Like many 13 year olds, Esabella Strickland dreams big and is dreaming even bigger since getting to her new school.
Now Esabella, who started at Kenneth Gordon Maplewood School in the Seymour area last year, is lending her talents in order to help out the charity that helped her get here in the first place.
On Sunday the Grade 8 student will be a youth co-host during the 53rd annual Variety Show of Hearts Telethon, which is Variety Children’s Charity’s biggest fundraising event of the year.
“They helped me go to this school, so I want to help them,” explains Esabella, from the library at Kenneth Gordon Maplewood School last week.
Her co-hosting duties during the eight-hour telecast slated to air on Global BC Feb. 10 will include introducing family vignettes, musical guests, and encouraging viewers to donate by calling 310-KIDS or by visiting variety.bc.ca.
“I’m going to be talking and interviewing people and doing a bunch of presentations. They’re going to be interviewing me at one point,” she says. “I need to study some lines on how things will go.”
Esabella is enthusiastic, outgoing and energetic; she loves video games and drawing, reading and writing, and, although she’s only in her early teens, is already an experienced actor. She lists off her dreams, passions and goals with ease, even though there was a time a few years ago when she felt like things weren’t coming together as easily as they should have.
Esabella was in the third grade when she started to notice she was having some challenges when it came to reading.
“I knew something was different because I couldn’t read as fast and I would stutter with it,” she says.
Following a psychological and educational assessment some time later, it was determined that Esabella had dyslexia and ADHD. While Esabella and her family could cope with her diagnosis, they felt like her previous school wasn’t offering a supportive enough environment for her.
Esabella was also being bullied after other kids noticed she was being pulled out of class for special instruction following her dyslexia and ADHD diagnosis.
Esabella’s father, Michael Strickland, says there was a big climax between a bully and Esabella at her old school that spurred the family to move on. “There was a meeting at her old school between this bully and her. It was just about a month before spring break and it was a teacher, the counsellor, this bully, and [Esabella]. She left the meeting crying. She didn’t feel supported, we weren’t getting anywhere with the school,” says Michael.
Then they discovered Kenneth Gordon Maplewood School, an alternative high school program located in North Vancouver geared for students with learning differences.
“They understood what the kids were going through, and also they broke down how the kids learned and put them in groups based on how they learned,” says Michael.
After reaching out to Variety, the organization gave the family a grant to help support them financially with sending Esabella to her new school.
For more than 50 years, Variety Children’s Charity has sought to help B.C. children living with special needs by providing them with funds and support in a wide spectrum of categories. Last year’s Variety Show of Hearts Telethon raised more than $5 million, according to a press release from the charity.
“When I had my test to see if I had ADHD, dyslexia, or something else, my highest point was memory. I can memorize very easily and I just remember the order they go in. If I go over it a few times then it sticks in my head. I can still remember the lines from the audition I had yesterday,” says Esabella, whose acting chops have led her to appear in a number of short films, though her current passion, among many, is in digital media and animation, of which she plans to pursue further by preparing an application to Electronic Arts Teen Animation Scholarship Program.
The family is thrilled to have received the support from Variety to send Esabella to Kenneth Gordon Maplewood School, with Michael noting the travel time from Vancouver to the North Shore “takes a little longer but is way worth the commute.”
For Esabella, she likes that students aren’t “labelled” at her new school, instead getting to benefit from teachers who understand what students are going through and who can help them thrive while contending with their unique learning differences. She’ll keep that in mind during her co-hosting duties this weekend.
“I really like it here,” she says.