Vandalia 7th-grader, Drew McDowell is a very busy young woman. When she is not engaged with schoolwork and friends, you will find her on the volleyball court (often with her friends). It’s only her second year playing volleyball, and while she says it is a really challenging sport, she picked it up quickly and now plays on both the school and travel teams. The travel team is a bonding experience with her teammates and the more they play together the closer they get. As an afterthought, she also mentions track and field. But that is really only a means of staying fit for volleyball season.
She thinks she’ll definitely want to play volleyball in college, and is aiming for a Division 1 team at either Nebraska or Texas. The other important criteria is that they have a solid pre-med program. Drew wants to be a doctor who treats diabetes—a disease which she is all too familiar with. Since being diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, Drew has had to get used to wearing a device that distributes medicine throughout her body. She also has to inject herself with insulin saying, “I just do it and get on with life.” It is clear that diabetes is not going to slow Drew down. It’s encouraging to see that Drew is living a completely normal and active life thanks to good health care and support in managing her diabetes. The rate of Type 1 diabetes in children in the U.S. has been growing at concerning rates according to recent research from the Centers on Disease Control. Should Drew achieve her goal of becoming an endocrinologist (a doctor that treats diabetes) she will be a valuable addition to the field because of her own lived experience.
Her back up career plan if needed? She would want to be a sixthgrade teacher. We asked why, specifically sixth grade? Drew notes that as the first year of middle school, sixth grade is where students often need the most support and guidance. She wants to be the one to help them. There’s that Vandalia empathy and helping spirit once again! We ask why she thinks she is such an empathetic person at a young age. Drew says that her diabetes had a lot to do with it. As a young child, the disease and learning to deal with it were central to her family. She tired of always being the center of attention and sought ways to bring her brother and friends into the spotlight instead.
The frequently repeated theme of empathetic parents, teachers, and students at Vandalia is a hallmark of this special community. Perhaps if we could understand the “secret sauce” we could share it with a world in deep need of greater empathy. Schools everywhere are trying to find ways to teach empathy. It seems to grow more organically in Vandalia—that is to say, if you grow up in a community of caring people, you feel cared for, safe, and secure and want to pass on the same to others.
At school, Nurse Brittany, has been a huge help and support to Drew and, along with her parents and teachers, is a major source of inspiration. Noting that Drew’s thoughts on a career match the grown-ups who have influenced her in life, Drew says that it is not just the subject but the fact that they are kind and caring people that inspires her to want to be like them, no matter what path she ends up choosing.
Her favorite subject is Language Arts, and favorite teacher is Mrs. Collingwood, who teaches it. She loves reading and some kinds of writing. In class now they are reading, The Outsiders, which she is really enjoying. She also loves the I Survived action book series.
When we ask about plans after high school, Drew immediately responds: “Of course, college.” And the surprise of this interview? There’s always one. Drew’s is an intense desire to live on Tybee Island in Georgia and work in nearby Savannah (where, no small coincidence, a doctor who treated her diabetes moved). It’s unclear whether Drew has actually been to Georgia or just has come up with this dream in her own imagination but either way she has a goal to work towards. And if you don’t know where you want to go, it’s hard to steer our ship to get there, right?