By Cheri Rae
Dyslexia. Some call it “the invisible disability.” Others call it “the dyslexic advantage.”
I call it a learning difference that is widely misunderstood. After years of learning about dyslexia, I’ve learned that it can create both obstacles and opportunities for bright, young kids looking to reach their full potential. And since it affects 1 in 5, it’s something that ought to concern everyone—since we all know individuals with dyslexia, whether we realize it or not.
When it’s understood, dyslexia is seen for its positive characteristics: the big-picture, out-of-the-box thinking, creative problem-solving that results in inventors, scientists, entrepreneurs, performers, athletes and artists who may struggle in school, but become highly successful outside of it.
People like Charles Schwab, Santa Barbara High School class of 1955, (posters below displayed in Parent Resource Center) who read comic books to get through his English classes, yet redefined the field of high-finance and personal investment.
Or Kami Craig, the Olympic silver- and gold-medalist in water polo who struggled in school as she excelled in the pool.
Or Lakey Peterson, the standout surfer, known for her innovative moves and poise in public speaking, who has a tough time with reading, writing and spelling.
All of these accomplished Santa Barbarans—all of whom have dyslexia—are featured on posters that now hang in the new Parent Resource Center, just opened by the Santa Barbara Unified School District.
And they’re joined by other successful dyslexics ranging from Albert Einstein and Walt Disney to actress Bella Thorne and entertainer Usher.
The school district is making great strides to understanding dyslexia, because what’s really notable about this new Parent Resource Center is that it exists at all, pictured left.
Last fall, when Joan and Les Esposito retired and closed their 20-year-old nonprofit Dyslexia Awareness and Resource Center, they donated their considerable library of books, tapes, movies and research publications to the SBUSD.
The materials were boxed up and stacked in the district’s warehouse—and in many places, that might have been the end of the story. But not so in Santa Barbara, under the leadership of Superintendent David Cash and his assistant superintendents; enlightened School Board trustees; and a revitalized Special Education department led by Helen Rodriguez.
The district provided the space and the labor to paint and refurbish it, and gave me the opportunity to inventory, categorize, sort and organize the vast amount of donated items to create something new for the community to access.
Like a phoenix rising, the old has made way for the new, and DARC lives on, reborn in a different form. The new Parent Resource Center—a place designed as a comfortable and caring place for parents, students, and educators to find information they need, and cannot find anywhere else.
And the community celebrated on Tuesday night, with a ribbon-cutting by School Board members (pictured right), and a reception attended by interested members of the community, including educators, administrators, artists, architects and athletes.
For parents—and students—to have a place to gather, to communicate, support each other and to learn about learning differences will make a real difference in their lives—from now on.
The center is located in the lower level of the school district offices at 700 Santa Barbara Street, and for now, hours are by appointment. For the 1 in 5 dealing with dyslexia (and ADD and other issues that prevent kids from reaching their full potential in the classroom), it’s the most welcoming place in town.
A Personal Note:
For parents of students with learning differences, this center symbolizes a commitment to our kids who have tons of potential—and little likelihood of reaching it in standardized classes, or revealing it in standardized tests.
I’m the parent of one of those kids—who has only two years left until graduation in the Class of 2015. He will get through and continue to do well because of extraordinary efforts on his behalf: assessments and accommodations; interventions and interviews; strategy sessions and seminars; conventions and consultations; research and reading; comparing notes, interviewing experts and meeting with teachers, administrators and educational psychologists again and again and again over all these long years.
Importantly, we’ve figured out how to work together to come up with out-of-the-box solutions for this out-of-the-box thinker. Just as it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a team to educate one—especially one who flourishes in a setting that’s just a little different than the typical classroom: One that uses hands-on, project-based approaches and a little extra time to compensate for a little difference in processing speed.
What’s really keeps this kid on his pathway to success is networking and knowledge. This can only be gained by parents taking the time to learn and understand their own child’s learning style and communicating it effectively to others—most importantly to educators and school administrators in a partnership dedicated to making it work.
That’s the real story about his new Parent Resource Center—a place for parents to learn how to figure it out in a pleasant place—dedicated solely for that purpose. It’s a big deal for a school district to offer information and innovation, and I’m happy to play a part in it, benefit from it, and welcome others to do the same.