“Oh I remember you…you were the kid that never got anything right on your spelling tests,” said a student to the new boy in his seventh grade class. What that student did not yet realize was that the boy he recognized had transformed after having spent four years at The Lewis School. The boy was Fred Beer, a beautifully dyslexic child who once struggled to read, write, and spell. Today, he is a groundbreaking business leader, having co-founded several organizations and leading a major software product development firm.
“I don’t remember first grade much,” says Fred today, “[because] it crushed my confidence…It was hard to read and I saw things backwards.” With the help of his parents, Fred discovered The Lewis School. “My parents kept telling me that [my dyslexia] was an advantage because I would see things differently and it would teach me to work hard,” he recalls. Fred found that same philosophy at Lewis, where he was taught to focus on his strengths as a way of improving his weaknesses.
His former teacher, Mrs. Muschlitz, remembers Fred as a vibrant, good-hearted, diligent student who was hungry for knowledge. Fred remembers a lot about his years at Lewis, as well – teachers like Mrs. Muschlitz whose support and positivity made all the difference to Fred, the nurturing environment of the building itself, and the methods of teaching that are especially unique to Lewis. “I remember the Object Box fondly,” says Fred. “My father had a dictionary of strange words. I looked up the longest word I could in that dictionary. I think it had something like 30 or 40 letters. Next time we did the object box, I proudly brought out the long word to win that object.”
The most lasting memory for Fred is of the cold winter months. “I remember not having snow days,” he says. “The story was that Mrs. Lewis was from Canada, so even when every other school was closed for two inches of snow, we were open. Living in upstate New York today, I can appreciate how 2 inches of snow is a non-event, but when I was young I wanted the snow days. I remember one time when only a few kids made it to school and, of course, I was one of them.”
Fred attended The Lewis School for four years and several summers between the third and sixth grade. When he was ready, Fred moved on to a new school not far away where he was reunited with that old classmate who recognized him as the boy who could not spell. What that classmate would soon find out was that he was in the presence of a more enlightened child with stronger mechanics and newfound confidence. “It didn’t matter that I was a really slow reader,” Fred explains. “I developed great skills at listening in class and taking notes. I learned how to work hard and get good grades…These skills have stayed with me to today.”
Now, as president of ITX, Corporation, a company he co-founded, Fred looks back on his time as a Lewis School student with appreciation for the teachers who worked with him and, more importantly, for his own dyslexia. His words must surely resonate with so many who have been a part of the Lewis story the past 45 years: “Having dyslexia is an advantage if you believe it is.”