SHERIDAN — A child, eager to learn but struggling to focus, has been told they have a disorder that will make it difficult for them to succeed in school and maybe even life.
Their teacher, though dedicated and trained, can’t seem to get through to the student and the encouraging words of his loving parents appear to fall on deaf ears.
A group started at Brown University may have found the key to helping that student not just get through the day, but thrive in a learning environment regardless of his or her learning disability or attention deficit disorder.
The birth of a program
Eye-to-Eye was started by five students with LD/ADD at Brown in 1998 when they sat down with a group of similarly-labeled elementary school students as part of a community service project.
The student’s young and old worked together on art projects to start a conversation on the best learning methods for each child, how best to express emotions and how to build their self-esteem through the free form medium of art, which comes with no right or wrong answers.
The Brown students had not anticipated that the simple project would lead to a public cry for additional mentors.
But when students from other states started emailing founder David Flink, who had since graduated and took a position working admissions for Brown, he knew they had stumbled on something powerful.
Flink resigned from Brown and moved to New York where he transformed Project Eye-to-Eye into a national mentoring program.
Among the now 56 chapters nationwide, the program has opened four chapters in Wyoming with a fifth on its way and is considering opening a sixth here in Sheridan as early as the next academic year.
The power of a mentor
The idea is to match college and high school students who have LD/ADD with younger students facing the same struggle for an academic year, art-centered program.
“Sometimes when a kid is diagnosed with things like dyslexia or ADD they don’t think college is an option for them,” Flink said, “so even just meeting the living breathing example of a similarly afflicted successful student works wonders.”
Flink can attest firsthand to the despair and low self-esteem that comes with LD/ADD. He grew up dyslexic and never dreamed he would one day study at an Ivy League school such as Brown.
“My mother, who was a teacher, would try to tell me that it was going to get easier and everything would work out but all I could say to her was, ‘How do you know? You don’t have this. It’s so hard to focus at school and school was easy for you,’” Flink said.
Now, Flink has seen for himself the difference a successful role model can make to a struggling child.
Through their relationship with the Wyoming Department of Education he has seen measurable academic improvement from the students in his program including things like increased math scores, though the program does not directly teach math.
“They need to figure out on their own how they learn best and realize succeeding in school is not actually so challenging if they approach it with confidence,” Flink said.
As a child, Flink had to learn to become comfortable asking for accommodations like books on tape for reading assignments and not be embarrassed by his condition. Through this, he was able to overcome his dyslexia and achieve great educational success.
He says the program is not trying to fix students or teachers but rather bridge a gap between what students think they can do and what they are actually capable of while supplementing already great teachers and community members.
A future in Sheridan?
Flink will be visiting Sheridan next week to do research and host a presentation in hopes of identifying whether or not Sheridan has a need for a local chapter.
After Flink was introduced to Jenny Craft, director of the Homer A. and Mildred S. Scott Foundation, Craft expressed interest in learning more about the program and connected Flink to local administrators and youth serving organizations in town.
Craft said after learning of the strong results and relationships built through the Laramie chapter, the Scott Foundation appreciated the opportunity to explore if there was a need not being filled educationally here in Sheridan.
The program does come with some up-front local expenses such as art supplies, mentor training such as sending two chapter founding local students to the national conference for four days of leadership training as well as on-going supervision costs. Flink says there are a variety of sources of funding other chapters have utilized to cover these costs including the Department of Education, local philanthropies and universities and community donations.
“Wherever we start a chapter, we want to be in it for the long haul so we want communities that are too,” Flink said. “The mentors get a lot of training but the one thing we don’t teach them is how to be successful with a learning disability, they already know that. We just teach them how to mentor and then they can pass on their personal success.”
A presentation on the details of the program and discussion with community members on whether or not it would be a good fit for Sheridan will be held at 5:30 p.m. in the Whitney Presentation Hall at Sheridan College on April 10.
For more information see www.eyetoeyenational.org