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"What's Wrong With You?"

Categories: Learning Disabilities

Stacey Dugan Montebello, a student at Maryland Institute College of Art, writes with passion about her experiences struggling with dyslexia as a young girl growing up in South Carolina -- and her pathway to learning and confidence after discovering RFB&D. I am an 18-year-old honors student, who loves sciences and language arts and is aspiring to become an illustrator/graphic artist. I love learning for the sake of knowing “why” and always have my nose in a book. I fit the stereotypical definition of a nerd; except for the fact that I can only spell the word “who” by remembering “the World Health Organization.” That is because I am dyslexic and have the spelling ability of a third grader, and a grammatical understanding that stops where “The School House Rock” songs end. I was lucky; my mother is also dyslexic and suspected I would be too. My parents invested in my early education by placing me in a private school for kids with learning differences. I was able to learn at my own pace, so my inability to read, spell and work with numbers did not keep me from excelling in other areas. I finally began to read in fifth grade, and took my first standardized test, the California Achievement Test. I was so excited that all of my friends were taking it, and we got prepared early in the morning. By the end of the school day, I was only two-thirds finished. I broke down in tears because I understood what they were asking but could not decode it. My teacher tried to console me by saying I’d “get better at it,” and I “was not the only one who had not finished.”  I told myself over and over there was nothing wrong with me. Then everything changed; private school was over and I was being thrust into public school. I hated it. The teachers did not listen, they did not understand. I was alone; there was no more us. I could still only read at half the speed of the other kids and I could not read aloud at all. The teachers knew this and I was given “special” accommodations. I tried my hardest not to use them even though I needed them, because unlike my friends I had a secret, and I didn’t want any of them to find out – because then they would know that I was different, and every normal kid knows that being different is bad. Sixth grade passed in a frustrating blur and I remember nothing educational. Seventh grade came and I was required to take Latin as a foreign language. It was horrible; I barely had a grasp of the English language. Suddenly a completely new one was being forced on me and because of that, someone found me out. A student asked my Latin teacher, “Why did Stacey get a checklist?” The teacher said, “Because she has accommodations.”  After the test the same student said to me, “That’s not fair to the rest of us. What’s wrong with you?” I wanted to run away and never go back to school but I didn’t. I stayed firm, told him to shut up; it was none of his business. I was angry with the teacher for telling, and angry at the student for for voicing what I had spent all of my time in public school pretending did not exist. I never acted out at school because that was unacceptable, but at home, it was a different story. I screamed, cried and kicked things; I ripped up my homework and generally felt like a failure. Then something extraordinary happened. My mom by some coincidence or other discovered RFB&D. It was as if one moment I felt miserable and the next everything was back to “normal.” RFB&D books were akin to someone “reading the book with me” and it made me feel more confident in what I was learning. My reading speed jumped tremendously, I went from not finishing MAP (Measures of Academic Progress) testing, to be one of the first to finish it. The program also helped me with rapid word recognition. RFB&D has helped me take and pass AP courses, to raise my SAT scores by 200 points and, most importantly, it has helped me to learn again. RFB&D also helped me to understand that I do not have to prove that there is nothing wrong with me. I began to think about my goals in life; they had previously all centered around proving I was just as smart as everyone else. I decided that was not good enough for me. I had been given a gift: I am an artist. With that in mind, I focused on what I could do to expand the RFB&D message to be a voice for other students. I used my artistic talent to design cards, letters, bookmarks and a painting for the newly built Maria Miller Center, since it is our Regional Headquarters. I will continue to use my voice to speak out for ‘Learning Through Listening’ because it just works. Through my art, I expressed what I could not in words, and began to see other things I could provide RFB&D. I began accompanying the South Carolina State Director to fund-raising and social functions. I met the donors and talked with them to explain that their donations were really helping. I would eventually talk with members of our State General Assembly to try to explain to them all the things that were possible for a child when someone just took a moment to care. I realize now that my drive to succeed and anger and hurt at being called out was all because of one fundamental thing:  All children want to be recognized, and it’s easier to fight against frustration by drawing attention to yourself and away from the problem than to be forgotten about in the back of the classroom. With the knowledge that I will be using RFB&D for my years in college and graduate school, I will continue to use my art to help promote, and my voice to speak out for “Learning Through Listening” because it just works. I will be actively involved with RFB&D for the rest of my life if that means making posters or pamphlets to advocate on behalf of RFB&D or speaking at schools to raise awareness for dyslexia. RFB&D closes a window of chance that students think is their only shot at a future, and in turn opens doors of opportunity:  not only giving them a chance, but a choice as well.

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