bill Leone, special educator at Summit School in Nyack, summarizes the approach:

“At Summit we do offer the students the same exact academic program that every other high school in the state of New York does; however, we tailor the program to meet the individual needs of each student who comes. Our students come from a wide variety of experiences in the past that made them or have caused them to be unsuccessful where they were.”

Part of this individualized approach comes as a natural result of Summit’s ratio of students, teachers, and social workers – 12 students for every single teacher and social worker. School Counselor Donna Feehan, who ended up becoming a great resource and friend of Liam post graduation, writes:

“The 12:1:1 works for the students who can’t be in the large classes of 20+ students. So many of our students transfer in from the larger high schools and they tell me all about how they hated that experience. The Summit School works for so many students due to the small class sizes and our students are able to develop positive relationships with our teachers, social workers and school staff. This is just wonderful in helping to build their confidence and self-esteem. The residential component works for so many of our students in helping structure their entire day.”

Donna believes that Liam’s success and the success of other graduates is a result of not just individualized social work and instruction in the classroom but also communication between staff. Once Liam graduated from the Summit School, he ended up wanting to transfer from his first undergraduate school and reached out to Donna for advice about it. Donna believes her becoming a mentor for Liam is a result of staff collectively going the extra mile to understand the student and gain their trust.

Gail Karazin, Liam’s social worker at Summit, believes the structures of support are a useful crutch for students who struggle in the standard high school environment. She also gives some background on the every-day environment,

“Unlike many other residential schools, clinicians seek ongoing communication with teachers and college staff so we can all share valuable information and opinions to better serve our students.”

Liam did not speak to anyone at Summit when he first arrived. The staff were patient with him, waiting for him to come out of his shell. Once Liam started opening up, the staff quickly got him involved in after-school programs. He began eating lunch with two of his teachers and a few other students, and as his trust grew he became comfortable seeking guidance from Gail and other staff on his ambition to become a meteorologist.

The Summit School in Nyack gave Meteorologist Liam Healy the guidance he needed to hone in on his passion, plan accordingly, and execute. Moving forward, the school staff seeks to replicate the success they achieved with Liam with other students. Both Gail and Donna agree that while it’s obviously beneficial to provide students with the resources they need to learn while they’re in school, ideally the staff should also provide students with the right resources to succeed immediately post graduation. Gail Karazin reflects:

“I find that the minority of students of this generation are not well prepared for the next step in life. Many mainstream students struggle with their transition to college. Summit provides an enormous amount of structure and support. After graduation, there is often a total lack of structure, and less support. A student might have months of doing nothing (and getting depressed) before their work or job training begins. It tends to be a huge leap from the intense support offered at Summit and the next step in life. However, on a positive note, I do not think most of our students would have gotten a high school diploma without Summit. And with that diploma they can do almost anything in life, perhaps not right after graduation, but sometime later in life. That is why graduation is my favorite day.”

Fortunately for Liam, the school was able to provide the resources needed. To this day, Gail is still in touch with Liam’s mother who provides her with updates about Liam and sometimes seeks advice for herself or a friend. With Gail’s continuing advice and Donna’s guidance in helping Liam figure out his undergraduate school change, Liam ended up graduating from SUNY Oswego with a BS in Meteorology. While in college, he secured a position as Storm Meteorologist at WTOP-TV 10 and from there moved to become their Chief Meteorologist and Executive Producer before moving on to his Meteorologist position at WVNS. An avid biker and mountain hiker, Liam Healy has successfully established a career that works perfectly in tandem with his lifestyle and at the same he has achieved the level of autonomy he has always wanted.