School board candidate advocates inclusion

Ocean View resident Lloyd Elling is strong on social consciousness, in business and in life. He went into special education for adults with disabilities with this philosophy in mind: “You can either hate it, or you can see the value that exists in those people.”
Elling is challenging Indian River School District (IRSD) School Board Member Dr. Donald Hattier for the District 4 seat
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He brings a slew of ideas to the table, and some unique experiences.

Elling was born in Providence, R.I., in 1946. He grew up near Toledo, Ohio, maturing at an early age through the experiences of providing physical therapy for his polio-stricken brother, and losing his father while he was still in grade school.

On top of everything else, the family was less than well off, and Elling said he and his siblings were often teased at school.

“I’m very sensitive to the needs of people with disabilities, very sensitive to issues of poverty — that’s where you develop a social conscience,” he explained.

However, Elling said he’d never considered his roots a hurdle to overcome.

“There’s no negative impression,” he stated. “My impression is, I got to see the gifts of many people. I saw the college students come out and put a roof on our house, I saw the Girl Scouts bring us food, I saw the milkman bring us free milk, I saw a social worker take a special interest in us.

“And I was influenced by what I saw — people doing good things,” he concluded.

The family moved to southern California during his teen years, and Elling attended Antelope Valley High School (Lancaster, Calif., north of Los Angeles).

While he didn’t have much, he said he had athletic ability, and that carried him through the public schools and into college. “Probably my greatest intelligence is physical intelligence,” he laughed. “I was a very good high school athlete.”

He said people around the neighborhood always expected he’d go on to play professional baseball, but it kind of fell by the wayside after graduation.

Elling went on to community college for a year, and then George Williams College (a YMCA professional school, formerly in Illinois) for a quarter.

“I wasn’t ready yet,” he said. “In high school, I was an average student at best, but I was an athlete. Every school I went to, I was treated with preference.

”I never wrote a term paper through all of high school. I went to half of my classes, at best, my last year and a half, and I got Bs and Cs,” he said.

“When I went to community college, so I could continue to play sports, I had to take all the bonehead courses,” he recalled. “And then, at George Williams, they gave me the greatest gift of all — they would not let me play sports until I was academically eligible. I had never experienced that.

“I tried out for the university basketball team, I made that, I tried out for the volleyball team, I made that, and each time I was told I couldn’t play, because I wasn’t academically eligible,” he said. “I couldn’t understand that, so I left school.

“I think that’s better addressed today, but I think there are still issues related to extracurricular activities that interfere with the academic world,” Elling said. “Priority, in my mind, has to be given to academics.”

According to Elling, the school district isn’t focused enough in that direction.

“You won’t find me being anti-sports,” he said. “I agree with the principals and other educators I’ve talked to — that sports helps keep a percentage of kids in the schools, motivates them to at least keep going to the finish line.

“But the object is not to get to the finish line, in high school,” he added. “The object is to prepare students to function in this world — to have the skills to go to college, to get a job, to get a better job. The effort, time and money we put into athletics — we should get more than just headlines in the newspaper.

“There should be an academic value coming out of that,” Elling noted. “Think of all the math you could do in any given sport — the speed a ball travels from the pitcher’s hand to the mound, for instance. “The moment for teaching should go on into the sports program.”

He said learning about teamwork, personal effort and discipline were all helpful, but couldn’t supersede the academic requirements.

After his first go at college, Elling worked for McDonnell/Douglas for a while as a fuel tank mechanic out in the Mojave Desert.

He joined the Peace Corps at age 19. “The original setup was, we were goodwill ambassadors,” Elling pointed out. “At that time, it wasn’t uncommon that Peace Corps volunteers didn’t have college degrees (now, the Peace Corps typically requires a degree of some kind, plus a specific skill).”

After his much-needed wakeup call at George Williams, he called the Peace Corps his second great gift — an opportunity to see the world, and teach sports.

Elling traveled to South America. He said the transition had been hard for some of the other volunteers, but “I grew up poor, so you don’t see poor,” Elling pointed out. “That was my advantage in the Peace Corps — all these other university guys and gals who came struggled with the issue of poverty.”

He coached and taught physical education at two high schools and a college in Colombia, played some baseball and fell in love with soccer.

Upon his return to the U.S., Elling returned to George Williams, made the soccer team and completed his studies in social science (1970).

He worked at the Ventura County, Ca. YMCA for a couple years, then headed east for a job in Brandywine Valley, Penn.

Elling worked as assistance executive director for YMCA camps and conferences for a while, and then in a similar position for the Presbyterian Church.

They’d partnered up on some events, and personnel from the church group had asked the YMCA for advice on how to best run their own programs. According to Elling, the church was struggling to keep its own initiatives going.

“The director said, ‘You handle this,’ and I liked solving problems, so I did,” Elling stated. As it turned out, the church made him a better offer shortly thereafter.

He left the YMCA for the Presbyterian camp and conference center in Port Deposit, Md. and worked there for 13 years. Elling helped balance the church budget and expand operations, and started up a program for children with autism.

The goal was to integrate autistic children into regular classrooms, and Elling said the program had taught them a few things. For one, autistic “runners” would stop and come back for peers, but not adults.

For another, autistic children mimic, so the more they’re placed in normal environments, the more normal behaviors they exhibit.

“The philosophy of my business began to take foothold because of that experience,” Elling said. “I changed my approach to many things.” After that, he bought a camp specialized for children with learning disabilities.

Elling worked there for a while, but found he wasn’t achieving lasting results with his wards. “I could only give the parents one month of improved behavior after they left our program,” he admitted.

So, he gave it up, moved approximately 30 families to the beach and organized a new business — resort services for individuals with a variety of learning disabilities.

“The magic that occurred was what happened with those kids with autism, and behavior issues,” he said. “Now, the kids, when I sent them home after the summer, their parents were calling me in January and saying, ‘Lloyd, what did you do — he’s still using these positive skills.’

“It wasn’t me,” Elling explained. “It was the setting. For kids who see themselves as limited, when they get to participate in the relaxed world of the beach resort area, they saw themselves as actually more regular, more normal.

“And the moment they saw themselves in that way, and practiced those skills, and they had support around them, their behaviors became much more positive, much more acceptable, and their confidence grew.”

Elling continues that work today, with his Ocean View business Atlantic Coast Special Education Services. Atlantic Coast focuses on challenged adults, but he said the philosophy worked the same way for children.

“I’m absolutely an advocate for kids with disabilities being mainstreamed into the classes here,” he said. While he said the district shouldn’t change the standard for high school graduation, those students needed to be given extra time — perhaps until age 21.

“Of course we need to have specialized services and specialized support groups to keep them focused, but the more our kids with special needs can be integrated into the regular world, the better off all of us are,” he said. If elected to the School Board, he said he intended to advocate for that integration.

Elling brought various other far-reaching ideas to the table as well.

• On the flip side, graduation after 10th grade, for academically eligible students. Elling said there no reason to hold those students back, especially when many seniors were just going through the motions.

• Minimal standard for educators — Master’s degrees — and lower student-to-teacher ratios in the elementary schools.

• Academic and/or vocation specializations, either at different facilities, or in separate departments within the school.

He also noted the importance of a successful search for IRSD Superintendent Lois Hobbs’ replacement, crediting her for the “tremendous good she has accomplished during her tenure.”

Elling said he’d been prompted to run for School Board following a bout with prostate cancer. “Nothing wakes you up to life like seeing that there’s a chance you might lose it,” he said. “I’m committed now — I’m not sitting on the sidelines anymore.”

He lives in Ocean View with his wife, Andrea, and daughter, Natalia (a first-grader at the Southern Delaware School of the Arts).