Judi Erskine has made it her mission to instill confidence in her students and teach them how to advocate for themselves.
Erskine, a learning differences specialist at Assumption High School, knows first hand how students feel when they struggle with learning difficulties. As a child, she was diagnosed with dyslexia and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.
To honor her work, the Archdiocese of Louisville presented Erskine with the Irene Casey Catholic Inclusion Award at the annual Catholic Schools Week Mass celebrated at the Cathedral of the Assumption Feb. 2.
The Irene Casey Catholic Inclusion Award honors the spirit of Irene Casey, an elementary school teacher dedicated to meeting “the diverse learning needs of students in Catholic education,” according to a statement from the Office of Catholic Schools.
“It is presented to an educator, counselor or administrator who exemplifies this deep commitment to inclusive practices,” the statement said. Inclusion refers to including students with diverse learning needs in the regular classroom.
Erskine said the award means a great deal to her.
“I see it almost as a pinnacle of what I’ve worked for in inclusion in the Catholic school system. It just means so much to me,” she said in an interview earlier this week.
At Assumption, Erskine works one on one with students who have a diagnosed learning difference. Some of these include: attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, reading disorders, math disorders and auditory processing disorders. Some students also struggle with anxiety, which, she said, can make the learning differences more difficult.
She works with about 80 to 90 students and meets individually with them each week to review grades, check their planners and arrange a tutor if needed.
She stays with the same girls over the course of their four years at Assumption. Presently, she works with freshmen and juniors.
“I check in to make sure everything is going okay. I’m there for them to turn to if they have a question at school or a problem,” she said.
Erskine has worked at the girls’ school on Tyler Lane for nine years. Prior to that, she taught middle school language arts and world history at the de Paul School.
She attended St. Raphael School and is a 1982 graduate of Assumption. She earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Bellarmine University and a master’s in teaching from Spalding University.
She credits her mother for being her advocate during a time when little was understood about learning differences.
“My mother was my inspiration. She didn’t have a college degree but worked with me once I was diagnosed. If it wasn’t for her, I don’t know where I’d be,” she said.
Her experience, she said, inspired her to pursue a career where she could be an advocate for students.
“I didn’t want other children to feel the way I did. I didn’t want them to hate school or to be scared to go to school,” she said.
After all her years spent in education, Erskine said she still derives immense satisfaction from her day-to-day work.
“The older I get, I get even more satisfaction from it — seeing the girls I’ve worked with leave Assumption. I get to see all the hard work come to fruition,” she said. “I challenge them to be advocates for themselves, to be confident and to own their learning differences.”
Erskine and her husband, Michael, have been married for 29 years. They have a daughter, Emily, 26, and a son, Joseph, 24. They attend Our Lady of Lourdes Church.