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Project Eye-to-Eye tackles stigma of learning disabilities

Karah Kemmerly

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Project Eye-to-Eye, a mentoring program for students with disabilities, is coming to Whitman next year. The program pairs college and elementary school students who have ADHD or are identified as learning disabled (LD) to work together on a different art project each week.

Junior Natalie Tamburello had the idea for starting Project Eye-to-Eye at Whitman. She previously led a chapter of the project within her high school.

“I have always wanted to start one at Whitman, but I didn’t know about the interest. The LD community here is quieter than it was at home,” Tamburello said.

Students with learning disabilities make up about 4 percent of Washington state’s public schools, according to the National Center for Learning Disabilities. In Walla Walla public schools, there are academic intervention plans to support learning disabled students, but few opportunities for mentoring or other social forms of support.

After meeting  more students with learning  disabilities, Tamburello said she’s looking forward to filling this need in Walla Walla schools.

“The mentors will be able to build great relationships within the Walla Walla community and the Whitman community,” she said.

Tamburello believes that the project is a great way for mentees to discuss their disabilities in a more comfortable setting.

“We try and show each kid that they are not broken, that there is nothing wrong with them and that they don’t need to be fixed to succeed,” she said.

In addition to supporting mentees, the program will help mentors understand their disabilities.

“As a mentor, you learn about yourself and what you went through as an LD kid when you were younger,” she said.

Nancy Anhorn, a learning specialist at Edison Elementary, feels that taking part in any sort of mentoring program is generally helpful for students.

“It’s great for these kids to develop a connection with a positive role model,” she said.  “Students get excited when they know their mentors are coming to see them. And when they see these older students succeeding, they are reassured that they can succeed too.”

Tamburello believes that focusing on art projects is an ideal way for these students, many of whom are struggling in school, to talk about how they might work with their disabilities in order to feel more comfortable in class.

She described one of her favorite art projects, wherein students made a superman hero cape out of construction paper. On the front of the cape, students would list their academic and extracurricular strengths. On the inside, they wrote their weaknesses and the special tools, like extra hours on tests and the support from their mentor, they could use to combat them.

“This way kids were addressing some of what they struggle with in a manner that isn’t scary for them,” Tamburello said.

Director of Academic Resources Juli Dunn is working with Walla Walla School District to coordinate the program. She believes that Project Eye-to-Eye will be very beneficial for Whitman students acting as mentors.

“Unfortunately, I think there is still a stigma for students with learning disabilities. But this program is a win-win for Whitman and the school district. For students with disabilities the opportunities to pay it forward may be few and far between–this program puts such an opportunity in the forefront,” Dunn said.

She acknowledged that it could be slightly challenging to find interested mentors at first, but she isn’t worried this will be a long-term problem.

“One of the challenges will be encouraging students with learning disabilities who have not self-identified with our office to be involved. I have complete faith in the power of word-of-mouth and the network of students with disabilities–both those that make regular use of resources from our office and those who do not,” she said.

Overall, Dunn and the school district are optimistic about the potential of the program.

“I expect that it will be a program that sees great growth and makes big strides in its first few years.”

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Whitman news since 1896
Project Eye-to-Eye tackles stigma of learning disabilities