Whitnall student passes a difficult test toward success

Emily Meyer overcomes personal, academic adversity to win Herb Kohl Initiative Scholarship

Beth (left) and Emily Meyer laugh as they look at family photos. Emily, a recent Whitnall graduate, earned a scholarship by overcoming personal and academic adversity.

Beth (left) and Emily Meyer laugh as they look at family photos. Emily, a recent Whitnall graduate, earned a scholarship by overcoming personal and academic adversity. Photo By C.T. Kruger

June 17, 2014

Greenfield — Like many mothers and daughters, Emily Meyer and her mother, Beth Binash-Meyer, share a special bond. They play board games together at home, look at old pictures, and have open, honest conversations.

But unlike for most mothers and daughters, death is now a necessary topic of discussion.

Binash-Meyer was diagnosed with breast cancer at the end of Meyer's sophomore year at Whitnall High School. Since then, the cancer has spread to Binash-Meyer's spine and brain and doctors have deemed it terminal.

"We speak about that openly," said Binash-Meyer. "That's our norm."

Meyer's mom has always been her best advocate and No. 1 fan, said Janet Callender, Meyer's guidance counselor at Whitnall. That's why when Meyer received the Herb Kohl Initiative Scholarship this year, her mom was the first to tear-up.

"We could not be more proud of her," said Binash-Meyer.

Overcoming obstacles

The Kohl Initiative Scholarship is awarded each year to 85 high school students in Wisconsin who have demonstrated a high level of motivation, shown strong promise for achieving success and have overcome significant personal obstacles or adversity. Callender nominated Meyer for the scholarship.

After learning of her mother's diagnosis, Meyer said she started working harder in school to compensate for her lower grade point average, which was 2.8 as a freshman.

"I really wanted to try hard and show my mom that I am strong, too, and that I can be the best no matter what," said Meyer, who is an only child.

Meyer upped her GPA to 3.6 as a graduating senior, but it wasn't that easy. Math and reading classes gave Meyer the most trouble because the content moved quickly.

However, with an Individualized Education Program, or one-on-one support for her specific learning style, she succeeded. She would often have to meet with teachers one-on-one or take tests in another room with her IEP teacher.

"She truly overcame an adversity — from not wanting to receive any help, to accessing support regularly and working her tail off and being proud of her accomplishment," Callender said.

She also learned self-advocacy skills.

"I proved to myself that if I work really hard I can do well and succeed," Meyer said.

Not a disability

Meyer has had an IEP since she was in fifth grade, but some people have confused it with having a learning disability.

"Anytime (disability) was brought up, it was an opportunity to tell them about what a disability is verses a different means for learning," Binash-Meyer said.

And as someone who regularly works with disabled children through the Respite Program at Children's Hospital and nannying, Meyer is especially sensitive to the label.

"Everyone learns differently and I can work with them and with what works best for them," she said.

Meyer will start college in the fall at Waukesha County Technical College, with plans to study early childhood education. She will live at home to spend as much time with her mom as possible.

"She has always put me in front of her, which I thought was amazing," said Meyer. "I want to live in the moment now and make sure I'm always there for her."

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