education

Marie Fostino Facebook profile photo dressed in purple with feather  band in her hair


Early Years

I found school to be very hard. I didn’t get good grades.  I would read the work that was given to me, but not really understand what I was reading. When I was in high school my grades were C’s and D’s. I would try so hard to study and memorize but it was a waste of time, I would not remember.  In fact, it took me three times taking my history class before I passed it. Of course it didn’t help that I was not interested in that class at the time.  But you can’t pass high school without history class. Doing so made me miss my graduation.  I passed high school in summer school of my last year. And being the oldest of my siblings I really embarrassed my mother. She never saw me graduate.  When I got married she told my husband-to-be that I was “special” and to have patience with me, meaning I was sort of stupid or semi-retarded or something.

Higher Education with a Desire to Help Others

I became a beautician and had a talent for fixing hair. My only problem was charging people. I didn’t have the heart to charge like everyone else so I was pretty cheap.  I lived in Norman, Oklahoma when the when the Oklahoma City bombing happened. I drove to the site to help the wounded but was turned away from the National Guard since I didn’t have any credentials proving I was in the medical field.  I cried so hard.  It was then I had the idea that I needed to go back to school. I initially fought the idea. I remember how hard school was and told myself I would never go back to school again. 


Marie Fostino Paramedic Class Group Shot of Marie and Classmates


I really think God was calling me to go back and I fought with this idea for a few weeks before I finally gave in. I chose to study to become a Paramedic.  When I was in my EMT class and took one of my tests, I questioned the teacher as to why she was asking questions about “police” on our tests. She had me read the questions to her and then corrected me that the word was “policies”, not police.  She asked me if I was dyslexic. I had no idea what she was talking about. Well it happened to be, that she was dyslexic and she saw the signs in me that she once had. She made an appointment for me to see her doctor.


When I found out I was dyslexic, they had me read with many overlays until I found one that would calm my mind. That was really all that happened.  They may have told me that I needed to see another doctor, but, if they did, I didn’t pursue it anymore.  I already knew I had trouble learning, and I had five children at home which I was responsible for, and I was working at the beauty shop, had a husband, and I didn’t have any more time in the day for anything else nor the money to put down.

 

NOTE: In a literature study of the efficacy of colored overlays in the dyslexic, authors Arcangelo Uccula, Mauro Enna, and Claudio Mulatti, found that the use of colored overlays as a remedy for difficulties in reading experienced by the dyslexic individuals as controversial - http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00833/, and that American Academy of Pediatrics has claimed that there is not empirical evidence toward the efficacy of colored overlays in reading, reading acquisition, or dyslexia, and did not recommend their use. However, this is what Marie used as a tool so we share this within the context of her story. - HSN


Marie Fostino with Diploma

 

“I lived so many years thinking I was stupid.”

I lived so many years thinking I was stupid, so I decided that I had to find a way to help me learn.  So when I went to paramedic school, I actually lived at Denny’s Restaurant.  For that year or a little longer, I went to work and school and studied. I missed my kids, because I was not home, but I already knew how hard it was for me to learn and I had to just concentrate. I would read, and write down what I read, and highlighted what I was reading and then I would make myself tests to take. You have no idea how many hours I spent trying to learn all the information. When we finished and was supposed to graduate, my teacher had me stay after by myself and he had me go through many scenarios, and what I would do for the patient, before he would pass me. When I took my National Registry Test, and I walked in with my green overlay, the inspectors all took turns looking at my green overlay to make sure I wasn’t cheating. 

I know that I need a light green overlay to help me read, settle down my mind and keep the words from moving so I can understand what I am reading. I was astonished to find out that I actually had a learning difference and I wasn’t just stupid or special like my mom would say. 


Marie Fostino standing in front of Ambulance

 
Dyslexia on the Job

I became a paramedic and the dyslexia really didn’t bother me since I was doing hands-on skills. My partner did the driving, and I was responsible for patient care. However, when I changed jobs and was required to work on a computer looking at social security cards and entering these numbers in the computer, I found I had trouble. After I mixed up a couple of numbers a few times my boss put me on a performance improvement plan and I was not allowed to work on the computer. I became scared because I had looked at these numbers at least three times and didn’t notice that I had mixed them up. I felt like I was experiencing dementia or Alzheimer’s.  My boss told me I had to get a medical evaluation/diagnosis for my dyslexia.  The hard part about this was that the doctors I was looking for, worked with children, not a 61year-old woman. 


Marie Fostino with Grand kids in ambulance


I found that I had to leave that job and stay away from working with a computer for work. To work for a company where I can mess things up because of mixing up numbers or letters, that kind of job is not for me. I found a new job. I am now working at a behavioral center with adults that have drug and alcohol problems.  I can use my paramedic skills as I triage these people, and help them get the treatment they need, whether it is letting them sit while they are coming down from the liquor or drugs, or having them go into the back for treatment with our nurses or calling 911.  I became a paramedic to help people so even though I am not on an ambulance now I feel like I am still helping people. 

  

Marie Fostino in standing by her ambulance holding the first book she wrote Marie Fostino with Family group shot Thanksgiving 2014


I also write books and have an editor that catches my mistakes.  At the age of 61, I feel like I have learned to live with my learning disability and I am not going to go for any more testing. It would be a good thing for the young to get tested and help for this disability, but it won’t do anything to help me now. Hobbies, Passions, and Strengths My kids and grandkids are my life. For the longest time my hobby was photography. I entered many contests and won or placed in few. The last few years I have been writing books. It is not the easiest but I enjoy it. When I would look at my work, I think, boy did I do a great job. But then I would give it to my editor and when I got it back to make corrections, I would be amazed at how much I mixed up.

Feel free to check out my books on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. I’m on Facebook too.


Many thanks to Marie for sharing her story with us! 


Uccula A, Enna M and Mulatti C (2014) Colors, colored overlays, and reading skills. Front. Psychol. 5:833. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00833 -http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00833/full

 

We'd like to invite you to donate to Headstrong Nation - Donate Herehttps://www.razoo.com/us/story/Headstrong-Nation - Please support us in our efforts to support the adult dyslexic.  Thank You! 

Like us on Facebook,  Follow us on TwitterPinterestYouTube, and Instagram.   Thanks for your support!  - The Headstrong Nation Team

 

Originally published November 23, 2015 on MariauxArt.com

stylized painting of Mariaux Art and dyslexia logo                                          

I loved books, I loved stories and I wanted to read—I just couldn’t read like other kids. I worked so hard to read that I lost the meaning of what I was trying to read. My book larva gnawed away at me while sat there stuck in an easy-reader—even when others had put their books away—I still labored over words.

Normal readers had a cute little bookworm friend that had little round glasses that were too big for its pudgy little face. It had a nerdy, feeble but kind warble in its voice that politely reminded them to, “read more books.” My bookworm was more like botfly larva. It bored into my head the significance of reading and every time I tried to read, it fed off my delicious inadequacies and bore deep into my sub-conscience that, “books aren’t meant for you.” The teachers said my only cure was to, “read more books.” In those days, no one knew I was dyslexic, but they did recognize that I had a different learning style

I was outwardly intelligent, social, and likable. Eventually I was labeled, “unteachable”—” lazy”—” unmotivated.” I struggled with reading in first grade. In second grade it became apparent that I had a learning disability. Third grade, I hit a wall. The school wanted to send me to a mobile home that sat on the school grounds. I’d sit with a teacher and a few severely disabled children. There was no help for me, and the environment was devastating to my self-esteem. My mom took me out of school and homeschooled me. My parents had no money, and no other educational alternative.

My homeschool years were hardly perfect, but they were liberating years for me. I spent a great deal of my time outdoors. We lived on five wooded acres in the rural countryside of Missouri. I was sure I was going to become an artist someday. I painted pictures, wrote short stories and plays. My mom read me book after book—all the classics. When she wasn’t reading, I was listening to the BBC book of the week on the radio. My little brother and I would lay on the floor and listen. I often drew pictures, painted and colored while listening to books. We were ear reading. Our ability to comprehend was phenomenal. I didn’t feel my limitations, I only felt that all was possible in my isolated world of Narnia, The Hiding Place, Lord of The Rings, Great Expectations, Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry—my little brother, and my loving and supportive parents.

 Eventually, I was put into a small school in our church. My parents were open to trying other options and they were always hopeful that something would work. My little brother and I were publicly humiliated (my brother was physically disciplined) by our teachers. They didn’t know about our dyslexia and neither did we. We took the licks and just assumed we were the problem. This was a big burden for small backs. Back then humiliation was a tactic used to motivate. The educators in this school simply believed we weren’t trying. Try as we might, we just didn’t fit. We were abruptly taken out of this school and homeschooled again. My mom wasn’t a teacher and never intended to be. She did her very best. She inspired me—helped me keep my chin up. Only now do I understand her full-time dedication.

After taking an independent drivers education course, I decided I wanted to try and go back to school. I wanted to be around my peers—normal kids. I felt like I was missing out on the world. I was curious and very naive. I went into public high school my sophomore year. I struggled and failed. The shame I felt was unbearable, but I kept a poker face and most of my friends never knew my struggles. At first, teachers looked at me to be a nice addition in their classroom. I was very bright, forthcoming and effervescent about my willingness to learn. I sat in the front row and made eye contact. “Teach me—I want to learn.” I let them all down. Worksheets got the better of me as did and timed testing. The daily anxiety was a shock to my senses. One by one, each teacher stopped making eye contact with me. They looked through me, and I knew they had given up on me. While on my way to the place where the “D” word goes, I slid through the cracks and into a horrible gray world that whispered, “you’re nothing. Why even try? You’ll let them all down. You’ll let yourself down. You’re not normal, you’re not kidding anyone.”

 Painting by Mary Harnetiaux - War in her Bloody Shoes - Woman

The day I left school for good, I was told by my guidance counselor that, “school wasn’t for everyone.” I believed him. I always took his final words as a warning to stay away. I was an impostor who was trying to steal an education, an education that belonged to the “normal kids.” It was a relief to finally walk away from it all.

I have always carried my ignorance like a bag of stones around my neck, hidden under my clothes, disguised by my outward appearance and layered beneath my god given talents. In school I suffered—horribly. No teacher proved me wrong. No one teacher became my hero or my mentor. My profound and confusing ignorance was never refuted—so it must be true. I presented a problem, and they had no solution. The “experts” didn’t even have a solution.

Even though there wasn’t any help for me back in those days, I still took solace in the possibility of a small identity, a word that kept me from taking it all into my inner-self. That word was, “dyslexia.” It was a word that was merely said to me in passing, but I intuitively latched onto it. Here’s why the word dyslexia was so important to me, it became a “thing” it wasn’t me. It wasn’t my fault. It was this thing and it had a name. Once I had a name, I was able to begin to pull the shame away from myself—I pulled it right out my chest like a ball of unraveling kite string. It was in this way that I attempted to bury my school years and move forward with my life.

I discovered myself, my hidden secret talents that I had always had—sort of like Dorothy and her ruby slippers. I began to focus on my life and not my struggle. I started painting, and through a lot of incredibly hard work, my surroundings filled with large scale abstract paintings. I found my joy and creativity. I didn’t know or care how my work would be perceived. I didn’t ask for permission. I focused on one thing, and that was my art.

My paintings eventually reached a man I had known for years, and it brought him home from his world travels. We got married. We had a little boy. Little did I know that I was going to have to unearth my dyslexia and my painful school years all over again—only this time through my son’s educational experiences.

Thirty-four years after hitting my own academic wall, I found myself advocating for my son. There I was, sitting in a blue plastic child-sized chair in front of two educators who were were trying to decide if they believed dyslexia even existed. As they sputtered and groped to use any word other than dyslexia, a curious thing happened—I began to disappear. First I couldn’t see my hands, then I watched my lap go up in a thin veil of vapor. I believe for a moment that I was only a pair of blinking eyes. No one noticed, but I almost disappeared into that place where the “D” word goes—that place that exists in all teacher’s lounges—that secret place all “unknowns” and “unteachables” go. I went into the dark locker of library-silent oblivion and neglect. Luckily for me, I had done my homework. I had a great deal of science, evidence and over thirty years of research to back my position. I also carried with me, a formal dyslexia diagnosis. Almost as quickly as I had disappeared, I returned to my tiny seat in front of two very serious educators who seemed oddly threatened that I might know something that they did not.

Red-faced and flustered, they spoke without relevance, “look at you! You’re fine! You had an LD and turned out okay! What are you worried about?” Unfiltered myths and misinformation came flowing out of their mouths, “we don’t hear that word nowadays, they diagnose better now.” I realized they only knew dyslexia to be a term they shouldn’t use, but they didn’t know what it was. They would never admit that. You see, by admitting that they didn’t know something, they would inevitably disappear into a thin veil of vapor starting with their fingertips until nothing would be left but their blinking eyes. If they admitted they didn’t know something, they would lose their power. They would never want to be in that vulnerable position—because truth be told, losing one’s power is painful. It’s damning. It’s demeaning. It’s dark. They wouldn’t like this.

Not long into my son’s fourth grade year, there came this soft suggestion, “maybe this school isn’t the right fit for your child.” They were right, it wasn’t. We pursued other possibilities.

I didn’t know quite what to do, but promised myself that my child’s dyslexia story would not be mine. I promised myself that his story wouldn’t have unnecessary sadness, or soul crushing adversity when it came to his education. I promised to find the teachers who knew that dyslexia is real—who would see him—and teach him.

One cold January morning, I lead my son up to a new pair of double doors. He anxiously opened one and hesitated in the doorway. Then, I watched him bravely step over a threshold and into a story of his own.

Read Mary’s personal blog and view her beautiful and inspiring art at MariauxArt.com. 

 

Headstrong Nation Mission Statement - Headstrong Nation is a movement dedicated to a radical new approach to dyslexia. We empower adult dyslexics to own their dyslexia, to understand it, and to develop new ways of learning and working based on their individual profiles.

We would like to invite you to join us as a member, as we need your support to help us to fulfill our mission for the adult dyslexic. Please consider donating to Headstrong Nation HERE: https://www.razoo.com/us/story/Headstrong-Nation.  Please like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and Pinterest and visit our YouTube Channel.  Thank you very much!  - The Headstrong Nation Team

 

 

 

 

photo of document from US Dept.of Education Assistant Secretary of ED

The Assistant Secretary of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, United States Department of Education, Michael K. Yudin released a letter today to clarify that there is nothing in the IDEA  (The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act)  that would prohibit the use of the terms dyslexia, dyscalculia, and dysgraphia in IDEA evaluation, eligibility determinations, or IEP documents, despite the communications from stakeholders, including parents, advocacy groups, and national disability organizations, who believe that State and local educational agencies (SEAs and LEAs) are reluctant to reference or use dyslexia, dyscalculia, and dysgraphia in evaluations, eligibility determinations, or in the development of the individualized education program (IEP) under the IDEA.

In the letter, Mr. Yudin states that the Office of Special Ed, Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) encourages State Education Agencies and Local Education Agencies (SEA's and LEA's) to consider situations where it would be appropriate to use the terms dyslexia, dyscalculia, or dysgraphia to describe and address the child’s unique, identified needs through evaluation, eligibility, and IEP documents. OSERS further encourages States to review their policies, procedures, and practices to ensure that they do not prohibit the use of the terms dyslexia, dyscalculia, and dysgraphia in evaluations, eligibility, and IEP documents. Finally, in ensuring the provision of free appropriate public education (FAPE), OSERS encourages SEAs to remind their LEAs of the importance of addressing the unique educational needs of children with specific learning disabilities resulting from dyslexia, dyscalculia, and dysgraphia during IEP Team meetings and other meetings with parents under IDEA. 

#SayDyslexia!  A step in the right direction. Voices were heard.  Good news for many and a document to refer to and share with your child’s school, family and friends. Congratulations to the grassroots movement Decoding Dyslexia and the many other disability organizations and advocacy groups who got involved on a legislative level to spread awareness on the need to use the word and address dyslexia in the schools.  Positive change can occur one person at a time, one word at a time. Spread dyslexia awareness today!

To view the PDF letter in its entirety, click HERE.  

 

Any questions? 

Contact us at our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/headstrongnation.  We're not experts, but we’ll do what we can to point you to resources and to answer any questions that you may have.  You may also follow us on Twitter, https://twitter.com/headstrongnatio and on Pinterest.

Headstrong Nation is a movement dedicated to a radical new approach to dyslexia. We empower adult dyslexics to own their dyslexia, understand it, and develop new ways of learning and working based on their individual profiles. If you'd like to help support us in fulfilling our mission for the adult dyslexic, please consider donating to Headstrong Nation by clicking on the DONATE BUTTON at the top of the page.  Thank you! - The Headstrong Nation Team

Headstrong is a California Nonprofit Public Benefit Corporation, and is tax exempt under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Federal Tax ID 47-0925290.   

 

 

 

 

Pic of college transcript


The "Better", Alternative Transcript

I’ll have to give Salman Khan credit for this particular idea.  In 2012, Sal was chosen as one of Time Magazines 100 most influential people of the year. In the Time.com, April 16th article by Eliana Dockterman, Shaping the Future-See TIME 100 Honorees’ Predictions for the Future, Khan was quoted as saying: “Right now, transcripts have some statistics on your grades and maybe some standardized test scores. But in the future, they should include a portfolio of things you’ve created—­robots you’ve built, programs you’ve written, things you’ve painted, whatever—along with what your peers and your community think of you as a leader, a communicator and an empathizer. This is already what people care about, but it hasn’t been formally recognized.” – Salman Khan, Executive Director of the Khan Academy (TIME 100 2012).

This struck me as a perfect idea, one that is especially appropriate for members of our dyslexic community whose, strengths, skills and talents aren’t necessarily highlighted by the traditional high school or college transcript, as the qualities they possess are not often assigned a numerical value.

Pick a number. 

Sure, traditional school evaluations and standardized assessments generate numbers which reveal strengths in subject areas based on one’s ability to ace these particular tests.  But for those individuals who struggle with standardized testing, the transcript may not be a true predictor of their strengths, how they function as part of a team, whether they think outside the box, and show problem solving abilities, which are many of the skills that employers look for in employees.  When employers and college admissions counselors rely heavily on numbers in isolation as part of the selection process, they may be missing out on some of the most brightest and innovative minds.

The idea of creating a better transcript, an alternative transcript, as a way to express an individual’s strengths is appealing. It makes great sense, and would be a way to set one’s self apart from the pack.  The alternative transcript would create a positive narrative and profile of strengths of what the individual has created, written, and demonstrated in the community. This would be more visible and tangible, instead of just numbers on paper.

The Video Portfolio or Interview:

The use of video portfolios and interviews as part of the application and interview process for schools and the workplace is also appealing.  If employers took the time to accept video submissions from individuals discussing the skills that they possess or if they granted brief video interviews through Skype, Google Hangouts or other platforms, they might discover great some great potential. The idea of looking "beyond the numbers" is important here.

The concept of the video interview reminds me of the 2013 film The Internship, starring Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson.  On the IMDB website, the film is summarized as follows - “Two salesmen whose careers have been torpedoed by the digital age find their way into a coveted internship at Google, where they must compete with a group of young, tech-savvy geniuses for a shot at employment.”  I related to this scenario myself in my own life, as a mid-50’s tech-challenged female recently hired as a Social Media Manager for Headstrong Nation.  In The Internship, Vaughn and Wilson participate in a Google Hangouts video interview prior to being accepted as interns at Google.  Here's a clip of their interview from The Internship below.  In the film, the characters "made the cut" after their interview, and were later offered full-time positions at Google.  The message here... There's hope for us all! 

In real life, Vince Vaughn identifies himself as a man with dyslexia/ADHD and credits his success as an actor to his struggles with his learning disabilities. You can read more about Vince’s story at the University of Michigan’s Dyslexia Help website. 

I got to thinking about what my alternative transcript might look like. What have I created that I am proud of?  What talents do I possess? What character traits do I have which might be valuable? I decided that I'm going to take some time to think on this, create my own alternative transcript, and share it next month on the Headstrong Nation Blog.  

How about you?  What would your alternative transcript look like?  Remember, you are more than just a set of numbers. Take some time to create your "better" transcript and share it with us!  Although we may not be able to feature all submissions, we would love to share as many as we can on our blog or on our Facebook page and in our Twitter feed, @headstrongnatio. 

If you are interested in sharing, please send your submission to info@headstrongnation.org.  We're looking forward to experiencing what you’ve created!  Show your stuff! 

 

 

 

 

US Capitol Photo

(Photo of US Capitol - Flickr Creative Commons)

We received a letter from Headstrong Nation friend Lyn Pollard, the National Center for Learning Disabilities NCLD Parent Advocacy Manager with an invitation to join a conversation. The NCLD is holding a Parent and Community Conference Call on Wednesday, April 22, 2015 at 12 Noon, Eastern Time (ET). As some of you know, there has been some discussion over the past few days over social media regarding the Senate's rejection of Senator Bill Cassidy's ESEA Amendment to the Every Child Achieves Act of 2015, Title II Part A. Let me share Lyn's letter first and then I'll explain more on the background of ESEA and why your voice is needed to be part of this ongoing conversation. 

Hello,

Speaking on behalf of the NCLD Policy & Advocacy team - we are BLOWN away by the parent and community push this week on Senator Cassidy's ESEA amendments. It's been absolutely astounding - nothing less! 

I am spreading the word to friends and parents - the NCLD is holding a Parent & Community Conference call on Wednesday 4/22 at Noon ET. This is our 4th call with parents since ESEA #LD debate & prep work began and we want to expand these conversations to include leaders and other voices in the LD/LAI Community.

We would love for you to join us. Lindsay Jones will guide the discussion between parents, advocates and LD community leaders as well as provide information about next steps.  The calls will also include an open Q&A time and an opportunity to share ideas and updates from within the community on advocacy efforts. Also, we want you to know that we plan to continue these weekly calls as we move forward through the ESEA reauthorization process.  If you are interested in sharing this information with your parent audiences and other key stakeholders, we encourage you to please do so.  Everyone is invited to join in! The weekly call-in number is 605-562-0020   ID: 288-587-662

Thanks again for ALL of your help and support as a community.  We hope to speak with you on April 22 at Noon ET - if not sooner.

Lyn Pollard

Parent Advocacy Manager

National Center for Learning Disabilities

 

So what is the ESEA, who is Senator Cassidy, what is his amendment about and why should you be part of the ongoing conversation? The ESEA is The Elementary and Secondary Education Act.  It was signed into law in 1965 by President Lyndon Baines Johnson.   Johnson believed that "full educational opportunity" should be the United States "first national goal". The federal government has reauthorized ESEA every five years since it's enactment. ESEA was designed to offer grants to school districts serving low-income students and federal grants for text and library books. It created special education centers, and created scholarships for low-income college students. The law also provided federal grants to state educational agencies to improve the quality of elementary and secondary education.  The current reauthorization of ESEA is the "No Child Left Behind Act of 2001" or NCLB, named and proposed by President George W. Bush

Most recently, Education Secretary Arne Duncan has called for replacing the NCLB Act with a new ESEA.  Some criticisms of NCLB Act have included the stringent accountability of schools to meet the requirements of the act without the adequate funding needed to meet the mandates and the stifling of both teacher and student creativity due to an undo emphasis of "teaching to the test".

So where does Senator Bill Cassidy fit into all of this?  Bill Cassidy is a doctor, senator and father of a child with dyslexia.  He knows the difficulties that parents may encounter in trying to find suitable educational programs to meet the needs of their children.

Cassidy’s amendment #1 to the Every Child Achieves Act of 2015 ESEA included allowing states and local educational agencies to use funding under Part A of Title II to train teachers, principals and other school leaders on understanding and identifying the early indicators of students with dyslexia and other specific learning disabilities, and to conduct early evaluations and interventions for students with dyslexia and other specific learning disabilities (SLD’s).  Amendment #2 would amend Part D of the Title II to ensure that children with dyslexia and other SLD’s have the resources and supports they need to academically succeed. 

Here is a video excerpt of Senator Cassidy speaking on the amendments courtesy of Dyslexic Advantage’s You Tube Channel HERE

The early identification and timely intervention for students with Dyslexia/LD’s is something that would help these children to academically succeed and thrive, and an act allowing the states to use this funding for teacher training, early evaluations an appropriate interventions would stand to benefit many children.

Unfortunately, some members of Senate didn’t support this, and Senator Cassidy’s amendments were rejected by the Senate this week.

Here’s a quote from Executive Director of NCLD James H. Wendorf's Statement on the Consideration of Senator Cassidy’s Amendment to the Every Child Achieves Act of 2015:

“Every day, more than 2.5 million children with dyslexia and other learning disabilities walk into schools across the nation, with dreams of earning good grades, making friends and having teachers who understand how they learn. Today, Senator Bill Cassidy (R-LA) helped push these dreams closer to a reality.”

Read the entire statement from James Wendorf HERE

How can we help our children's dreams to become a reality?  By joining the conversation.  Discussing next steps. You have an invitation on Wednesday, April 22, at 12 Noon, Eastern Time.  The weekly call-in number is 605-562-0020   ID: 288-587-662

In closing, James Wendorf wrote:

“NCLD and our national network of hundreds of thousands of parents will continue to stand alongside Senator Cassidy in his advocacy for our children. We believe this change can have an enormous impact: For every teacher trained, countless students will benefit. ”

We agree, and hope you’ll join the conversation. 

 

 

Sources:US Dept. of Ed Website - http://www.ed.gov/esea

Findlaw:http://education.findlaw.com/curriculum-standards-school-funding/critici...

Tracy Johnson is an accomplished speaker, educator, advocate, counselor, and minister who is also dyslexic. 

Tracy's story is an inspirational one for me personally.   Early in my Journey with Dyslexia as a parent of a struggling child and as an adult with dyscalculia, I came upon a community listing for a screening of the acclaimed HBO documentary film, Journey into Dyslexia, Great Minds Think Differently, directed by Academy Award winning Directors, Susan and Alan Raymond (2011).  I attended the screening and the film touched me deeply. There was not a “dry eye” in the place. Susan and Alan Raymond’s excellent directing and interviewing skills drew heartfelt stories from all characters interviewed in the film. Tracy Johnson was one of the individuals interviewed in the film that shared her journey. I’ve since gotten to know Tracy on a personal level and I consider her to be the “Real deal” She’s a passionate woman on a mission to spread the word about dyslexia awareness through giving back to others as a leader in the dyslexic community. Our early individual journeys or those with our children who struggle with dyslexia may be quite painful, and it’s often difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel. 

 Tracy Johnson speaking to group

Tracy speaking at the African American Museum in Phila, PA

            Dyslexia: A Civil Rights Issue of Our Time

 

In the documentary, Tracy shared about growing up as a special education student in the School District of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.   She was raised by a single mom, and her early experiences in public school were very discouraging. She was daily confronted by a system that focused on her limitations so she did not have a true awareness of her innate potential.   She was often labeled “slow” by teachers and peers.  She endured many painful classroom experiences along with the rest of her special education classmates.  One teacher told her group that none of them had the ability to go to college.  Tracy had first-hand exposure to the low-expectations that often confront poor and minority pupils who struggle with the basic skills of reading, writing, and math. 

Deep inside, Tracy had the sense that she had more to offer, that she could do more and be more.   This motivated her to apply to community college, where she was once again told that she was not college material and was turned away.  One college counselor told her to “Give up”.  Discouraged, but not defeated, Tracy obtained a job as a custodian in the Philadelphia School District, cleaning school buildings, and working in the same hallways of the educational institutions that had many times failed her as a student. 

After watching a TV sitcom where a character was diagnosed with Dyslexia, Tracy had an epiphany.  She finally had a name to describe what she had been experiencing, “dyslexia”.   It was soon after this time that she obtained a formal diagnosis of Dyslexia as an adult.  Through the help of tutors and mentors along the way she began to learn, thrive and get accepted into college where she received both an Associate’s Degree and a Bachelor of Science Degree with high honors. (Harcum, A.A, Cabrini, B.S.). Tracy didn’t stop there though.  She received her Master’s Degree in Multicultural Education from Eastern University, and at this writing  is now pursuing an additional Master’s Degree in Special Education. 

As a graduate student, one of the things that help Tracy with her studies is using her text and her Learning Ally audio books together as she reads.   She has a recording device with her at all times during her lecture classes. She makes a point to sit up front in the classroom.  On the first day of class she introduces herself to her professors and informs them about her dyslexia and how she learns best.  Tracy acknowledges that it may be hard at first to be open and honest about one’s learning differences, but she found in her own experience that being honest and open actually helped her more than hurt her. Tracy uses flashcards to learn new information and she’ll sometimes record her own voice reading her cards and then listen to the recording.  Tracy also finds it helpful to talk to family members, friends, even her dog and cat about the things that she is learning to help her to retain the information. She recommends that students should make a point to open up about their individual learning styles since “No one knows you better than yourself.” Owning your education and communicating your concerns with your teachers will inform and help them to be in a better position to help you when you need support. 

 vessels of hope icon small

Tracy credits her success to her faith, and the support from the many mentors, family and friends who entered her life.  She turned her challenges into victories, overcoming poverty, and realizing her full academic potential. Her journey is a positive one and Tracy gives back to the community as an accomplished lecturer and advocate for individuals with learning disabilities – especially dyslexia.  She is the President and Founder of Vessels of Hope, a mentoring and networking organization for minorities with learning disabilities.  She is an in-demand speaker, who presents in a down to earth way as she discusses her rocky early journey of shame and her initial sense of failure, to her later academic achievement and success as an adult.  Her story continues to inspire many individuals with dyslexia and other learning disabilities, parents, educators, legislators, civic and business leaders.  Her persistence, belief, strong faith and ability to reach out for help, has enabled Tracy to become an agent of change, a true vessel of hope herself for the dyslexic community!  I am honored to know and work with her. 

                         Eileen Tait-Acker, Tracy Johnson, Susan Raymond at JID Screening

Eileen, Tracy, and Susan Raymond at Dyslexia Awareness Event hosted by CDC, Allentown, PA 

You can read more about Tracy’s work on the Vessels of Hope website and watch her in the documentary Journey into Dyslexia.  Grab a box of tissues. Powerful stuff!  Still gets me every time! My son says I don’t cry as much as I did in the beginning of our journey, though.   That’s because I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.  Thank you, Tracy. 

 

Jenna and Shannon

We recently had the opportunity to chat with super dyslexia advocates Shannon and her 11-year-old daughter Jenna about school, self-advocacy, and... snakes!

We contacted Shannon after she shared a photo of Jenna brandishing her very own dyslexia ID card—a homemade creation inspired by one of our blogposts

Originally created by Dr. John Frauenheim at the Beaumont Hospital in Michigan to help dyslexic students self-advocate, the ID cards sparked much conversation in the dyslexia community and we knew it was only a matter of time before we had DIY-ers crafting their own.

Turn on text-to-speech and ear-read along (or eye-read!) for our full interview with Shannon and Jenna.


Headstrong: Before we talk about dyslexia, we think it’s very important to discuss one of Jenna’s other passions: snakes. Jenna, how much do you know about snakes?

Jenna: A lot. I have 35 of them. 15 hatched the other day...

Headstrong: 35?! Snakes hatch? Like out of eggs?

Jenna: Yeah. And some breeds give birth live.

Headstrong: What kind of snakes do you have?

Jenna: Ball pythons. Carpet pythons. Corn snakes. King snakes. Milk snakes. Boas.

Headstrong: You have a boa!?

Jenna: I have a few. One of them is six feet long—but I can carry her. She’s really nice. Her name is Nagini. 

Headstrong: Nagini...? 

Jenna: From Harry Potter.

Headstrong: So how did you end up with all these snakes?

Jenna: I don’t know. We were told that if we kept our room clean for a month, we’d get a reptile as a pet. My big sister did it first and then my dad wanted a snake and then I wanted a snake. And then... we just kept getting more and more snakes! My favorite snake is my corn snake Tiny. 

Jenna and sisters with snakes galore

Headstrong: Is he actually tiny?

Jenna: No! He’s the biggest corn snake. Our friend who breeds them says he’s ginormous.

Headstrong: Maybe it’s time for us to give snakes a second chance! Ok, let’s talk about a different animal. Shannon, how did you find out about Headstrong?

Shannon: When Jenna was identified earlier this year with dyslexia, I did what every parent does and went looking for resources. I came across Ben Foss’s book, “The Dyslexia Empowerment Plan”—bought it, read it, took everything to heart, and set out to find the best ways to help Jenna, who had struggled for many years. She’s 11 now and has only just been identified. 

Headstrong: You learned about the dyslexia ID card from our blog. What prompted you and Jenna to make one on your own?

Shannon: Well, we’ve been encouraging Jenna to have her own voice and I thought this was a simple solution to put it into practice. She could go to school and if she had a teacher who didn’t know her, the teacher would understand why Jenna is pulling out audio books when the rest of her class is eye-reading. In this way, she could easily explain what she needed without having to be verbose.

Jenna: It also made it easier for my table when I took out a little computer and they said, “Why do you have that!?” I could hand them my ID card and say, “Hey, just read this!” It made it a lot easier.

Headstrong: So what do these cards look like and what does someone need to make the card?

Jenna: You need a printer and a computer and my mom got the doctor’s signature and the stuff from the children’s hospital and then she wrote a bunch of facts that we might use on my IEP plan.

Shannon: We took 2 pieces of paper so we had a front and a back, and made it into a 3 x 3 square. On the front we would put information about the physician, Jenna’s name, and the certification that she experiences dyslexia, which compromises reading and spelling ability. On the back we printed what we felt were the key IEP points that we wanted addressed by someone coming in to the classroom who didn’t know Jenna.

We laminated and hole-punched it, and now she has a lanyard that she can wear it on or keep in her pencil bag.

Jenna and her dyslexia ID card

Headstrong: Will you share your IEP points with us?

Jenna: Yes. My IEP says:

  • I may use audiobooks for reading (Nook / headphones).
  • Students who correct my papers are mutually agreed upon by me.
  • During all tests, please be available to read words, sentences or to paraphrase questions as needed.
  • I use a Forte (word processor and headphones) in class.
  • Allow me to skip answering / reading aloud out loud at my request. 

dyslexia card with IEP points

Headstrong: That is amazing! After you made the card, what was the next step?

Shannon: We took it to the pediatric neurologist from Children’s Hospital who had identified Jenna and explained the idea to him. He was intrigued because he has patients with other LDs (learning differences), not just dyslexia, who might benefit. He immediately signed it, and was very encouraged to see all of facts and needs from her IEP on the back.

At the school we showed it to the Special Education resource teacher who agreed that it was a very helpful idea, especially because it didn’t cost us anything! And again, that it could help students who aren’t necessarily dyslexic but who have other needs.

Headstrong: Jenna, tell us about the first time you used your ID card at school.

Jenna: It was in the of middle of the school year, and my regular teacher was gone so we had a substitute for two or three days and, well, I was nervous at first to show him the card so I asked mom to come with me. She did, but she made me talk.

Headstrong: And what did you tell him?

Jenna: I have dyslexia and here are some of the things I do. Here is the card we made so you know some of the facts. And he said, “Thank you very much for showing me this.” 

Headstrong: Well that sounds surprisingly straightforward. What was it like in class after that?

Jenna: It was easier even though my table was wondering what I was doing a few times. Sometimes I left the classroom to go to a different classroom and stuff. So I just let them read the card.

Shannon: I think it was also helpful because for a long time this year, the classroom was really kept in the dark about why Jenna does things differently. The teacher wasn’t encouraging and didn’t explain things. It wasn’t just a benefit to the teachers—the card opened up points of communication between Jenna and other students.

Headstrong: We’re curious, has anyone asked for help making their own cards?

Shannon: Not yet. As you’re aware, dyslexia is the elephant in the room that no one wants to acknowledge. It’s kept very quiet. Who else is dyslexic? Her school is not very...

Jenna: Dyslexia friendly...

Shannon: Right. We have kicked and fought our way to get her the accommodations she needed this year. Every step of the way has been a battle. Unfortunately, we have not been able to find others in this area who are dyslexic. But as we go through the journey, I have found people online and have shared the idea repeatedly, you know, this might be something that could help your child. 

Jenna: Um, I have pen-pals now who have dyslexia... and it makes a difference because I don’t care if I spell something wrong or if they spell something wrong cause I understand what they wrote.

Shannon: I think the key thing for us is that we want Jenna to feel comfortable with being dyslexic. It’s been an adventure for her. As the middle child, she’s seen one older sister fly in one direction and another fly in another direction and this year, with her identification, she’s starting to fly herself. We know how to help her now. Just like she has blonde hair and blue eyes, she has dyslexia and can embrace it.


 
Shannon and her family live in California in the Central Valley. Even though Jenna’s hair is naturally blonde, it currently has bits of pink and purple in it. Along with three other humans, Shannon and Jenna are the happy caretakers of 35 snakes and two lizards. 

Jenna and her pet snake
 

Big thanks to Jamie Martin of the Kildonan School for his recommendations! Watch his webinar below about the best iPad apps for dyslexics!

Listen to Jeffrey share his experiences as a dyslexic leader within the US Coast Guard and his vision for the future. (The post below was only slightly edited & preserves Jeffrey's native tongue. Click here for an example of Headstrong Nation founder Ben Foss writing with his native (dyslexic) tongue)

Jeffrey Philips

1. Passed

How many of you remember sitting in “that seat”? 

The seat the teacher puts you in so she can ignore your questions. The seat that gets a “D” no matter how bad you do. The seat that is out of the way so you don’t bother anyone. One thing never happens in that seat: learning. How many of you have sat in that seat?

I was held back twice from Kindergarten to out of 5th grade. After that the schools would no longer grade me correctly, but they didn’t want to fail me anymore, so I was just given Ds. 

I hated school, but I hated it for a good reason. The school that was supposed to teach me reading, writing, and arithmetic, instead taught me to cheat, lie, and fight. I knew these things were wrong, and I hated the school and myself for this. 

I was homeschooled by my stepdad for two years after dropping out after 8th grade. My reading was around first or second grade level and I could not spell at all before being homeschooled. I spelled ‘of,’ ‘ove,’‘to’ became ‘toow,’ and a note I wrote to my mom read: “I love you WOW!” 

After school, I got married and joined the US Coast Guard. With my test scores, I barely made it in, and was called illiterate in boot camp. But my work said so much more, and I quickly advanced. As an E-5, E-6, and E-7, I was usually the youngest person in the unit to hold that rank, but still led those around me.

People say the military makes grate leaders, but that is not necessarily true. Very bad leaders can look like grate leaders when they can throw people in jail for not doing what they say. Good or bad is up to the individual. I found out I am a natural leader of people. The guys and gals that worked for me found my pride in them to be a great reword. They wanted to make me proud of them, and I usually was.

As an E-6, I was handpicked to teach Navy and Coast Guard Officers critical knowledge before going out to the fleet. As an E-7, I was chosen to WRITE the single most read document in the entire Coast Guard, the Enlisted Professional Military Education (EPME). While I was there I advanced to E-8, which put me in the top 2% of the Enlisted ranks. I should make E-9 in the next few years and this will put me in the top .2%. Although I did so poorly in school and had so many people betting against me, when I was working I was successful at almost everything I did. In the real world my dyslexia was a blessing not a curse.

 

Jeffrey child

2. Future

When I get out of the Coast Guard I want to start a career in politics, focusing on education. Not to get concessions for dyslexics but to have the system change everything they know about dyslexia. I don’t think we should be taught to learn how book readers learn (yes, I mean taught to learn), but to be taught how dyslexics learn. 
 
Take this scenario, for example: In a spelling test, you are asked to “spell the numbers in the mathematical term pi to the 5th decimal place.” If you get a number in the sequence wrong, you will get the whole question wrong even if it was spelled correctly. Would that be a fair assessment? If spelling problems were graded as if they were math problems, would it be fair to those who had trouble with math?
 
No. Then why is it fair to count answers wrong if they are spelled incorrectly in history, science, or literature classes? I don’t mind failing my spelling test because I can’t spell, but it is wrong to fail my history test because I can’t spell. I want to make spelling a subject and not an educational tool. 
 
Even in state universities, the standards on papers are old and antiquated. I don’t think I wrote a paper in college that didn’t come back to me with a grade that reflected my technical ability to write more than my knowledge of the material. When this was pointed out to the instructor I was invariably told, “This is the way it’s done.”
 

3. Community

Dyslexia is a larger community (~ 4 million) than the deaf and blind communities combined (~ 98,000). There are schools for the blind and schools for the deaf, so why aren’t there schools for dyslexics in every district? There are many publicly funded programs that cater to the needs of smaller groups than dyslexics, but these group differences are either easy to determine or the group has strong public awareness (e.g. autistic spectrum disorder & Down’s syndrome). Today no one would call a deaf or blind person dumb or a Down’s child retarded, but somewhere right now there is a kid being called stupid because s/he is dyslexic.
 
We need to get mad about this! We need to be mad that there are kids all over this country having their spirits broken by the ignorance of our society. It’s not okay to use the “N” word when referring to a black man or, as stated above, the “R” word when referring to a little Down’s girl and no one uses “deaf and dumb” for a mute person. So why is it ok to call a dyslexic child “Lazy, dense, slow or stupid”?
 
We need to flood our leaders and school boards and demand that they see us for who we are—individuals specially designed to lead, think, and innovate. Dyslexics can be the gratest human resource this country has discovered. All we need is to be correctly taught the fundamentals and we will create everyone’s future. 
 
We need to start voting dyslexic. Ask your representative if they are dyslexic. Ask if there is a dyslexic in their family. If they are dyslexic or have a close personal understanding of our issues, let this influence how you vote. It is ok to vote for people who know what it is to struggle.
 

4. You

“It is the theory which decides what we can observe.”
— Albert Einstein
 
Tell everyone you know that you are dyslexic. Write on blogs and comment on articles you find interesting. Share your insight and label what you write as “opinion of a dyslexic.” 
 
The world needs to know we are here, and as soon as they do they will want to know if their doctor is a dyslexic or if their CEO is a dyslexic or if their president is a dyslexic. We have been fallowing way to long—we were meant to lead. Make these thoughts your theory and the world will observe you as you are: a great person gifted with dyslexia!
 

5. One extra sidebar on dyslexia

We must not allow those in the educational system to tell us that eye-reading is the true sign of intellect. If discovery is inventing the wheel, intelligence is using that wheel in a practical manner, and education is passing that knowledge forword so it does not die with you. Before Gutenberg, dyslexics did all of these. We were the inventers, the holders of intelligence, and the educators of those that came after us. 
 
A person can lead at most 10 people, any more than that and you are leading leaders. Before books, society would have needed about 15% of people to have the ability to learn by word of mouth and pass this knowledge on to the next generation the same way. Dyslexics make up 10-20% of society so we could have naturally fit into this category, becoming the leaders of communities, as well as the doctors, lawyers, scientists, and engineers.  
 
(Phonics starts with a “P”!  I rest my case.)
 
 
Opinion of a dyslexic.
 
Jeffrey Phillips, Senior Chief Damage Controlman 
United Sates Coast Guard Active

Headstrong Founder Ben Foss recently spoke at a TEDx talk in Sonoma about shame and what we can do to put it down. Watch and learn how to end isolation, use your strengths, and help others. 

Pages

Subscribe to RSS - education