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Building a sense of community among children with learning differences

Learning Differences Programme / Partner story

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels

On opposite sides of the US, Lia Beatty and Alyssa Tundidor are trying to build a sense of community and a feeling of support that they say they missed out on growing up. Both Lia and Alyssa have attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder. The two are chapter leaders at their schools in Washington and Virginia for Eye to Eye, which matches students with learning differences with high school and college mentors.

“When I looked into Eye to Eye, I thought we’d meet with the kids in a circle, maybe talk about the struggles we go through, maybe have some pizza. When I found out how structured the mentoring is, I knew I had to be a part of it.”

– Alyssa Tundidor, mentor with Eye to Eye

Eye to Eye has 160 mentoring programmes in 23 states involving about 1,800 mentors and mentees, who meet weekly for about an hour after school through most of the year. “The weekly “art room” is very fulfilling for us and really eye-opening to the mentees to see us dealing with the same things,” says Alyssa.

She wonders what it would have been like to have such a weekly encounter when she was in middle school. “I know exactly what they’re feeling, what they’re experiencing. Our kids just learn differently, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Their brains are moving at a million miles a minute; I know because my brain moves at a million miles a minute.”

Learning differences are associated with increased anxiety and depression as well as impaired self-esteem and interpersonal relationships. However, UCSF psychiatry professor Dr. Fumiko Hoeft, found that “self-esteem increased and depressive symptoms decreased among Eye to Eye mentees after mentoring” when compared to students with learning differences who did not participate in mentoring. “Eye to Eye also seemed to have a protective effect on interpersonal relationships,” says Dr Hoeft.

Oak Foundation fights against the misconception that students with learning differences cannot succeed academically and values the role of social-emotional learning as schools prepare students for the adult world. Oak partners with Eye to Eye and others to demonstrate the vast possibility these students represent and with researchers such as those at BrainLENS to uncover insights into the most effective ways to support students with learning differences.  This work comes under our Learning Differences Programme, which hopes to influence systems to embrace and adopt enabling conditions necessary for schools to meet the needs of students furthest from opportunity.