In the United States alone, more than 2.4 million high school students suffer from learning disabilities. Only 68% of these students will graduate with a high school diploma. If this number surprises you, you aren’t alone. Also troubled by these statistics is Eye to Eye, a non-profit organization dedicated to, “Unlocking greatness in the 1 in 5 who learn differently.”
Eye to Eye serves their community by pairing college students with grade school students who have similar learning disabilities. They are focused on empowering “the kid in the corner,” helping them to succeed, be a self-advocate, earn a degree, and, “live a life of hope.” Eye to Eye partners with more than 150 schools around the nation, UW-Eau Claire included.
One Blugold dedicated to empowering “the kid in the corner” is UW-Eau Claire freshman Samantha Rambo, who is partnering with Eye to Eye for thirty hours of service-learning. Samantha, a special education major, spends every Wednesday at Altoona Middle School working with students who have learning disabilities similar to her own.
When the bell rings every Wednesday at 3pm, Samantha and her fellow volunteers arrive at the school to work with their students on various projects. They work primarily on art projects that promote problem solving and finding success in school. “We act as role models;” Samantha commented, “we want to show them that we are just like them. We, too, have learning disabilities, and we managed to make it to college.” Samantha also noted how important it is to emphasize resiliency and encouragement in middle schoolers, as they are at an age where self confidence is at an all time low.
Looking back on art projects she has done with her students, Samantha remembers helping them craft ‘learning utility belts’. Although they weren’t allowed to use them in class, the project stimulated the students to think about items that can help them succeed in school. “Some students put portable spell check, calculators, or even computers on their utility belts,” Samantha reflected.
As for her own struggles with her learning disability, Samantha noted how lucky her students are to know about their disability at such a young age; as she, herself, was not diagnosed until high school. “I didn’t even know I had a learning disability until high school, so the fact that these kids are aware of it early on is really important,” Samantha said. “If you are even the slightest bit different in school, it’s a very difficult experience. Because of this, I think that having us there to remind them that everything will be okay, that they can make it through this and go on to college, is so important.”
Eye to Eye is one of many outreach programs Blugolds have access to, and Samantha will never forget the experience, knowledge, and career preparation she received through the program. “As a future teacher in special education, I was ecstatic to have found this program. Not only was I able to grow in my understanding in learning disabilities, but I was able to grow in my passion for wanting to teach,” Samantha reflected. Going forward, Samantha has set a goal to, “never give up on a child no matter how difficult or how long it takes for them to be successful.”
Samantha, like many Blugolds before her, has high hopes of being a pioneer in education and an advocate for the underrepresented. With teachers like Samantha in our future, there lies great hope in raising the graduation rate among students with disabilities from 68% to 100%.