Learning Ally Blog: Access and Achievement

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Now more than ever, people with learning and visual disabilities are flourishing in the classroom, launching productive careers and becoming assets in their communities. This blog spotlights remarkable individuals who demonstrate that having a visual or print disability is no barrier to educational success.


In a 9th Grader's Own Words: School Experiences with Dyslexia
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More often than not, our blogging stream is full of interviews from parents, specialists and teachers.  Today we want to try something a little different. I recently sat down with Samantha, a rising 10th grader who is dyslexic. Samantha is one of Learning Ally's YES! Ambassadors from Colorado, and wants to share her educational story, directly, with us all. Her refreshingly candid interview follows below.  -Jules Johnson

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Samantha, thank you for speaking with us today. Can you walk us through your school experience, grade by grade, starting in kindergarten?  Samantha IMG_3708Most of my teachers were good to me. In kindergarten, 1st and 2nd grade I went to a Montessori School, which was actually a public charter school. I had the same teacher for 1st and 2nd grade. She would pull me aside to do word reading, and she helped me a lot personally. In 3rd grade, I switched to public school because I was denied extra help for my dyslexia at the charter school. Honestly, 3rd grade was a little bit stressful. For English and spelling, we’d break into groups. For reading, I had a teacher I didn’t know. We’d just go there and take spelling tests, and I felt like I was testing with a stranger. So, if I had a question, I didn’t really feel like I knew her.
"4th grade brought one of the best teachers I’ve ever had! She really supported me, and stood behind me. I felt like if I was having trouble, she was easily approachable."
I wasn’t scared she would look down on me for asking questions.  She was an encourager! She would encourage you forward. If you couldn’t do something, she wouldn’t say try harder, instead she would encourage you. For my 5th grade year, we decided to try a private school. At this school, I had two teachers for 5th grade. One of the teachers was very approachable, but the other one didn't seem to understand me very well. I asked for extended time because I was going to tutoring twice a week, and she said no. She said tutoring was just an excuse because everyone else still has stuff to do like soccer or other extracurricular practice. I felt like tutoring is different because it’s more school. Soccer gives you an outlet. Tutoring is something you need for more school practice. I went back to public for middle school, starting in 6th grade. This is the first time, for me, where each class had aIMG_2205 different teacher. They were mostly all approachable and very supportive of me. However, there was one teacher who said that I didn’t need any help because I was already doing well. That was the year I was getting my IEP re-tested. She said I didn’t need it, I’m too good. She didn’t really understand me. I work a lot to get those A’s and B’s, so I felt like if she were to take that away from me, it would be so stressful. I was scared about what would happen if my IEP was taken away. I use my accommodations and without them everything would be so much harder. During my 7th grade year, I had one really good teacher and one really bad teacher. For the bad part - I was in a higher level language arts class, and I don’t think the teacher thought I was supposed to be there. I still needed help; even though I’m smart, I still had issues. She didn’t really understand my dyslexia. However, that balanced with another teacher who was really good and very approachable. We connected well. She was very nice, she had a smile, she supported me. She was just honestly open and committed to the students. She would show pictures of her family, and it just made her seem just like anybody else, and not like a scary teacher. During 8th grade, I had one teacher who at first made me feel like she was unapproachable, but once I learned how to connect with her, it all changed.
"Once we finally clicked, she saw that I really did try and I wasn’t just making it up. At first, she was denying my help, but she changed."
To click with her, to show that I really did care about school, I’d go in at lunch and talk to her. I’d ask for help to show that I was really committed to the class, and we bonded. For my 9th grade year, I have one teacher whose mission is to “fix” me. He pulls me out and spends extra time with my writing. I appreciate his support, but I feel like he is taking it too far. It makes it feel like I need all this help, and like I can't do anything on my own. It makes me feel like I am stupid. I just need support; I don't need to be fixed. Please don't make it seem like I can’t do anything. What, in your eyes, can a teacher do to help students who have dyslexia?  I think the key is being approachable and that they won’t look down on you. You won’t be diminished by asking them a question. See me without my dyslexia. They don’t have to perfectly understand dyslexia, but they do need to understand how it affects me. I try hard and it’s not always see-able. Also, make the room happy – like it's a good place to be. Like funny posters ... the desk has an open view …approachable …like a welcoming place. How do you feel about your parents and your teachers working together?  In elementary, it was so important for my Mom to talk to my teachers because I could not self-advocate. In high school, I’m more connected to my teachers, so I communicate more. I like to advocate for myself now. I talk to my teachers at lunch, email teachers myself, and talk to them at the end of the day or before class starts. Now that I'm in high school, my Mom is who helps me process the day. They are all good teachers and they all want to help me, but I vent to my Mom and then feel better about it. The teacher probably didn’t mean to do whatever upset me if she did it only one day out of the whole year. 104 copyTell me about Learning Ally's YES! Program?  The YES! Program helped me learn so much about self advocacy. In 7th grade, I became an ambassador. At first I wouldn’t even look at Lissa (Lissa True, YES! Program Coordinator) or talk to her, but after I saw the other kids do it, I became confident. Now I feel like I can trust them and they are like my family. They are just like me. If they can speak up then I can. ------------------------------- Learning Ally REVISED-LALogo_Stacked_Tag - Copyis a national non-profit that offers parent, student and teacher support as well as over 80,000 audiobooks for students and adults who have print disabilities. To learn more about Learning Ally, as well as our YES! Program, visit www.LearningAlly.org.  


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