student working on a laptop

2017-2018 Student Advocates

Monday, October 16, 2017

landmark student advocates

Landmark students juggle many responsibilities each day: school, homework, sports, arts, community service, and often long commutes. Each year, 10 seniors add another time-consuming commitment to their schedules that requires travel, public speaking, and sharing personal stories. That role is being a Student Advocate.

The Advocates, led by faculty members Jason Mansfield, Jennifer O’Riordan, and Dan Ahearn deliver presentations to graduate and undergraduate education students at local colleges and universities, as well as to students, teachers, and administrators at elementary and middle schools. They talk about how having a learning difference affects them in school, at work, and in other aspects of life. These personal accounts are honest, powerful, and eye-opening.

"Teachers are often uneducated about learning differences. They don’t understand our struggles or how we learn," said Cole. "We show them how our learning differences affect us in school and in everyday life."

The Advocates emphasize that having dyslexia also has its benefits. In the group’s first off-campus presentation, Jared pointed out that people with dyslexia are extremely creative, motivated, and curious; see patterns, connections, and similarities with ease; are highly perceptive; see the big picture and don’t get mired in details; and have cognitive flexibility.

"There’s always an upside,” Jared said. "It doesn’t help to only look at the downside."

Mr. Mansfield, who has led the Advocates since he established the program in 1995, echoed Jared's sunny philosophy about having dyslexia.  "It's potential masquerading as a problem," Mr. Mansfield said. "Having dyslexia is not insurmountable."

Teaching the Teachers

These students are driven by a desire to educate future teachers about what it’s like to have dyslexia and other learning differences, how students with dyslexia are often misunderstood, and how teachers can prevent some of the struggles they have experienced.

"We don’t want other kids to go through the struggles that we went through," said Henry, when asked what he’d like to achieve as an Advocate.

Since 1995, dozens of Advocates have shared their stories, given advice, answered questions, and enlightened many. In addition to influencing future teachers and students, the Advocates leave the program with well-honed public-speaking—and some teaching—skills.

"It’s beneficial to give teachers real-life, first-hand examples of how they can help students," said Nick. "It’s more powerful when we share our stories and give teachers tips and tools on how they can make a difference. They can’t learn that from a textbook."

The Advocates Know What Works

The presentations include a video featuring Landmark students, personal stories, interactive exercises, and questions and answers. The Advocates also share what teaching and learning strategies work best for them and how aspiring teachers can incorporate these tools into their classrooms. Examples include Landmark's Six Teaching Principles, such as presenting information in varied ways, making lessons active and kinesthetic, using templates, encouraging self-advocacy, and more.

Partway through their presentation, an Advocate asks an audience member to read a few pre-selected sentences aloud. The words appear the way many people with dyslexia would see them: with letters jumping around, changing, and out of order. The person reading aloud clearly struggles with the text and often displays signs of embarrassment or shame. That is the point. Out of these difficult first-hand experiences comes empathy and compassion.

“By hearing our stories and seeing first-hand examples of people with dyslexia struggle with reading, they know what it feels like,” said Ryan. “We hope we can help them become better teachers.”

That is the primary goal of the Advocates.