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'Legacy' Student Continues Family Teaching Tradition At SHSU

Sept. 24, 2012
SHSU Media Contact: Jennifer Gauntt

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Erica Dallas—the great, great, great granddaughter of Gen. Sam and Maragaret Lea Houston—sits on the steps of the Houston family Woodland Home on the Sam Houston Memorial Museum Grounds. Gen. Houston's family moved into the home in 1847 while the general was away in Washington as one of Texas's first senators. They lived here until 1859, when Gen. Houston ran for governor of Texas and won. —Photos by Brian Blalock

 

Before Gen. Sam Houston became a soldier or politician he was a teacher, who in 1812 opened and ran a successful private school in Tennessee.

Later in his life he would go on to say about that time, “I experienced a higher feeling of dignity and self-satisfaction from teaching in that little schoolhouse than from any other office or honor I have held.”

Two hundred years later, Houston’s dedication to education has become a part of his family legacy, and Sam Houston State University sophomore Erica Dallas is a testament to that lineage.

The great, great, great granddaughter of Houston, Dallas chose SHSU less because of her family link to the university but because, as she says, “I have some extra teacher in my blood.”
Her grandmother was a history teacher, and her mom has taught three different subjects, though she focuses now on Spanish.

Following in that family tradition, Dallas is majoring in education, specializing in special education in the hopes of teaching elementary-aged children with learning disabilities.
It is an area that is personal to Dallas, who herself was diagnosed with dyslexia at an early age.

“My oldest brother has dyslexia also. When my mom first noticed that, like my oldest brother, I couldn’t rhyme in first grade and had trouble spelling, she put me in a program in the Prosper school district,” Dallas said. “Unfortunately, they couldn’t meet my needs, so they sent me to a school where my mother now teaches that is designated for dyslexics and those with other learning differences like ADD and ADHD.”

Remembering how her school was able to help her overcome the obstacles she faced with dyslexia and prepared her for college, Dallas said she feels choosing special education as a field is a way to “repay and show my respect for my teachers.”

Being a "Houston"

“My teachers were very heartwarming and encouraging and calm,” she said. “I definitely gained a great respect for those who teach students with learning differences because it’s hard enough to deal with kids, but it’s even harder to deal with kids who are very outgoing and have different struggles.”

Growing up under the Houston legacy, Dallas—whose middle name is “Houston,” in carrying on the family name passed down on her mother’s side—was well aware of Houston’s importance…and his vices.

“My grandmother has never stopped reminding us we’re related to Sam Houston. We have pictures of his kids and some family heirlooms from his wife,” Dallas said, whose lineage traces along the female line (all women descendants) to Houston’s daughter Mary Willie.

“He was kind of a bad boy, and before he married my great, great, great grandmother, he liked to drink,” Dallas said when asked about how her family’s discussions on Houston’s known vices. “In my grandmother’s generation, we don’t talk about that. We were told he was a totally different man before he married Margaret Lea.”

This, perhaps, is why Dallas grew up with a general interest in history. When, in seventh grade, she was assigned a project for a history fair, she chose to explore Houston’s life by working with the Sam Houston Memorial Museum and now-director Mac Woodward.

“The project was on how Sam Houston was against slavery and was an advocate, even though he owned slaves, for freeing them. He was against the southern thought of slavery,” Dallas said. “I thought that was interesting, how he was such a strong advocate for something so controversial.”

In working on the project, which eventually would win at the fair, she said she found Houston’s impact on the state to be “pretty cool;” but it wasn’t until she returned to Huntsville as a college freshman that she was truly able to feel a sense of connection to her heritage and actually grasp the importance of Houston’s influence, even though she had grown up being told about it.

“Growing up, I would see Sam Houston’s stuff all around, but it didn’t mean much. As I got older, in seventh grade, I took Texas history, and I saw how he did a lot for the country,” she said. “The fact that I had a family member who was so impactful of both Texas history and U.S. history, going back to the museum and seeing all that, was like ‘wow.’

“When I visited it (Sam Houston’s gravesite) my first semester, I felt a little more emotional this time (than when she first visited, when she was younger).”

Now active in Zeta Tau Alpha and seeking other campus activities to get involved with, Dallas said she spends a lot of time focusing on her academics, which can still be challenging due to her dyslexia.

In navigating her dyslexia, she said she has learned to take different approaches in the classroom including using a recorder to listen to lectures multiple times, putting in a lot of study time in the library, and has found an outlet in her family and sorority sisters, who will help her go over notes.

“I tell my teachers, and I’m in the Counseling Center because they help kids with learning difficulties. They give out forms with accommodations for teachers to sign,” Dallas said. “I meet with the teachers, letting them know who I am and what my disability is. They’re willing to work with me, willing to give me a helping hand.

“I feel I’m doing pretty well with those things,” she said. “It’s a struggle, but it’s college.”

The size of the SHSU campus has helped with her adjustment from her private high school that specialized in helping students with learning differences to university life, she said.

“I definitely feel more connected with the teachers here. I actually applied to Texas Tech and University of Arkansas because my brothers went there,” she said. “The brother with dyslexia went to Texas Tech and even though he felt comfortable there, I felt the teachers would be more willing to help me here, because obviously the classes are way bigger at Texas Tech.”

It’s a decision she does not regret.

“I just feel more connected here. I like the small-town atmosphere and being connected to my great, great, great grandfather,” she said. “It feels right here.”

 

 

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