Monday, March 4, 2013

Eye to Eye: A Mentoring Program By and For Kids with Learning Differences

Children with learning differences or difficulty with attention may feel like no one really “gets” them. Wouldn't it be fantastic if each one of these kids could work with an older mentor who not only provides good company and advice but who actually shares their learning difference? Eye to Eye, a fascinating organization for empowering students with learning differences, makes this fantasy a reality.

This outstanding program began in 1998, when five students from Brown University with learning disabilities (LD) and/or attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) began a public service project. Christening their idea Project Eye-to-Eye, they targeted a group of elementary school children who’d been given labels similar to theirs. Their goal was not to tutor these kids, per se; they say they simply wanted to give them hope. So they worked on art projects together, hoping the kids would find art an accessible medium to express their feelings and showcase their talents. Founding member David Flink graduated and went on to work as an admissions officer at Brown, but he kept getting requests from students at Brown and other universities for information on how to continue the program. So he changed tacks, recruiting employees and traveled the country to set up similar experiences for both LD/ADHD mentors and mentees around the country. The goal is to empower “at risk” kids by giving them membership in a community that accepts and supports them.

Today, Eye to Eye pairs highly trained high school and college mentors with LD/ADHD with younger students who have similar learning challenges. The pair meets weekly to work on art projects, talk, laugh, and learn about each other and themselves. We are especially impressed by Eye to Eye’s commitment to helping kids develop metacognition  This important skill allows kids to understand themselves from the inside out, recognizing their strong and weak areas and determining how to overcome challenges using their unique talents. One of Eye to Eye’s core principles is that self-esteem, self-awareness, and self-determination are critical for resilience, and so they strive to help students feel good about who they are, learn about themselves, and become self-advocates. Additionally, mentors help students develop concrete academic study skills and personalized goals that students can propose during IEP or 504 meetings or parent-teacher conferences.

Interested in getting involved with Eye to Eye? Visit their website to learn more. The FAQ page contains instructions for contacting Eye to Eye if you are interested in finding a mentor or mentee for a child in your life; currently, fifty-one chapters are spread across nineteen states. Information is available for those wishing to start chapters in their areas if one does not already exist. Also, those in the New York, New Hampshire, and San Francisco areas may be interested in the outstanding, week-long Camp Vision, where kids learn to celebrate their different strengths through a variety of fun and enriching activities.

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