In the seventh grade, I was that kid. I got suspended for setting off stink bombs, shooting spitwads, cussing at teachers, climbing on the roof of the school during lunch, shooting staples at the teacher’s pets and lots of fighting. I knew the janitor and the vice principal better than I knew my own teachers because I would spend most of my time being disciplined in the hallway or the school office. When the vice principal asked me why I liked to cause so much trouble, I explained that I couldn’t pay attention to classes that were so boring. I knew that I was smart, but I struggled to pull C’s and teachers thought that I wasn’t even trying, which wasn’t true.
I couldn’t help being rowdy and restless. It was the one thing that I could overachieve at. Eventually, she let me ditch class and hang out in the conference room behind her office to keep me from disturbing the other kids. But one day I got bored there, too, and started a fire by sticking paper clips in the electrical outlets. When the fire department showed up, I learned what the word arson meant, along with the phrase “alternative education.” The next week I was sent to “Opportunities,” a program at another school designed for the bad kids like me. It wasn’t until I was flunking out of school as a freshman at UCSB that I was diagnosed as learning disabled.
It is hard to put into words how frustrating school becomes for the learning disabled as kids. Very quickly, they learn to see themselves as educators have unintentionally labeled them: “broken.” One in five American children are diagnosed with a reading disability or an attention disorder, yet only 10 percent of public school teachers are adequately trained to meet these specialized needs.
Although these children are, by definition, of average or above-average intelligence, only 5 percent will go on to any form of higher education and only 1.8 percent will attend a four-year college or university. While these statistics are daunting, there is hope. Research shows that self-esteem, not IQ, is the most important factor in the success of an LD/ADHD child.
Project Eye-to-Eye is a non-profit program that is the first in the country that seeks to directly empower LD/ADHD students by building self-esteem through mentoring. Our main goal is to instill hope in these students, provide them with college LD/ADHD role models and give them opportunities to grow and find success for themselves. If you are interested in volunteering, please come by our information session in the San Rafael formal lounge on Tuesday Oct. 11 at 8 p.m.
Jeff Slovak is a senior business economics major.