Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIV, No. 28
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
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Stuart Senior Shines in Spite of Handicap, Wins Awards, Honors in Her School Years

Ellen Gilbert

“She’s quite a remarkable young woman,” said Stuart Country Day School of the Sacred Heart spokesperson Maggie Landis describing — or at least trying to describe — the accomplishments of recent graduate Allysa Dittmar.

“I am profoundly deaf,” is the first thing Ms. Dittmar tells an interviewer via email. “I attended the Marie H. Katzenbach School for the Deaf in Trenton from age one through five, and then I was mainstreamed into Stuart Country Day School. American Sign Language was my first language.”

“Because I was raised in a hearing family (no one else is deaf in my family) and mainstreamed, I gradually learned how to speak,” wrote Ms. Dittmar. “Today, I primarily speak (I only sign when communicating with other deaf people) and I lip read.”

Ms. Dittmar is happy to report that she’ll be attending Johns Hopkins University this fall.

“I was accepted under their early decision program, and I’ll be majoring in Global Environmental Change and Sustainability, a brand new interdepartmental major.”

Although this major reflects her ecological concerns, Ms. Dittmar noted that she has “always had a passion for writing. It gives me the opportunity to express myself.” She credits eighth grade English teacher and advisor Victoria McCarthy with sparking her love for writing. “She honestly was one of the best teachers I have ever had and she had such a passion for writing, reading, and English as a whole. She passed away on November 22, 2007. I would say without a doubt that if it were not for her, I would not be the writer I am today.”

Being the writer she is today has earned Ms. Dittmar this year’s Town Topics writing award, given annually to a Stuart graduate. Other writing awards include first place in the national Sacred Heart essay contest on the theme of “Making a Difference.” Participants in the contest included students from grades 8 through 12 from each of the 21 schools in the network. For her first place win, Ms. Dittmar received $250 and a trip to California to attend a conference where she read her essay.

Stuart faculty also chose Ms. Dittmar as the recipient of their Yale University Book Award, given to a person “who has demonstrated outstanding personal character and intellectual promise.” When she was in the ninth grade won an honorable mention in the Martin Luther King literary contest sponsored by Princeton University.

Although she moved on to Stuart at the age of five, Ms. Dittmar has returned to the Katzenbach School as a volunteer in recent years. Her four summers and senior community service project there added up to a total of 357 hours of helping nursery program teachers work with youngsters ages three through six. In the midst of this, Ms. Dittmar was a French exchange student, hosting a French student here in the U.S. for two weeks in the fall, and going to Paris for two weeks in the spring.

Extracurricular activities have included stints as yearbook editor, and playing on the varsity lacrosse and squash teams.

Ms. Dittmar’s other awards include the Janet Stuart Scholarship, a four year merit scholarship given to two students, based on academic accomplishments and high standardized test scores in middle school and teacher recommendations; as well as a Janet Stuart Scholar Award, one of Stuart’s five senior awards, which is awarded to a student who “recognizes deep respect for intellectual values and love of learning,” and “who is willing to take intellectual risks and demonstrates contagious enthusiasm for learning.”

“Stuart has been such a huge part of my life,” said Ms. Dittmar. “Stuart helped instill the value of learning in me; the faculty and staff always encouraged me to strive for my best. The tight knit community of Stuart has always been welcoming and accepting — not once did I ever feel out of place there. From Stuart, I will always bring with me the perseverance and enthusiasm for learning to wherever I go.”

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