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Landmark School

Openness to Learn Cultivates a Sense of Optimism

Blog Type:  Social and Emotional Issues Date Posted:  Wednesday, October 21, 2020

A Black High School Student’s Experience on a Predominantly White Campus

By Aliyah Knudsen

When I was a freshman, I went to St Mary’s High School in Lynn, Mass. It’s a brick building that looks like a prison, but not in a bad way. A lot of the students are children of immigrants: first-generation Americans who are just trying to live up to the expectations of their parents, who moved to Massachusetts to give them better lives. Most of my classmates came from low-income houses and they struggled in school. When I talked to my friends, I said things like “sup ‘cuz” and “is mad brick outside.” As a Black student, my year at St. Mary’s was the first time that I was surrounded by more students who looked like me than didn’t. I didn’t stick out. No one paid more attention to me just because of the color of my skin. I was just another one of the Black kids. 

Fast-forward one year and I was a sophomore, starting once again at a new school: Landmark High School. I came to Landmark to figure out strategies to help me learn better. I had always struggled with paying attention in school and understanding the content I was being taught. Starting my year at a new school was tough, but it was made even harder by the fact that I felt like I had to consciously change a lot of things about myself. I had to dress differently and speak differently. I went from feeling like I blended in to feeling like eyes were on me at all times. At Landmark, everyone knows who I am whether I’ve talked to them before or not. Teachers constantly tell me to “keep my head down.” When they say that, they’re telling me to mind my business, do my work, and stay out of trouble. Sometimes I wonder if they say that to white students too. Or do they just also realize that I’m more likely to get in trouble for something because I stand out? 

Racial Climate Creates Expectations

I’ve always known I was different from most of the other students at Landmark, but I never felt that different until this year. Something that’s changed this year is that students expect me to constantly have something to say about every race-related issue on campus. Whenever another student says something that they shouldn’t, people always come up to me and say “Did you hear this person said that?” or “Can you believe it?” Not only that, people walk on eggshells around me, like they’re afraid that they’re going to slip up and call me a racial slur. I've learned the difference between students who are simply uneducated about race-related issues in America and students who don’t care about becoming educated. I would like to make it clear: I envy those who have the privilege to not care. I would love to not have to have another conversation about why saying “Black Lives Matter” is not a political statement but instead is a human-rights movement. 

Why Black Lives Matter

When people tell me they don’t understand why “only” Black lives matter, I tell them to think about this: if there’s one building on fire in a neighborhood, the fire department will help the house on fire. They’re not going to spend time spraying their hoses at the houses that aren’t on fire because those houses don’t need their help. This is what I think about when I hear people say “all lives matter.” No one is saying that they don’t, but they’re saying that there’s a community on fire and they need everyone’s help to put the fire out.

Willingness to Foster a Sense of Support and Belonging

Being a member of a minority race in a primarily white school has taught me many things. It’s taught me that I need to be more aware of my actions because I can’t get away with the same things as other students can. It’s taught me that eyes are always going to be on me because I am a minority. It’s taught me that people are going to expect me to be the person who calls people out for making racially charged statements. It’s taught me that a lot of people are going to expect me to educate them instead of taking the time to educate themselves. But it’s also taught me that there are people who are willing to learn. It’s taught me that there are people who are willing to do the work and try to make our campus a place where all students and faculty feel comfortable and supported. 

I’m thankful to go to a school that is willing to have open and honest conversations with their students, and I look forward to seeing what else Landmark has in store for us.

aliyah knudsen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Aliyah James Knudsen is a senior at Landmark High School. In her spare time, she enjoys skateboarding, going to the beach, and traveling. She plans to pursue a career as an emergency medical technician.

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Tags:  black lives matter Landmark School racial justice

Bridging Brain Research and Dyslexia Awareness

Blog Type:  Learning Disabilities Date Posted:  Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Submitted by Nadine Gaab, PhD., and Elizabeth Norton, PhD.

As scientists who study reading difficulties and developmental dyslexia, we hope that one day, we will be out of business. That is, we hope that one day, we will all understand the causes of reading difficulties, be able to identify children at risk early, know how to best diagnose a reading difficulty, and know which remediation strategy is best for every single child. Most importantly, we hope that one day all children will enjoy learning to read and reading to learn. We are not there yet, though.

Parents and teachers often ask us how our research can be translated into practice. We can promise you that we are working hard but we need more time to answer all your questions. So far, our research has given us some promising clues. For example, we have shown that preschool children who have a parent or an older sibling with dyslexia already show differences in their brain structure and function, even before they receive any reading instruction. These changes can also be seen in children who struggle with letters and certain pre-reading tasks in kindergarten. These findings suggest that children with dyslexia may have characteristic brain changes either from birth or that develop very early in life. This fact only underlines that identification and intervention need to happen as early as possible. In another area of research, our colleagues have shown that the brain basis of reading is the same whether or not there is a discrepancy between an individual’s IQ and reading ability. This will hopefully inform diagnostic criteria, and allow more children who have trouble reading to get intervention. These are just two of the areas we are learning more about through our research, and we always have more to learn.

In addition to continuing our research, we are working hard to share all the knowledge we have with the families, teachers, principals and the volunteers who work with us in these studies. We are creating an open dialogue that has mutual benefits for the research and the participating families, as well as informs clinical and educational interests. We are not researchers that waltz in to a school, collect data, and then return to an ivory tower. We are involved with our partner schools, teaching professional development sessions for the staff and brain awareness days for the children. We set up information booths at community events and frequently speak with parent groups and advocacy organizations. For families who participate in our studies, we provide reports of their child’s reading assessments and when necessary, referrals to schools and organizations that work with individuals with reading difficulties. We are doing our best to inform, to communicate, to translate and to disseminate our knowledge, and we will keep going until every child reads well.

Learn more: The Gaab Lab at Boston Children’s Hospital: http://www.childrenshospital.org/research-and-innovation/research-labs/gaab-laboratory The Gabrieli Lab in the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT: http://gablab.mit.edu/index.php/participate

nadine gaab headshot

Nadine Gaab, PhD., is an assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the Boston Children’s Hospital/Harvard Medical School, Principal Researcher at the Gaab Laboratory, member of the faculty at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and faculty adjunct at Brandeis University.

elizabeth norton headshot

Elizabeth Norton, PhD., Gabrieli Lab in the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT, READstudy and former Landmark School science teacher.

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Tags:  Boston Children’s Hospital brain structure and function Brandeis University developmental dyslexia dyslexia Elizabeth Norton Gaab Laboratory Gabrieli Lab in the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT Harvard Graduate School of Education Harvard Medical School IQ kindergarten Landmark School Nadine Gaab PhD pre-reading professional development reading ability reading assessment reading difficulties READstudy research siblings

An Oasis of Dignity

Blog Type:  Social and Emotional Issues Date Posted:  Thursday, June 27, 2013

Submitted by Donna Hicks, Ph.D.

It was pouring down rain on Friday June 7 — graduation day for the class of 2013 at Landmark High School in Beverly, MA.  This was no ordinary graduation, and the rain did not put a damper on the joy that infused everyone in attendance.

It was victory day for 82 students who struggled with learning challenges early in their lives. As many of them reported, they were headed down a slippery slope in public school, where they felt overwhelmed and depressed. They did not respond to traditional teaching methods that were geared toward the average learner. Given their unique ways of processing information, they needed instruction that was designed for their particular learning style. Their parents found Landmark school—a life-saving educational institution that has graduated thousands of such students for more than 40 years. I call it an oasis of dignity.

I was asked to deliver the commencement speech. It seemed clear that these young people would understand what it meant to have their dignity violated. So many of them suffered from feeling marginalized and shamed simply because they had a different way of learning. Landmark School, with its remarkable faculty and administration, turned that around for them. They were transformed into accomplished graduates, all of them attending college in the fall.

My message to them was simple. I told them that they needed to remember three lessons. These would apply to the next phases of their education, and to all people from all walks of life.

1. You have inborn value and worth. The minute you doubt it, you're heading for trouble. People out there might want to make you feel unworthy; the world can be a cruel place. We humans can do very hurtful things to one another.

Many of us make the mistake in feeling that if someone mistreats us, that there is something wrong with us. It's certainly embarrassing and hurtful when our dignity is harmed but it doesn't mean there is anything personally wrong. It means that something wrong happened to us. Whenever you start to doubt your worthiness, say to yourself, "I'm invaluable, priceless, and irreplaceable.”  That will get you back on track.

2. No one can take your dignity away from you. It is always in your hands. Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in prison and stated, “Any man or institution that tries to rob me of my dignity will lose.” It can be wounded and trampled on, and it needs to be cared for, but you are the only one in charge of your dignity.

When your self-worth is intact, you can get through just about anything. It's the key to resilience. We may need time to heal from the wounds, but it is always there. You may betray your dignity (by losing sight of it) it but it will never betray you.

3. By honoring dignity in yourself and others, you become an outstanding citizen of the world. Success certainly requires technical training and education. However, what is going to set you apart from all the other people competing for jobs and opportunities is your character.

Knowing how to treat people well, how to recognize their dignity, and how to live your life in an honoring way, will not only bring you success, but it will make you the kind of human being that people want to be around. It will make you a leader. Give back some of the dignity that Landmark created for you.  Go out in the world and treat others the way you were treated here. Not only do we make others feel good when we recognize their worth, but we look good, too. When we honor others’ dignity, we strengthen our own.

Learn more about Donna Hicks and her book, Dignity

 

Donna Hicks is the author of Dignity and an associate at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, Harvard University. Dr. Hicks delivered Landmark's 2013 commencement address.

 

 

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Tags:  accomplished graduates character commencement address dignity Donna Hicks graduation day Landmark School learning style Nelson Mandela oasis of dignity outstanding citizen Weatherhead Center for International Affairs

Making Handprints: A Summer In Baranovo

Blog Type:  Learning Disabilities Date Posted:  Tuesday, September 3, 2013

kids outside russian orphanage

By Erin D'Agostino

During my time teaching at Landmark, I was struck by one aspect of the school that went above and beyond classroom material and educational skills: the Landmark Community. Landmark has created an environment in which students are accepted for who they are and what they are capable of. It is a community in which the potential of students is universally respected and the nature of their disabilities is understood. In this wonderfully supportive environment, students can grow into their full potential and gain the ability to walk with confidence into their futures.

Unfortunately, not all children are so lucky.

I spent this past summer in rural Russia, volunteering with the Russian Orphan Opportunity Fund (ROOF) at what is historically known as a Psychoneurological Orphanage. It was an eye-opening experience, and not just because of the lack of running water. These Psychoneurological Orphanages are home to hundreds of children with a variety of developmental disorders. There are many of such orphanages in Russia, most intentionally located in remote regions of the rural countryside. Children rarely have more than a nonspecific diagnosis, and some even appear to have minimal disabilities. Very few children are adopted, and the future for these children is frequently bleak. It is common for children to graduate at age 18 and transition directly to an adult institution, where they remain for the rest of their lives. As these orphanages fall under the jurisdiction of the Russian Department of Health and not the Department of Education, education is not mandated for inhabitants of Psychoneurological Orphanages. As a result of these factors and the passport stamp that indelibly marks these children, it is rare for a graduate to become a productive member of society.

While Landmark has cultivated an environment in which differences in learning are understood and respected, Russia commonly has a view of developmental differences that is at best ignorant and at worst highly prejudiced. It is important to recognize that this view is not a product of the typical Russian, but largely derived from governmental policies, particularly policies that remove these children from the eyes of the public. Regardless of the source of this attitude, opportunities for these orphans will remain limited as long as Russia remains fixated in it.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that there are bright-eyed idealists in both Russian and foreign organizations working towards changing the status quo. By spreading understanding and tolerance of developmental disabilities, ROOF hopes to make the future brighter for children in Psychoneurological Orphanages, one town at a time. This is a two pronged approach: First, the surrounding community has to be strong enough to have the ability to support the orphanage, and second, the community must accept the children and their differences as contributing members of the community.

Yes, revitalizing and integrating the community is an enormous project, but hope is on the horizon. Even in just one summer of Baranovo residency, I can testify to the difference that I saw in the community there. A “Dom Kulturi,” or “House of Culture,” was partially renovated so that soccer, tetherball, volleyball, and general silliness could be enjoyed by all the children in the community. A mural was drawn, displaying the indiscriminate handprints of all members of the town. Those handprints represented the potential for a new beginning, one without differentiation based on passport stamp. A village that had been masked in apathy rejuvenated itself, and the difference was palpable. With further projects on the horizon, including the building of a playground and the opening of a small business, there are new and bright possibilities appearing in the future. With the continued efforts of perseverant dreamers, the region around the orphanage has the potential to transform into a new kind of Russian village: a Landmark-ian society in which children are understood to be capable beyond what former prejudices have mandated and opportunities can be made readily available without discrimination.

One day in particular sticks in my memory: we had all been working hard, clearing rubble from outside of the Dom Kulturi. My personal focus had been on pulling countless shards of glass from the long, scraggly grass. Not pleasant, especially in the Russian summer sun. Given the heat and toil, my first reaction on hearing boisterous activity inside the dilapidated building was frustration. Who was in there now, what shenanigans were they up to, and what new Vodka-remains was I going to have to clean up as a result? I marched in, ready to tell off some troublemakers. Instead, what I found was five children, all under age ten, giggling and decorating the newly cleaned-out space with painted flowers, faces, and other staples of a child’s universe. On that day- our fourth in the Russian countryside- we saw the building being used the way it was intended: as a place for people to gather and bond. With a few shovels, some sweat and some laughing children, the beginning of a new community was formed. 

For more information about the Russian Orphan Opportunity Fund, visit www.roofnet.org and for fundraising opportunities, contact Erin D’Agostino at edagosti@gmail.com.

 

Erin D'Agostino headshot is a former Landmark High School Science and Tutorial Teacher. Erin is currently working at the Children's Evaluation and Rehabilitation Center (CERC) at Albert Einstein Medical College. She plans to pursue an MD in Developmental Pediatrics.

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Tags:  Albert Einstein Medical College building tolerance CERC Children’s Evaluation and Rehabilitiation Center community developmental differences Developmental Pediatrics disabilities Dom Kulturi handprints Landmark School new community formed playground prejudiced Psychoneurological Orphanages respect revitalizing the community ROOF Russian Department of Health Russian Orphan Opportunity Fund supportive environment

Debate = Empowerment

Blog Type:  Learning Date Posted:  Thursday, May 14, 2015

Submitted by Caleb Koufman

landmark high school debate

When most people imagine the extracurriculars offered at a school for students with language-based learning disabilities​, such as dyslexia​, debate club is usually not among them. Just like any presumptions about their disabilities, though, students ​where I work as a teacher ​proved this one wrong, too.

It is my job to encourage students to question lessons and provoke discussions in a polite and articulate nature​ despite whatever learning difference they may have.​ ​After persistent student requests, and a bit of uncertainty on the part of the faculty, senior faculty member Bruce Stoddard and I started a debate team as an extracurricular activity at the school.

Junior ​William Cassilly and Sophomore ​Kenneth Deluze comprised the first-ever​ debate team ​at Landmark School​. It was such a pleasure to witness any anxieties about debating melt during the initial speeches. Suddenly, finding their confidence, Kenny started slamming his fist onto the desk in front of him like a Manhattan courtroom lawyer as he accused the other team of conceding a point that they forgot to address, and Liam calmly and inquisitively cross-examined his opponent like a Southern legislator before making his final arguments during the final focus. ​

Despite what most people may think about students who inherently struggle with language, these students ​can be uniquely​ skilled at the most important aspects of debate.

​They value presentation and preparation and authentically appeal to judges. With strong verbal and logical reasoning, our debaters are able to diminish the effect of their learning disabilities and present a strong and confident demeanor at the podium. ​Despite their challenges with reading and writing, many of our students ​often ​have an affinity for compelling public speech and the ​new debate club allows ​them​ to realize this. ​ ​

The experience of learning how to debate requires acquiring new skills that are often outside of any student’s comfort zone. In general, most people dread public speaking. But debating also requires knowledge of how to take notes in shorthand and write persuasive cases that cite scholars, scientists, advocates, lawyers, judges, politicians, literature, and legislature. The most important part of debate, though, is the experience of confronting an intimidating challenge and succeeding. Debate is empowering to students, and we hope to watch the program grow in the future to incorporate more people with varying levels of experience.

This week we will be attending our​ third official debate at a competitive private school nearby. ​The topic is whether or not high schools, universities, and professional sports teams should ban the use of ethnic group images such as mascots and team names. There's no telling who will win or lose but the debate is sure to be inspiring, competitive, and the start of a new and exciting tradition.

caleb koufman headshot

Caleb Koufman is a faculty member at Landmark High School.

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Tags:  Caleb Koufman compelling public speech confidence debate debate club disabilities dread public speaking dyslexia empowerment exciting tradition extracurricular activities Landmark School language-based learning disabilities learning differences logical reasoning persuasive cases

Dancing in the Rain

Blog Type:  Teaching Date Posted:  Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Submitted by Amy Ruocco

andrew ruocco dancing

We are all faced with challenges in life, but how successfully we navigate through those challenges largely depends on how capable we view ourselves to be. Dyslexic children learn fairly early on that their peers are able to conquer tasks that are seemingly insurmountable to them. Even the brightest students find themselves shirking opportunities to participate in class for fear of being wrong or worse, different. Unfortunately, many of these students find themselves focusing all their energy on their weaknesses. Unless these children are allowed to also celebrate their strengths, they will find it hard to develop confidence in their own abilities.

Our son Andrew is a very bright, inquisitive, little guy, but not long after beginning first grade, we noticed his light was dimming. His love of school first turned into like, but after a while, it turned into dread. It wasn’t until Andrew began going to Landmark that we saw his light begin to return. Day by day, we felt our son was coming back to us.

One day after school, Andrew was especially eager to ask me something. As soon as he saw me he said “Mom, Landmark is having a talent show. Can I do it?” Of course, I said yes immediately. Naturally, I assumed he would choose to play the guitar, since he had been doing so since the age of four. However, when asked, he replied, “Nope, I want to dance.” “Dance, did he really just say he wanted to dance?” Since dancing was something Andrew would have previously avoided out of fear of embarrassment, I asked again for clarification. Of course, he confirmed that I had heard him correctly and began deciding what form of dance to perform. At that moment, I was both thrilled and scared to death. Here we were. Andrew was finally feeling at home again. He felt smart and liked and... happy. Although I feared what could happen if Andrew’s performance was not, shall we say, appreciated, I feared more what would happen if we did not support his decision.

The day of the performance, my hands were sweating and my heart was in my stomach. “Please let this go well,” I kept telling myself. Andrew proudly stepped out on the stage and began to dance. The more he danced, the more I relaxed, because I knew that Andrew was truly confident and happy. He finally felt safe enough to put himself out there in front of his peers and fortunately, they did not let him down. The support Andrew received that day was absolutely amazing. In fact, I would call it life-changing and he would too.

No one is able to get through life without challenge. In fact, many times, the challenges we face allow us to discover our strengths. Children, however, need to be reminded that their challenges do not define them. When provided with the opportunity to also showcase their gifts, and feel the praise that comes from doing so, children will begin to experience themselves as capable. The byproduct of those experiences is confidence, which is an essential ingredient in the formula for academic and social success. Looking back now, I find it somewhat metaphorical that Andrew chose “Singing in the Rain” as his performance piece. While some would seek shelter from the storm, Andrew chose to “dance” in the rain that day.

amy ruocco headshot

Amy Ruocco is a Landmark School parent.

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Tags:  academic success bright students capable celebrate strengths challenge develop confidence dyslexia inquisitive Landmark School opportunity showcase gifts Singing in the Rain social success

Life After Landmark

Blog Type:  Social and Emotional Issues Date Posted:  Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Submitted by Stephanie Johnston

All parents worry, but parents of children who learn differently worry a lot more.  From the time our son started school we worried.  There were vague worries: why isn’t he able to learn, respond promptly, organize himself, etc…There were specific worries: will he ever be able to tie a shoe? Read? Take independent responsibility for himself and his life?

Those of us who are able to get our child into the right academic setting are like survivors of a shipwreck clinging to the edge of a raft with our children safely in the middle. We watch from the sidelines as they gain academic and life skills in a uniquely supportive environment. We are sheltered from the storm for a short time, but always looming on our horizon is the bigger, impersonal world. The older your child becomes, the less accommodating the world at large becomes. The boy must become a man.

Leading up to the big transition from 8th to 9th grade, we worried ourselves sick that our son needed more time in his supportive school to build a foundation. What would happen if we pulled him out too soon? Yet, in the larger context, we knew he would have to make that transition – ready or not – and we timed it so he could enter high school with all of the other incoming freshmen; for better or worse he would be one of them.

When the first day of high school arrived my fervent prayer was that he would “cope and pass”. Our son is a man of few words, but I can tell a lot by his body language. He was waiting with a group of students at pick-up time; he sauntered over to the car loose, jaunty, relaxed… and hungry. The first day was great. Now, halfway through his freshmen year, he is an honor student at a preparatory high school. Some things are harder for him than others. His learning differences are still there but he owns them with an easy confidence. He is fine.

After all these years of intense, urgent, appropriate worry “all of a sudden” it’s coming together for him. When he was at Landmark we parents all worried together. Every child is so different that no two journeys will be the same. Many parents of older children offered me encouragement, telling me our son would be fine, but I was too worried and the future was too murky for me to relax. Now we can see the four years of intense support and instruction that he received at Landmark laid a wonderful foundation for success. Were it not for that, he wouldn’t be where he is now. So with tremendous relief and gratitude, I can say yes, there is life after Landmark and it’s good.

Stephanie Johnston is a parent of a former Landmark School student.

stephanie johnston headshot

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Tags:  academic skills Landmark School learn differently learning differences life skills preparatory school Stephanie Johnston supportive environment transition to high school

31 Days of Kindness

Blog Type:  Social and Emotional Issues Date Posted:  Friday, January 31, 2014

By Brandi-Lin Ebersole

School is a place we learn facts, methods, and grow our skills. When a teacher sits down to write a lesson she thinks, “how am I going to get them to understand my subject matter?”, “What tools can I use to do this?” and “How am I going to draw them in?”. One typical morning in one of my reading classes, I was quickly writing my lesson agenda on the board, when I overheard students talking about last night’s varsity soccer game. One of my  students had scored a goal and others were praising him. I listened in and let them discuss a little longer.

I then turned around and explained to them why I allowed them to continue to talk, instead of rushing to my lesson. I began sharing a story of a young man named Adam who was seventeen years old just like some of them. He had his life taken from him after winning a soccer championship, all because he was trying to help someone. I explained how my friend Lara, Adam’s sister, annually takes the month of October to honor him by performing 31 days of kindness. For 31 days, Lara offers a different act of kindness each day and blogs about it;  changing her horrifying memory into something redemptive. As I was finishing the story, one of the students chimed in and asked if they too could participate in the  31 days of kindness. I instantly responded, “Yes!”

So for the entire month of October, every class began with a story ranging from buying friends coffee, “just because” to babysitting children to give adults a break. It created a mood in our classroom that was a space for my students to learn a lesson that I did not plan for. It was a lesson that involved the subject of Kindness. They all commented on how good it made them feel and how they were excited to share their daily stories. During the month, my students realized their lives too could be taken in a blink of an eye and in turn wanted to thank Lara for such a great idea. So in honor of Adam, their 31st act of Kindness, was to create a video thanking her and explaining how this challenge had changed them.

Ms. Ebersole's class: Aidan O, James P, Hugh M, and Kyle T

Videography by Ebersole Photography

Brandi-Lin Ebersole is a member of Landmark High School's faculty.

brandi-lin ebersole headshot

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Tags:  acts of kindness Landmark School

Leveling the Playing Field for Kids with Dyslexia

Blog Type:  Learning Disabilities Date Posted:  Friday, November 13, 2015

By Barbara L’Italien

Children with dyslexia often go without the essential support they need in order to succeed in our traditional public schools. Although research shows that when students with dyslexia get the method of instruction early in their educational careers they frequently become very successful students, Massachusetts does not provide specialized training, teaching strategies, or evaluation process for teachers of students with dyslexia. Additionally, many educators have not been taught how to recognize the early signs of dyslexia. The result is that thousands of children with dyslexia suffer in silence after being labeled below-average or lazy. These children do not get to enjoy learning in the same way their peers do, and their fear of constantly asking for help with deciphering words can result in long-term effects on their literacy.

The need for legislative action is clear. The demand for dyslexia-specific instruction far exceeds the number of seats available at the Landmark School.  Providing accessible methods to help teachers better understand how to instruct students with dyslexia should be a priority, as should early evaluation of students who show signs of dyslexia. We want all students to work at grade level, and we know that kids with dyslexia can do this if they are properly supported.

For these reasons, I have sponsored a bill (S.312) to address the special education needs of children with dyslexia. The bill has four important components: (1) an optional endorsement for teachers who wish to be trained in teaching strategies for students with dyslexia, (2) adding a standardized definition of dyslexia into our special education statute, (3) a requirement that schools provide early evaluation of young students showing signs of dyslexia, and (4) a requirement that students with dyslexia have access to teachers who have earned the dyslexia endorsement.  

This bill is not perfect or all encompassing, but it has begun a statewide conversation on the importance of providing high-quality instruction for students with dyslexia and how to best equip our hardworking educators with the tools they need to help children with dyslexia succeed. I want to honor our children and educators that advocate for students with dyslexia through this bill. We will use their experiences and the research to advance dyslexia education in our schools and ensure children with dyslexia excel in their educational careers.  If you agree that this legislation is needed in our Commonwealth, I encourage you to contact my office to discuss how you can help advocate on behalf of this issue.

Barbara L'Italien headshot

Barbara L’Italien is the mother of four children and is the State Senator for Andover, Dracut, Lawrence, & Tewksbury.  Her career in advocacy and public service also includes eight years as a State Representative and Government Affairs work in the State Treasurer’s office and at the Arc of Massachusetts.

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Tags:  Barbara L’Italien Decoding Dyslexiadyslexia dyslexia awareness dyslexia legislation Landmark School

Making Time to Create Change

Blog Type:  Learning Disabilities Date Posted:  Tuesday, October 6, 2015

By Nicole Mitsakis

"You have to do the right thing...You may never know what results come from your action. But if you do nothing, there will be no result." Mohandas K. Gandhi

The quote above explains the very personal and passionate commitment I have to establishing Decoding Dyslexia in Massachusetts (DD-MA) as a relevant and effective means to improve the school experience of students with dyslexia. The struggle for my own child’s positive outcome in a public school was a work in progress, full of frustration and stress. DD-MA is a constructive outlet that allowed me to take some action.

or me, one of the most relevant opportunities was on June 17, 2015, when I testified before the Massachusetts Education Committee to share why dyslexia legislation is so necessary (HB 463 and SB 312). DD-MA has worked with neuroscientists and legislators to initiate legislation that will guide public school policy makers to better outcomes. What I’ve learned about the legislation process is invaluable, but the most important lesson I have learned is that by taking steps and creating the opportunity for others to join in those steps towards change, Massachusetts is closer to a result that would benefit all public school students struggling with dyslexia. As a new parent in the Landmark community, I’d like to share the mission of Decoding Dyslexia MA.  

Who is DD-MA and what do they do?

Decoding Dyslexia Massachusetts  (DD-MA) is a grassroots movement to raise awareness of the research-based interventions that are effective in overcoming dyslexia and opening the doors to academic success. We aim to influence families, educators, and legislators and our motto is: Make time to create change or the time for change will never be now.  

Together, committed parents and professionals have joined us over the few short years since our beginning in 2013. I am grateful to all the parents, professionals, legislators, and dyslexia experts that I have had the privilege of meeting and learning from on this journey. The process of advocating for any child with a disability is difficult and it’s even more challenging when that disability is often not acknowledged or supported appropriately.  DD-MA allows me to direct my energy in a positive way to create better outcomes. Below is a list of a few highlights accomplished by our group:

  • Meeting with neuroscience researchers at the McGovern Institute of Brain Researchers to promote dyslexia awareness
  • Advocating as part of the National Decoding Dyslexia Network in Washington D.C.
  • Dyslexia awareness lectures with Dr. Nadine Gaab, Dr. Elizabeth Norton, Dr. Stephanie Gottwald, Dr. Matthew Schneps, Dr. Roberto Olivardia and other experts
  • Documentary movie showings (both The Big Picture: Rethinking Dyslexia and Dislecksia the Movie) with panel discussions for Dyslexia awareness
  • Providing our 1700+ followers with an active place to learn about and discuss dyslexia
  • Engaging Massachusetts families in legislative or community action that will improve outcomes for students with dyslexia

There is still work to be done!

massachusetts dyslexia advocates

The current legislation includes two bills as drafts in the Joint Committee on Education, HB 463 and SB 312. At the Hearing, DD-MA families were accompanied at the hearing by experts like Dr. John Gabrieli and Elizabeth Norton of the McGovern Institute of Brain Research at MIT, Dr. Charles Haynes of MGH Institute of Health Professionals, and Dr. Roberto Olivardia, Harvard Medical School. Many members of the International Dyslexia Association also signed a joint letter submitted as testimony. Though the hearing is past, testimony can be submitted by anyone who wants to offer their opinion and story to the Joint Committee on Education. I encourage all families who are experiencing the challenges that come with dyslexia—academic, financial, social, and emotional - to contact legislators to support legislation.

Can you make time to create change?

For more information or to get or stay involved: Decoding Dyslexia MA wesbite DD-MA on Facebook

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Nicole Mitsakis, Landmark Parent and DD-MA Co-Founder & Director of Operations

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Tags:  Decoding Dyslexia dyslexia dyslexia awareness dyslexia legislation Gabrieli Lab in the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT Landmark School making change National Dyslexia Awareness Month Nicole Mitsakis

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