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A Recipe for Success, Part 2

In honor of National Disabilities Employment Awareness Month, we bring you the second in a two-part series on the Johnson Scholarship Program. Now in its 26th year, the program provides scholarships for students with disabilities and a network of support services to enhance student success.

Research shows that there is a great gap between educational expectations and reality for students with disabilities.

A 2006 National Longitudinal Transition Study commissioned by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs and Institute of Education Sciences showed that 85 percent of youth with disabilities plan to complete some form of post-secondary education (26 percent expected to complete a post-secondary vocational, technical or trade school; 34 percent expected to graduate from a two-year college; 25 percent expected to graduate from a four-year college). However, the same study also indicates that only one in 10 of these students actually complete any sort of post-secondary education (5 percent graduated from a post-secondary vocational, technical or trade school; 4 percent graduated from a two-year college; 1 percent graduated from a four-year college).

Group of students pointing towards Disability Resource CenterThe Johnson Scholarship Program helps to narrow the gap between expectation and attainment. Data kept by Florida Atlantic University finds that 66.1 percent of the students receiving at least one scholarship disbursement have graduated and another 20 percent are still enrolled in post-secondary education. The role of the Disability Support Services (DSS) office in helping students through this process cannot be overstated.

The good work of the DSS in delivering the scholarship program to students is enabled by its partnership with the Johnson Scholarship Foundation and the Florida Board of Governors’ office. The scholarship program depends upon a unique collaboration among the philanthropic, higher education and legislative sectors.

State university system of florida board of governors logoThe Board of Governors Office performs essential leadership functions. It serves as a liaison between the Foundation and the universities, disseminates information on best practices, and helps to standardize processes. It manages and distributes the scholarship money to the various SUSF schools and it also provides expertise on legislative and policy changes that might affect students with disabilities.

The Board of Governors scales the support of students with disabilities to a state level, providing a greater platform for advocacy and building allies across sector lines in Florida. Such allies are invaluable as students with disabilities graduate from college and pursue employment.

At the heart of the partnership among JSF, the Board of Governor’s Office and the campus DSS is a one-day annual meeting, convened by JSF. The purpose of this meeting is to review the performance of the scholarship program, discuss developments affecting students with disabilities and best practices and opportunities for learning and collaboration. Professionals from outside the SUSF are sometimes invited to attend the annual meeting and speak on issues relevant to students with disabilities and their educators.

Group photo of peopleThe underlying reason for JSF’s mission in education is to facilitate meaningful employment. Unfortunately, there is huge underemployment of people with disabilities, even those with university degrees. According to the Current Population Survey (CPS) data released in June 2017, the unemployment rates for people with disabilities is more than double the rate for people without disabilities. The under employment of students with disabilities has been a recurring topic of discussion at JSF Scholarship annual meetings.

The Johnson Scholarship Program for students with disabilities is based upon a unique working relationship among JSF, the State of Florida, the SUSF and the university campuses, particularly the DSS at each campus. It is this partnership that has made the scholarship program successful. We have repeatedly noted that the real value of the program is in the work of the people involved (rather than the money).

Graphic saying "we're all able to do anything!"The program builds on infrastructure, expertise and resources that are already in place in the state of Florida.  The Board of Governors is the governing body for its 12 state universities and DSS are well established at each campus. The delivery of the Scholarship Program causes additional work for these partners but the incremental cost is small compared to the benefits.

The JSF SUSF Scholarship Program is a proven winner that is easily replicable in other states. The administrative machinery, DSS and a philanthropic sector are already in place. All that is required is an individual or group of individuals to champion the program.

For more information about Johnson Scholarship Foundation, visit www.jsf.bz.

A Recipe for Success

In honor of National Disabilities Employment Awareness Month, we bring you the first in a two-part series on the Johnson Scholarship Program. Now in its 26th year, the program provides scholarships for students with disabilities and a network of support services to enhance student success.

What if scholarships weren’t really about the money?

As a private philanthropic foundation, the Johnson Scholarship Foundation invests to obtain the highest possible rate of return. The return on its scholarship grants is defined by the rate of successful matriculation and completion of post-secondary education.

JSF has learned that scholarships that include wraparound support are more likely to help a student to succeed. Money provides the financial stability and opportunity for post-secondary education, but it is not what gets a student through. Non-monetary supports attached to a scholarship contribute more to post-secondary success than money. This is especially true for students with disabilities.

state university system of florida board of governors logoJSF’s scholarship for people with disabilities attending a school within the State University System of Florida (SUSF) delivers both scholarship and non-monetary support by way of a collaboration of JSF, the SUSF and the Florida Legislature. Scholarships are awarded to students with disabilities who enroll at any one of the 12 SUSF campuses.

The program was founded in 1991. It began with an agreement between JSF’s founder, Theodore Johnson, and the State of Florida, which was expressed by an Act of the Legislature entitled “…The Johnson Scholarship Program.”  This Act provides for a scholarship program for students with disabilities to be funded by JSF. It also provides for a 50 percent state match for JSF grants and charges the Department of Education to administer the program.

Over the past 26 years JSF has made grants exceeding $9 million, which have all gone to student scholarships, together with the state match. However, the State’s commitment to administer the scholarship program has proven even more valuable than its matching funding.

Johnson Scholarship Foundation logoThe Florida Board of Governor’s office and each campus of the State University System form the backbone of a comprehensive student support system, which accompanies the scholarship. This is the secret sauce that makes the scholarship work. The award of the scholarship may capture a student’s attention, but the real magic of the scholarship lies in the mentoring and assistance that goes with it.

This is not to downplay the importance of money. Without it, JSF has no mission and there are no scholarships. Money is assuredly the main course. But it is the secret sauce that enables students to sit down and stay for dinner. And it is the secret sauce that students remember long afterward. Scholarships plus Supports equals Achievement ($ + S = A).

Secret sauce can be defined as the personal, non-monetary support, wrapped around the scholarship. The Disability Support Services (DSS) at each campus plays a critical role. It advertises the scholarship, receives the applications, leads the selection process, makes the award and provides ongoing support to scholarship recipients. JSF believes that the DSS’ ownership and control of this scholarship process and the support that they provide to each student throughout their college careers is central to the increased persistence and graduation rates of students with disabilities on each campus.

inclusion drives innovation posterThe scholarship program provides reciprocal benefits to the DSS offices, one of which is enhanced awareness of disability issues in other areas of the university. Ten of the 12 DSSs surveyed indicated that they use a selection committee to determine scholarship recipients. The selection committees are comprised of faculty and professionals drawn from various university departments. This increases knowledge of the special aspects and requirements of students with disabilities, thus producing allies for these students across campus. Another enhancement of the DSS profile within the university stems from a supplementary matching grant for scholarships that JSF offers to each SUSF campus. The local DSS office typically takes a leadership role in negotiating the grant and advocating for the matching funds within the university and the development office.

The most important reciprocal benefit that the scholarship provides is the enhanced opportunities for students to connect with the DSS staff and services. Eight out of 12 DSS offices report an increase in the use of services because the scholarship has heightened awareness of the office and the services it has to offer.

The enhanced relationship between the DSS and scholarship recipient gives the DSS access to the recipient’s academic progress. Some schools take advantage of this to determine when they need to offer appropriate guidance, support or to consider or reconsider accommodations. Even the act of applying for the scholarship can help students form social and support networks.

Ability Not Disability Graphic

The benefits of mentoring and support for post-secondary students, particularly those at risk, seem self-evident. Anecdotal evidence abounds. However, there is not much reported research. In Mentoring Individuals with Disabilities in Postsecondary Education: A Review of the Literature, Brown, Takahashi, and Roberts find distinct themes in the research that was available:

Within these 10 articles, however, several themes did emerge, including: a) the positive role of technology; b) the desire to use current mentees to become future mentors; c) a focus on specific disability groups, such as learning disabilities, psychiatric disabilities, and disabilities perceived as mild; d) the usefulness of mentoring for academic, career, and social skills; and e) the value of establishing long-term mentoring relationships.

The DSS at each SUSF campus responds to most of the themes identified by the authors. These offices typically provide adaptive technology, expertise and focus on specific disability groups, academic and social mentoring and long-term relationships. The JSF Scholarship Program also strengthens long-term relationships between the DSS and scholarship recipients. In addition to the annual application and award process, local DSS offices organize recognition events attended by students, parents and faculty. Many times, JSF representatives are in attendance as well.

Next week: Bridging the gap between educational expectations and reality for students with  disabilities.

Improving Canadian Indigenous Student Success: Three Martin Family Initiative Projects

Of the approximately 1.5 million Indigenous People in Canada, 50 percent are under the age of 25 — they are the youngest and fastest growing demographic in the country. A real concern for Canada is the low Indigenous high school graduation rate; the non-Indigenous high school graduation rate is about 90 percent while the Indigenous rate is about 50 percent.

martin family initiative logoThe Martin Family Initiative (MFI), a charitable foundation, was established in 2008 to address this crisis. Three of MFI’s key strategies are:

Educating principals:

Thanks to the support of the Johnson Scholarship Foundation, MFI collaborated with the University of Toronto and 13 Indigenous education experts to develop an innovative course for principals of on-reserve schools.

Three young men reading a bookParticipants learn how to ensure that teaching and learning at high standards are the first priority of every school by participating in learning experiences that develop their instructional leadership skills in order to increase levels of student achievement by developing improved teaching performance. The nine-month, 200-hour program consists of 10 modules plus a 30-hour practicum.

The feedback from participants is very positive: the learnings are unique to on-reserve schools, the course helps principals learn to focus on what is important in their schools, and it inspires them to be better school leaders.

Resources:

Closeup of someone writing in a work bookA virtual library of over 1,300 Promising Practices in Indigenous Education Website is updated monthly. Contents include curriculum, classroom practices, relevant policies, interesting initiatives and research related to successful practices in Indigenous education.

The focus areas are Kindergarten to Grade 12, Parent/Community Engagement and Early Childhood Education. Educators, researchers and others use the site to enhance learning opportunities and to improve educational success for Indigenous students

Early Literacy:

Closeup of a young child raising their handBy the age of 10, children need to read well enough to read and write what they know and think, or they risk falling behind in all areas in school. School achievement relies on the ability to read and write well; reading proficiency by age 10 is the best school-based predictor of high school graduation.

A four-year MFI pilot project showed that with effective teaching Indigenous students can excel as speakers, listeners, readers and writers in two or more languages and enjoy the associated cultural, social, educational and economic benefits.

The pilot project has been expanded and will include 20 on-reserve schools by 2020.

Leading by Example: The Five Conditions of Collective Impact

Collective Impact initiatives are difficult to describe until they begin to crystallize into action, require an immense amount of consideration, intention and thoughtfulness and can feel frustratingly slow at times. So why on earth would a group of stakeholders, usually organizations and communities already heavily taxed with work, take on this messy process?

Woman resting her hands and head on stack of books

Perhaps the answer is because we all have learned that working independently … doesn’t work. With Collective Impact we have an opportunity to not only create systemic change, but to find ways to elevate and support the work of each stakeholder involved.

Understanding the process of Collective Impact for some can take a moment simply because competition is embedded in our culture even among organizations and entities that by their very nature exist to uplift others. It is hard for us to imagine that non-profit, civic, faith-based, education and community partners could come together around one common goal long enough to make permanent and systemic change. However all over the country communities are suspending disbelief long enough to allow for the necessary growth process of such a project to make significant change. We are seeing this in the Achieve Palm Beach County initiative currently underway in Florida.

Achieve Palm Beach County Logo

Achieve Palm Beach County is a Collective Impact initiative that has been in community planning sessions since 2015 and has recently reached the point where the initiative is ready to begin implementation. The Johnson Scholarship Foundation is a supporter of this initiative. Achieve PBC’s mission is to ensure an integrated and effective system of supports from middle school through post-secondary that empowers Palm Beach County students for career success. By 2023 this collective wants to have at least 65 percent of PBC high school graduates completing college or career preparation education within six years of graduation.

The Georgetown Center on Education and Workforce predicts that of all new jobs created in Florida by 2020, 68 percent will require a post-secondary credential. In the School District of Palm Beach County, only 42.3 percent of all graduates and 31.5 percent of low-income graduates are predicted to receive a post-secondary credential within six years of high school graduation. The School District of Palm Beach County has a clear strategic plan which outlines the significance of post-secondary success and was a great informer as Achieve began. Over 160 stakeholders from universities, faith based organizations, government agencies, non-profits, the school district, community groups and human service organizations came together create a plan for addressing the county’s future labor needs and the goal of every student having the opportunity to access post-secondary education.

Two hands putting a puzzle piece togetherTo accomplish this goal the United Way of Palm Beach County is serving as the backbone organization thus providing a credible and organized infrastructure to the collective’s strategies and staff. Like every Collective Impact initiative, Achieve Palm Beach County must ensure that the five conditions developed by John Kania and Mark Kramer in 2011 are met in order for there to be systems change across a community.

The Five Conditions developed by Kania and Kramer are as follows:

  • Common Agenda: All participants share a common agenda for change that includes a common understanding of the problem and a joint approach to solving the problem through agreed upon actions.
  • Shared Measurement: All participating organizations agree on the ways success will be measured and reported. A short list of common indicators is used for learning and improvement.
  • Mutually Reinforcing Activities: A diverse set of stakeholders, typically across sectors, coordinate a set of differentiated activities through a mutually reinforcing plan of action.
  • Continuous Communication: All players engage in frequent and structured communication to build trust, assure mutual objective and create common motivation.
  • Backbone Support: Staff dedicated to the initiative provide ongoing support by guiding the initiative’s vision and strategy, supporting the aligned activities, establishing shared measurement practices, building public will and mobilizing resources.

Woman writing in a note bookThis framework sets the stage for rules of engagement as communities begin to work together in unprecedented ways to tackle some of the seemingly overwhelming issues that can affect our lives and will determine if the generations of the future are simply surviving or thriving. As organizations and adults involved in Collective Impact work, we are learning a new way to think about how to create a better world, communicate with each other, incorporate and validate differing experiences and streamline funding sources to make a larger impact without diminishing services. As stated above, this work can be messy.  We are indoctrinated into a certain way of operating that takes time to unravel.  We have organizational fears around autonomy.  In the non-profit and education sectors, where we are used to competing for the same resources, we are learning how to work with each other in trusting ways that evoke all of the natural progressions and obstacles of change. The work it takes to move a community in an agreed upon direction allows adults across many sectors the opportunity to lead by example in our ability to collaborate for something much bigger than any of us could accomplish alone. The Collective Impact structure allows not only for macro level change truly reflective of community goals, but reveals the best in who we are and what we can achieve together.

3 Things I’ve Learned From the Seven Generation Money Management Game

We all know that games can be fun, even educational. But what about life changing?

student standing at a table while woman writesSeven Generation Money Management (7G MM) developed by the Center for American Indian Economic Development at Northern Arizona University with support from the Johnson Scholarship Foundation is a hands-on financial literacy game targeted toward Native American youth to increase their money management skills and to give them a basic understanding of investing, opening a bank account, purchasing a car, renting an apartment, buying a house and other life skills.

As of today, CAIED has hosted 68 7G MM workshops/trainings and has had more than 1,600+ participants.  Thus, I thought I would share three things I have learned from 7G MM and how it has impacted my life.

students around a table writing in notebooks and laughing#1 Life Happens!!!!

The one thing I have seen and also experienced is that life happens.  In 7G MM, life also happens. Let’s say you need to buy a refrigerator, the air conditioner goes out and needs to be repaired, or the stove stops working and needs to be replaced.  Yep, life happens in the game and in life.  All three of these events happened to me within 10 days.  At the time I was grateful to have had an emergency fund and it was less of a hindrance to replace and/or repair these items.  However, where is my emergency fund now ….

Student and teacher smiling#2 Investments

Growing up, I did not know much about the stock market or investments outside of establishing and maintaining a savings account.  In the game, participants have an opportunity to make investments. Some make money and some lose money.  A couple of years ago we did a family investment project.  I met up with my brother, who has been involved in investing for years.  He gave my wife, my 11-year-old and me a quick overview and then we were off to play our own investing game.  I gave my daughter $100 and told her she could invest it in anything she wanted.  She decided on Blue Buffalo.  Later that day she was talking to her aunt and her aunt asked her what she did that day.  She proudly said, “I bought stocks!”  Her aunt replied, “Why did you buy socks?”  She looked at her aunt and was very determined. “I bought stocks. I own Blue Buffalo, so whenever you buy dog food, buy Blue Buffalo, because I own part of the company.”  Today we buy Blue Buffalo!

Students with name tags standing in line at a table#3 Moving Out of Your Family Home

In the game participants are challenged to move out, whether to go to school or to experience life.  My oldest daughters are now going to college. My wife and I decided to buy a second home that they could live in while going to school.  That is where the rest of my emergency fund went (toward the down payment).  I have found that this is a forced savings account with the headaches of being a landlord.  The first year we had a pipe burst and the whole basement was flooded by a rain storm.  Fun times, but the property continues to rise in value.

Finally, your life is going to change and so will your goals.  Whether it is going to school, changing a major, to having a family with kids or changing professions, just remember life is a present. Live it!

3 Reasons Why Higher Education is Good for America

Higher education is no stranger to controversy, but once again the merits of this venerable institution are being called into question. A spate of bad publicity about open speech, hazing and the cost of higher ed has many Americans wondering if a college degree is really worth the effort.

Wall with the word university on itThose doubts resonate in the results of a highly publicized Pew Research Center survey in which a growing segment of the population indicated that colleges and universities have a negative effect on the way things are going in the country.

At the Johnson Scholarship Foundation, we have long believed that higher education is the main pathway to employment and the American dream. Our grantee partners work hard to level the playing field for students who want to attend college but find themselves at a disadvantage by no fault of their own.

And while no college or university is perfect, there are countless reasons why higher education is good for the nation. Here are three that come to mind.

Father holding a small child's handHigher education is good for families. Much has been written about the costs associated with college and the lingering impact of student loan debt. Those are reasonable concerns, even for students fortunate enough receive help from scholarships.

It’s also well known that postsecondary education is the key to a better income for many people. According to the College Board’s report Education Pays 2016, those 25 and older with a bachelor’s degree who were working full time in 2015 had median earnings that were $24,600, or 67 percent, higher than their counterparts with only a high school diploma.

As Jennifer Ma, senior policy research scientist at the College Board and a coauthor of the report, puts it, “A college education is an investment that pays dividends over the course of a lifetime — even for students who accumulate some debt to obtain a degree.”

Business man reading the business section of a newspaperHigher education is good for society. As students graduate from college, they increase their chances of finding work that is rewarding emotionally and financially. Earlier this month, the Pew Research Center released additional findings: Although many people are concerned about how colleges and universities are impacting the country overall, they also believe that institutions of higher education are successful at preparing students for good jobs in the current economy.

There is also a link between civic engagement and higher education, such as the College Board’s finding that adults with more education were more likely to vote than those with less education. It is reasonable to assume that those who are more engaged are more likely to hold public office and other positions of authority someday.

Which brings us to this point: Higher education is good for our future. Colleges and universities don’t just train students to write excellent term papers. They encourage them to become critical thinkers. The colleges, universities and organizations with whom we partner actively encourage students to become leaders in their workplaces and communities.

Group of young people smiling for the cameraAs a result, we often hear from students who are the first in their families to attend college and now are role models for other family members.  We see many graduates starting their own businesses and becoming job creators. We know of students with disabilities who are graduating and embarking on meaningful careers. We hear about college graduates are involved in nonprofits and giving to charitable causes.

These stories aren’t the ones that make headlines, but these students and graduates are truly making a difference both on and off campus. All of this, we believe, bodes well for America’s future.

Summer Program Aims to Help Students with Disabilities Transition to College

Florida agricultural and mechanical university logoOn June 18, the Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University’s Center for Disability Access and Resources (CeDAR) welcomed 32 students to the 2017 Summer College Study Skills Institute (CSSI). This program is an alternative admissions program for students with disabilities designed to acclimate the students to the FAMU campus while focusing on providing them with study skills that will lead to their collegiate academic success.

The CSSI is part of a two-year retention program designed to assist students with matriculating to their academic majors and graduating from FAMU.

FAMU William Hudson, Bea Awoniyi, Jovanny Felix, Angela ColemanEarlier this year, CeDAR was awarded a five-year grant from the Johnson Scholarship Foundation, which will be supported by the FAMU Foundation, to enhance the CSSI program and to create an endowment for CeDAR. This generous grant will allow CeDAR to provide specific instructional support focusing on students’ disabilities and study skills that complement and assist each participant’s particular disability.

The premise behind this grant’s approach is to focus on study styles that students may not have developed while in the K-12 educational system. In addition, each participant receives a $3,000 scholarship for the summer with the intent to minimize any college debt that students may incur during the semester.

With the funding that we receive from JSF and the FAMU Foundation, the program can really work on closing the learning gap in regards to their study skills and habits at the beginning of their collegiate career — which is a crucial time in their academic transitioning. In addition, the summer scholarship diminishes the stress that parents and students have about educational debt.

student reading a bookThe CSSI program allows students to enroll in six to seven college credit hours and includes informational, social and academic based activities.

The 2017 CSSI Summer Program will conclude on Aug. 4 and will include a “Victory Brunch” recapping and celebrating the students’ completion of the summer program.

How Leading with Empathy Can Create Positive Change

deaf elementary students playingAs an educator, it is important to pay attention to the latest research and trends related to effective instruction. As a special educator, this may be particularly important. But as an administrator, I often find myself relying heavily on my own observations and findings from “the field.” Working as an administrator of an elementary school serving deaf and hard of hearing students, children are often in my office requesting assistance. Sometimes they arrive on their own, asking for help solving a problem. More often, though, they are brought to the office by an adult who asks for collaboration on a discipline issue.

The word “collaboration” here is really important. In a traditional approach, the administrator may be the final stop, and may have the final say, when it comes to discipline. However, I have found it is more effective to collaborate with both the student and the staff member escorting the student. When children display misconduct, it is our job to figure out why. What does the child need?  What might he or she be asking for through this outburst of anger? This can be especially important when interacting with deaf or hard of hearing students who are also struggling with a language delay – which happens so often. When my approach becomes one of trying to understand, rather than trying to find an appropriate consequence, I am able to know the student’s thoughts, feelings, and fears more intimately and am able to develop a strong and positive relationship.

young students in green t shirts in a gardenWhen I ask the same questions of the adults, I become a support for them, showing empathy regarding the conflict they did not create, while also collaborating to find an appropriate resolution. This questioning of the adult reminds the student that staff members also have an emotional perspective, and such perspectives can lead to actions. Leading with empathy for everyone involved can produce amazing discussions and amazing results.

Leading with empathy. This can sometimes be considered being “soft” on misbehavior. However, in my work, I have found it solves more problems than being “tough” ever has. When students are upset, a genuine affirmation of their feelings can open doors to communication, bonding, and improved self-control. While that may sound difficult, it only takes a simple, “I am so sorry you are going through this; how can I help?” delivered with respect, and compassion. When we can do that for children, we can help them to become empathetic and compassionate individuals.

woman wearing a feather boa and smiling in a paradeWhen we invite them into the collaboration, we can help them become problem-solvers. If I have learned one thing from 22 years in Deaf Education, I have learned this: The world needs more problem solvers, and we can create them through empathetic thoughts, words, and actions. Leading with empathy builds a foundation that allows students to experience growth socially, emotionally, and academically because it allows them to acquire, develop, and practice real-world problem solving skills. And yes, sometimes I have to consequate kids because there are some behaviors that need a punitive response. But sometimes living through the conflict, and coming out on the other side, is consequence enough. When was the last time you got sent to Detention Hall because of a fight with your spouse? The disagreement and the resolution of that disagreement was consequence enough for you. And here’s the important part – involvement in working through conflict becomes a positive peace-making experience for everyone involved. Our kids and school staff deserve such experiences. I’ve learned that they become better people having had them.

To All the Graduates…

Dear Graduates,

Congratulations! To all the high school students who will graduate this spring – we applaud you. There is no denying that high school has many obstacles but you’ve persevered and you’ve made it! Rest assured, if there were some late nights and groggy mornings that you spent working on a range of subjects and extra-curricular activities, those efforts were not in vain.

students posing on a balconyAs you grace the stage – diploma in hand and cap on head – know that you are a symbol of success. Also know that there are many individuals in your communities who are proud of your achievement, including family members, friends, tutors, mentors, teachers, and coaches.

As I reflect back on my high school experience I can easily attribute my success to Pathways to Education. At the time, I couldn’t have guessed that walking through the Pathways office would mean that I would walk out, four years later, as a distinguished graduate. Pathways provided me with the confidence to achieve academic excellence. The tutoring sessions I attended helped me maintain honor roll status while the mentoring sessions significantly boosted my self-esteem. High school taught me various lessons; however, personal growth was one that I learned outside of the classroom.

I can’t remember the exact grades I achieved in my final year of high school but I do remember the friends I made, the teachers I admired, the mentors I respected, and the relationships I formed. For me, high school was about asking questions, offering ideas, and working together with others, lessons that have served me in good stead.

three women wearing graduation caps and gownsThe network of people and organizations applauding your success are also the ones cheering you on towards your post-secondary aspirations. I am grateful for the support of organizations like the Johnson Scholarship Foundation because they recognize the complex socio-economic barriers some students face in addition to providing them with the resources they need to overcome those barriers. Having access to scholarships helped me to achieve academic success that would not have been possible without financial aid.

Whatever your future may hold, know that you can take many of the lessons you have learned in high school with you. I wish continued success to the graduating class of 2017!

Best,

Leandre

Stigma Hates Company: 5 Ways to Challenge Stigma as a Community

Mentor working with student drawingAmong the challenges in contemporary education is the fight against stigma aimed at the 1 in 5 who learn differently. Stigma in education can keep a child struggling. However, we all have the tools to make a difference. The 1 in 5 who learn differently can be among the most powerful voices in fighting stigma, and in bringing along the 4 in 5 as well, changing the trajectory of all learners.

When you tell your story to others, you are no longer alone. You have an amazing community at your side. Something that was once faceless now has a face. Something that was invisible is now visible. Storytelling is one of the most empowering tools in the fight against stigma.

If you have a story to tell about learning differences—whether it’s your own life story or the story of a loved one—make a point of sharing it. All it takes is 2 minutes. Here are some pointers to consider in your daily acts of challenging stigma.

Mentor and young mentee1) Bust common myths. Learning disabilities like ADHD or dyslexia have absolutely nothing to do with native intelligence. Pervasive myths about learning disability—myths that keep kids struggling in the back of a classroom in silence—need to be broken. Don’t be afraid to confront stigma when you see it.

2) Invite people in. Once someone knows they are in the company of different learners, they can comfortably and purposefully address their individual challenges in community. The more we share, the more everyone will know about the 1 and 5 among us. Stigma hates company, so let’s bring everybody in on the conversation.

Two young men holding up a sign3) Language counts. The flames of every movement are sparked by the unacceptability of certain language. We all know deeply hurtful words that were once, sadly, commonplace. A piece of providing a successful education for all students is gaining fluency in the language of learning and attention issues. When we tell our authentic stories of the lived experience of LD / ADHD, we will change the language. Phrases like “ADD moment,”  “I’m numbers dyslexic” and “People with learning disabilities are just lazy” will be a thing of the past.

4) Highlight success. Hollywood directors, senators, arctic explorers, self-made millionaires—some of the most prominent and daring people out there have succeeded with a learning disability at their side. Scott Kelly, the first astronaut to spend a year in space, recently released an interview about his struggles with attention issues as a kid. There are countless examples of adults who have succeeded not in spite of their learning styles, but because of them!

group photo of students holding up their hands5) Become an ally. Teachers, parents, scoutmasters, firefighters, school guidance counselors, soccer coaches, software developers, librarians. These are all potential allies and advocates. In fact, 1 in 5 are likely to have a learning or attention issue themselves!

You might be the “4 in 5.”

You might be or become “LD /ADHD and Proud to Be.”

You or a loved one might have an undiagnosed learning difference.

No matter who you are, our community is never more than one voice, one face, one mind away. Share your story, listen to a story. With stories we build community, and in community, stigma has no place.