Landmark High School students juggle many responsibilities each day: school, homework, community service, and often long commutes. Each year, 10–12 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. This year, several Advocates face the additional challenge of navigating hybrid or remote learning.
The Advocates, led by faculty members Jason Mansfield, Dan Ahearn, and Ashley Norman, present 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 their learning difference, how it affects them in school, at work, and in other aspects of life, and how they overcome their challenges. In addition, they offer advice and strategies to teachers about how to support students with learning differences to help them succeed. These personal accounts are honest, powerful, and eye-opening. Some of these presentations will be remote this year, and students will all certainly be wearing masks.
The Advocates delivered their presentations to a group of Landmark faculty and staff in early November. All were composed, prepared, and confident. There was a common theme when the Advocates listed tips and tools for teachers: be patient and provide a supportive environment. Other strategies drew on Landmark's Six Teaching Principles, such as presenting information in varied ways, making lessons active and kinesthetic, using templates, encouraging self-advocacy.
Josh described how having slow processing speed affects "every aspect of my day." He said that he often knows the answer to a question, but it takes him more time to put his thoughts into words. "This lowers my self-esteem and confidence," he said. He recommends that teachers "be patient, question students to make sure they understand concepts and directions, and provide executive function supports."
Heather, who has dyslexia, used strategies she learned at Landmark to help a second-grade girl she babysits who struggles with reading. "I was always catching up in class and avoided reading, so school was not fun," she said. Heather wanted to spare the girl the pain and anxiety she faced. "I read a story to her first, then previewed the text, summarized it, and had her practice. Then I asked her comprehension questions." Her advice for teachers? "Be supportive and encouraging, work in a quiet environment, break down the steps, and set goals.
Ethan explained that while there's no scientific evidence of a correlation between mental health issues and dyslexia, students with dyslexia are more likely to be bullied or harassed than other students, which can cause anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and depression. He suggests that teachers look for signs that students are being bullied or are experiencing mental health issues and intervene. "Most important, be supportive and patient," he said.
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.