GREENFIELD — Josh Bleill has been tested all of his life, he told students Monday.
There was the time in middle school when he didn’t make the basketball team. The 13 weeks of boot camp to become a member of the United States Marine Corps. And the years of hospital stays and rehab that followed an injury he received in 2006 while deployed to Iraq.
He was serving his country when a bomb went off beneath the Humvee he was riding in. He lost two friends and both his legs in the attack.
That incident has served as one of the biggest tests in the Hancock County native’s life, he said.
Monday, Bleill — who now has two prosthetic legs — spoke with students at Mt. Vernon Middle School to rev them up for ISTEP testing, which kicks off in Hancock County schools this week. Across the county, schools conducted pep rallies, and teachers created videos and put on skits hoping to encourage their students to take on the test with a positive attitude.
ISTEP is administered to students in third through eighth grade throughout the state each spring; scores are used to measure students’ progress, rate their schools and evaluate their teachers. For the past few weeks, teachers have been leading students through practice questions and gearing them up for success.
Students in Grades 3 through 8 and 10th-graders take English and math exams. Some grades also take science and social studies.
The testing period for the first round of the exam opened this week. It requires students to respond with written answers, and schools had the choice of taking the test with paper and pencil or online. The second round, which features multiple-choice questions, will be completed in April.
Educators at Mt. Vernon Middle School wanted to find a way to help students prepare for the annual test while sending a broader message about meeting life’s challenges, said principal Ben Williams.
ISTEP is one exam, one challenge, they’ll face and move past. Throughout their lives, they’ll be pushed academically, professionally and personally, Williams said.
Instead of running from those challenges, students need to confront them with a positive attitude, he said.
Educators hoped students found inspiration in Bleill’s experiences.
“We get bogged down in the day-to-day,” Williams said. “It’s good to hear perspective from a man who has overcome so much.”
Bleill, a Greenfield-Central High School graduate, now serves as a motivational speaker, sharing his story to encourage others.
He joined the Marine Corps following the 9/11 terrorists attacks.
He was sent to Iraq in 2006, and a few months later he lost both of his legs and suffered other injuries when a bomb went off under the military vehicle he was riding in.
He woke up in a hospital in Germany five days later. The first wave of bad news? Two of his colleagues who were with him in the Humvee had died. The second? His legs were gone.
He spent two years in a hospital and eventually had to learn to walk on prosthetic limbs.
He remembers being scared and angry, he said. He had days when he allowed himself to be mad, to wallow in his circumstances. But he didn’t give up.
Life-altering changes. Exams with pen and paper. All will test a person’s mettle, he said.
“As long as you do your best, as long as you try, that’s what’s important,” he said.
Educators offer the following tips for parents hoping to encourage their students as ISTEP testing kicks off this week.
- Make sure your child gets a full night of sleep by heading to bed early, especially if they’re anxious about the test, which might keep them awake.
- Make sure they eat a hearty breakfast so they’re not distracted by hunger as testing begins.
- Get them to school on time. Many schools will begin testing first thing in the morning, and students who are late will be behind.
- Provide support and understanding as they test this week, and encourage them to do their best.
ISTEP testing begins this week in Hancock County schools. Students in third through eighth grade and 10th-graders will be tested in math, English and social studies or science. The first round of testing begins this week and the second round comes in mid-April.
Statewide, students in third through eighth grade and 10th-graders will take the ISTEP exam this spring. Here’s the subject areas each grade is tested in:
Third grade: English and math
Fourth grade: English, math and science
Fifth grade: English, math and social studies
Sixth graders: English, math and science
Seventh graders: English, math and social studies
Eighth graders: English and math
10th grade: English, math and science