Tracy (Heverly) Simmons graduated from DVFS in 2003. She received a B.A. in psychology from Bloomsburg University and an M.S. in criminal justice from the University of Cincinnati, along with a paralegal certificate from Villanova University. Tracy spent eight years working with the non-profit Families of Murder Victims in Philadelphia, where she served as the organization’s Program Director. After many years in this challenging role, Tracy is excited to be changing careers while still pursuing her passion for helping others by teaching health, fitness and nutrition to disadvantaged youth in Philadelphia and starting a personal training business.
Tracy was chosen as Delaware Valley Friends School's Distinguished Alumna recipient in 2017.
When did you come to DVFS, and from where?
I started at DVFS at the beginning of my sophomore year, coming from a public high school.
Can you tell us a little bit about your learning difference and struggles in school?
I didn’t know I had a learning difference until my freshman year of high school – right before I transferred to DVFS. I, like most people, just thought I was a bad student. When it didn’t come easy to me, I stopped caring if I did well because it made more sense not to try and get a D than try really hard and get a C. I was diagnosed with dysgraphia, also known as written expression disorder. This difference can manifest in many different ways, but for me it was pretty textbook –bad handwriting, poor spelling and difficultly expressing my thoughts on paper. At DV, we had laptops and did a lot of our work electronically (and in 2000-2003 this was a big deal), which eliminated the anxiety of not being able to spell and having poor, often unreadable handwriting. Extended time on tests and papers was an accommodation that I received because of my LD, eliminating the anxiety of not always being able to get down what I needed to write in the first or second try. These things weren’t options at my public school, so I often took the easy way out and wouldn’t do assignments to ensure I wouldn’t have the anxiety and embarrassment of not being able to spell common words or communicate my thoughts on paper well.
What changed for you at DV?
I wanted to do well in school once I came to DVFS. I never cared about my grades previously, but that changed at DV. I saw that I was capable of good grades and began to work to get more. Additionally, the relationships with the teachers were different than at public school, which also motivated me to do well. It was clear they wanted me to succeed; they worked so hard to get us to focus and didn’t let us just stop paying attention or stop coming to class. I genuinely liked my teachers and didn’t want to disappoint them by not trying on tests and homework.
Do you have any special memories from your time at DVFS?
I don’t even know where to start. My best friends, almost 14 years after graduation, are DVFS friends. I loved being in school because they were my family – as were the teachers. I never knew I was good at math until LC came into my life. I hated reading until Bill Keeney’s English classes. I wasn’t interested in sports until lacrosse with Debb Jetter, and I had zero interest in art class until I realized I could grout tile on random objects and make beautiful mosaics with Norma… just to name a few.
What are you doing now? If in school, where and what are you studying? What do you plan to do upon graduation?
After working for 8 years as the Program Director for Families of Murder Victims in Philadelphia, a non-profit where I provided emotional support to co-victims and family members and helped them navigate the often confusing criminal justice system, I am refocusing my career on health and fitness. I am currently working with kids in low-income sections of Philadelphia teaching them the importance of health, fitness and nutrition. I also teach spin classes and plan to open a business doing in-home personal training.
What do you think the long-term value of a DVFS education has been for you?
My DVFS education has been invaluable. I came from a large public school where, when I started to fall behind, there was no support to catch up and get back on track. This made it very easy to stop caring about my academics and decide school wasn’t for me. Without switching to DVFS in 10th grade it is highly unlikely I would have been able to graduate or go on to college.
How does your experience at DV connect to your life today?
DVFS provides a safe place to be yourself – or, for many teenage kids, a safe place to figure out who that is. The first time that I remember feeling comfortable with who I was, both personally and academically, was after beginning at DVFS . This is something that stayed with me into adulthood, allowing me the to take on new challenges feeling confident and ready.