Taking the plunge: Diver scores academically

Photo courtesy of the Santeiu family

Photo courtesy of the Santeiu family

John Santeiu IV, a Dearborn Heights resident and 2010 University of Detroit Jesuit High School graduate.

Sunday Times Newspapers

HEIGHTS – Learning is tough enough for many high school students, but it was even more so for John Santeiu IV.

The 2010 University of Detroit Jesuit High School graduate and Dearborn Heights native chose to participate in a new sport while simultaneously working to overcome a learning disability by learning new ways to learn.

Both efforts have been successful.

John had excelled in gymnastics earlier in life and decided to switch to diving to increase his chances of obtaining a college scholarship. And for a time it looked like a smart bet, as he won the Michigan High School Athletic Association Division 2 state title for 1-meter diving for U of D Jesuit in March, became Division 2 Diver of the Year and was named to the Dream Team. Oh, and he also achieved All-American status along the way.

But because John also dove headfirst into his academic issues, he recently graduated with a 3.86 grade point average and a 35 ACT score; 1 is the lowest score possible and 36 is the highest, meaning that his score was among the top 1 percent of test takers nationwide.

Helped by a close, supportive family, he had the chance to challenge himself academically in school at U of D Jesuit, a Catholic prep school, but needed to become more organized, to learn how to study for classes and to use his time better.

Enter Jane Stewart, who herself has overcome learning challenges. She helped John in his academic journey and now helps other Jesuit students and students from throughout the metropolitan Detroit area at Optiminds, her Southfield-based learning center.

Stewart said after meeting John and studying his earlier test results, she could tell he was a weak visual learner. Such people have problems not only with school issues, she said, but with time management and organization.

Weak visual learners tend to be procrastinators, Stewart said, and to live in the present, so they don’t think about the future and make connections between the future and the present.

“Like, ‘I have a test on Friday,’” she said. “Let me start on Monday studying for that test. I have a paper due Friday – let me start working on it Monday.”

“He’s always been a very good kid,” said John’s mother, Liz Santeiu. “It’s interesting because in school you could see the difficulty in him being able to sit down and finish something.

“And we’d ask the teachers, and they’d say, ‘Oh, he’s a boy, he’ll outgrow it,’ and (that) they see a lot of this maturity-type thing. But this never went away. And then when we had him tested, we got hooked up with Jane and she really taught him how to learn. He learned how to learn through her.”

Stewart said the more a person uses all three modes of learning – auditory, visual and kinesthetic – the stronger the message gets into the brain. She said most children who have trouble in school have visual perceptual problems, but that such problems are correctible.

“There’s software out there that allows you to improve how you learn, and how you process information, and all of my students use that software,” Stewart said. “I do a diagnostic test to see what part of their brain needs strengthening and conditioning, and then we work on exercising the brain. And in the beginning that’s what we did.”

Stewart taught John how to learn and to improve his information processing speed by managing that time.

“She used to do these tests,” Liz Santeiu said, “and I remember one was a whole page full of letters – a whole scrambled page – and he had to pick out the alphabet in order. And she timed it. And you’d see how much he could do. And he’d do that again and again and again.”

Liz Santeiu said whereas someone else could do that quickly, she could see John’s mind searching.

Stewart is “one of the greatest impacts in his life as far as who he’s become in terms of a student,” Liz Santeiu said. “And it’s carried over into his discipline with diving. He’s become that ‘total person.’”

John found that through a step-by-step journey, and with hard work and effort, he had it in him to not only do well academically, but excel —and that work carried over into his athletic training.

After switching to competitive diving and realizing he had the potential to compete on a national level, he found even more incentive to learn to use his time and ability more effectively.

As a result, his athletic achievements now are accompanied by a full academic scholarship to Auburn University in Alabama to study physics. And that may be his sweetest victory of all.

Balancing sports, academics and a social life has been a long road, John said.

(Contact reporter Sue Suchyta at sue.suchyta@yahoo.com.)