Gertrude Webb - PAL Founder

 

 

Dr. Gertrude M. Webb, Professor Emeritus and beloved founder of the Program for Advancement of Learning at Curry College, passed away on Saturday, August 4, 2012 at the age of 96.

The impact that Dr. Webb had on Curry College, as both an institution and as a community of people, and most importantly, on the lives of the countless individuals who have benefited from the Program for Advancement of Learning, is immeasurable. We gratefully remember and celebrate her life and her legacy.

In late 2011, we were fortunate enough to spend an entire morning at home with Dr. Webb.  At age 95, Dr. Webb had not slowed down in professional endeavors and her enthusiasm for lifelong learning remained at an all-time high. After her "retirement" from Curry, she became executive director of the Webb International Center for Dyslexia and has served as a guest columnist for WickedLocal.com. In her 90's, she has been studying Hebrew and the Torah, as well as learning to play the piano and the guitar:

CM: How did you originally become interested in working with students with learning disabilities?

GW: I had a very bright boy in my class named Bill. I was teaching English in 1937, and I was teaching the Merchant of Venice. Bill seemed to understand the abstract ideas that the characters were expressing. Nobody else seemed to understand that, so I thought Bill was a genius, until I got his paper from the first test. There wasn't a period, there wasn't a capital [letter], and there wasn't a sentence. Everyone else had given up on Bill, but I didn't. He started coming to see me after school, and so began my work with students with dyslexia.

Do you prefer using the term learning disabilities or learning differences?

I prefer learning abilities. We try to get away from the negative and use a term that would be positive because what we are telling these students is that you have a lot of strengths, you've got to know what they are and use them. Our job is helping you identify them and once you've got them we'll push you to use them.

What was it like in the early days of the Program for Advancement of Learning at Curry?

We had to fight to establish and maintain the program, but we did. Dr. Hafer, who was president then, was supportive but he said to me, 'I'll give you two years to make your program work. If it does, you'll stay on. If it doesn't, out you go.' So, that was the threat Ihad over my head in the very beginning and we worked hard. After two years he said 'Iguess you made it.'

Do you think that a critical piece of students being able to excel is reshaping that perception of themselves?

Absolutely - along with reshaping others' perceptions of these students. Suddenly, people were appreciating things that they could do rather than those things that they couldn't do.

It's said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery - have you been flattered a lot?

I went to other schools and really tried to get them to initiate similar programs because Iknew that Icouldn't take care of all the kids who needed it. Hofstra University in NYwas the first who replicated the program, followed by countless others.

You retired from Curry but never really retired. What happened next?

I became engaged in the work of one of my Curry students, another Bill - Bill Baldwin '84 - who founded the Webb International Center for Dyslexia. Bill and fellow Curry students and alums didn't want younger children to suffer through grade school the way that they had, and were determined to make available opportunities for dyslexic students at a younger age. The Center recently got a new name, Webb Innovation Center for Dyslexia because that's what we've really always done, innovate. But the initials are still WICD, which sounded out is "wicked" (laughs) - but it's not so bad after all.

 
 
 
 

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