In the classroom or on a stage, Zoe Heald's energy and determination make her an unstoppable force. The 17-year-old Ashland High School junior recently wowed the crowd with a reading of spoken-word poet Vanessa Hidary's "Hebrew Mamita" at last week's Martin Luther King celebration in Ashland.
Those who know Heald say her spirit and enthusiasm make her a great performer and student.
"What I love about Zoe is her genuine zeal for life," said Heald's English and theater teacher Betsy Bishop. "She has faith in the future. Her enthusiasm is infectious."
The busy teen has had to overcome some challenges in school. Heald was diagnosed with dyslexia in elementary school and has had to learn to manage it. Doug Shipley, Heald's dyslexia case worker at AHS, is impressed with her perseverance and her natural leadership skills.
"Zoe is an amazing young woman," Shipley said. "She doesn't let anything or anyone get her down. She leads by example and people naturally follow her. Her strengths in hard work and determination get her past the difficult areas she has academically."
Heald was adopted by her family at 41/2 months old, and her mother says she arrived with a sunny disposition.
"What I admire most about Zoe is her love of simple things, like decorating our home in red, white and blue, when my preschool visited on inauguration day," Robin Heald said. "She has a balance in her life. Because of her learning difference, she works hard for her good grades, but is there for her friends, family and her horses."
Heald recently took some time to speak with the Daily Tidings.
DT: What are your favorite subjects in school?
ZH: English and theater, both with Betsy Bishop, who is talented, patient and funny. I also like leadership with Reed Sorensen, who really has a lot of trust in us. Doug Shipley, my case worker for dyslexia, is awesome.
DT: What do you like to do outside of school?
ZH: I'm on the AHS equestrian team. I compete in jumping and in some Western events. I have two horses, so exercising them takes up a lot of my time. I love performing. I was in the fall play, "A Company of Wayward Saints." My part and another part were written into it. It was so fun. We did every sound effect in the show. I learned to play the African thumb piano. I am also part of RAD, the redesign committee for the high school. Leadership class activities also take a lot of time outside of school. Recently, I organized the Martin Luther King program and slide show at the high school. I am also the teen board representative of my temple. Whenever I can, I help my mom at her preschool, the Pomegranate School at the temple. Of course, I like to hang out with friends, too.
DT: Do you have trouble balancing school and your outside interests?
ZH: I've learned how to decide what I need to do and when to get everything done.
DT: What do you want to do after you graduate from high school?
ZH: I'm hoping to go to Oregon State University and participate in the equine-science program. I want to be a veterinarian or a vet tech or a nurse of some sort. I love children, so I'm also thinking about something in pediatrics.
DT: Talk about something you have done that makes you proud.
ZH: I had a bat mitzvah when I was 13. In the Jewish religion, bar mitzvahs for boys or bat mitzvahs for girls take place to welcome a person into adulthood. I will always feel proud of the work and understanding of my Torah portion I shared with people that day. I have volunteered at Hope Equestrian Center. It's a great organization. I would lead physically and emotionally challenged children and adults on horses.
DT: Talk about something that was especially challenging in your life.
ZH: I moved right before my freshman year in high school; I was 14. That was hard. Though it was a good transition, and we'd lived here before, it was difficult for me to leave my friends. When I walked into Fresh Start only knowing people from the third-grade, it wasn't easy. Also, I'm dyslexic and overcoming that challenge wasn't easy, either. Dyslexics have trouble reading and writing. I went to clinics when I was younger to help me overcome those issues. I'm a slow reader, but I can manage now.
DT: Do you have any advice for other young people with dyslexia?
ZH: Talk to your teachers, especially your English teachers. If you talk with them, they will be supportive and work with you. If you stress about it, that just makes it worse.
DT: Talk about someone at school who inspires you.
ZH: My godsister goes to my school. She both inspires me and makes me proud. She has gone through a lot and she is thriving. Seeing her succeed and push herself makes me so proud.
DT: Talk about performing at the Martin Luther King event.
ZH: Claudia Alick, who ran the event, knew the woman who wrote the poem, and really enjoyed it. It was introduced to me by my rabbi, Rabbi Marc. I love it and think it has a great message about not being afraid of who you are. I loved performing at the event. Because it was before inaugural day, it was especially meaningful. I think a huge part of history is taking place with our new president. In many ways, President Obama is president because Martin Luther King Jr. paved the path for him. I felt honored to be part of our celebration of this wonderful man.
DT: Tell us about someone in your family who makes you proud.
ZH: My mother makes me incredibly proud. She's the director and teaches at the Pomegranate Preschool for the Arts. She has the kids make up plays, she writes kids books, plays guitar and does a lot of my appointment making and things for me. She is incredible.