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Daily Pilot

'All I really wanted to do was help people'

Vanguard University student, who overcame childhood struggles with dyslexia, receives her school's Heart of the Teacher award.

By Britney Barnes

9:17 PM PDT, May 15, 2012

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Victoria Fry is turning her school struggles into inspiration for the next generation of students who feel they are failures too.

The 21-year-old Costa Mesa resident's efforts haven't gone unnoticed.

Dixie Arnold, chairwoman of Vanguard University's Liberal Studies Department, presented Fry, who recently finished her bachelor's degree there, earlier this month with the school's Heart of the Teacher award. The award was created almost a decade ago and describes the love a future teacher has for people, Arnold said.

"She just shines," Arnold said. "There is just this excitement for working with children."

Fry said her "passion for teaching is rooted in the experiences I've had with other teachers, and also the experiences I'm having in the classroom rooting on those kids, encouraging them, saying, 'This feels like an uphill battle, but trust me, you can do it.'"

Fry is staying at Vanguard to get her teaching credential and then a master's in education.

Miguel Alaniz said in an email that Fry volunteers in his sixth-grade class at College Park Elementary School. She not only tutors the students, but also mediates group discussion with girls about social issues and helps resolve urgent problems while he teaches, he said.

She is a shining beacon of demonstrating that knowledge is power, Alaniz said.

"Victoria is a smart, kind and energetic volunteer who is willing to jump right in, be it teaching a science lesson, photocopying or helping a student one on one," said College Park first- and second-grade teacher Susan McGuire in an email. "Miss Torrie, as she is called by my students, is a natural teacher."

Fry's decision to become an educator wasn't a straightforward one.In elementary school, she felt incapable and inadequate. She would go home and cry.

She spelled words backward. Reading was a challenge, but she didn't understand why.

"For me it was just like so discouraging, and it was such an uphill battle that I felt like a failure," Fry said.

It wasn't until high school that her problems were given a name: dyslexia. She was also diagnosed with a processing disorder.

But Fry overcame her struggles, graduating from Monte Vista High School at 16.

At Orange Coast College, though, she didn't know which path to follow.

"I kept bouncing back and forth between a major in psychology and a major in education, because truthfully, all I really wanted to do was help people. That was it," she said. "Whatever career I went into, I just wanted to do the most good."

It wasn't until she went to Vanguard — after turning down a scholarship from Chapman University — and met Arnold that she knew teaching was her calling.

Yet despite a nagging voice that questioned whether someone with learning disabilities should teach, she discovered that was the very reason she needed to.

"Within my time at Vanguard University, I really felt that that is why I should be an educator," she said. "Because I know what it is like to fail miserably. Because there are so many kids in our school systems today that are failing and they need that hope, need that light to say, 'No, no, no. You can get through this. You can climb this mountain.'

"I did it. I've been there."

britney.barnes@latimes.com

Twitter: @britneyjbarnes