This past weekend, we had the distinct privilege of celebrating the successes of many involved with the Dyslexia Centers for Children of Upper Wisconsin, including kiddos who have now become part of the Forever Clever Club as graduates of our program. These kiddos have worked hard for at least a year in our program to reach the point where they are reading successfully. The Celebration of Achievements is where we honor the efforts these kiddos have put forth, the commitment their families have made, and the success they have all achieved. Part of what makes this event so amazing is welcoming these new graduates to the Alumni Forever Clever Club when they give a short speech about their experience at the Center.
Resoundingly, throughout the speeches given on Sunday, the kiddos all shared how the lessons they learned at the Dyslexia Center included so much more than just learning to read and spell. They shared how when they started at the Center they struggled in school and felt sad that they couldn’t do what all their classmates could. They shared that they felt stupid and would try to get out of going to school. They also shared how their confidence grew with each new lesson and that the more they learned at the Center about reading and spelling, the easier things got at school.
One of the things we take great pride in is how connected the kids continue to be even after they graduate and move on to bigger and better things. The fun in staying connected with them is hearing them talk about such similar experiences. Just as our new graduates, the more seasoned alumni recently shared many of the positive stories and interactions they had while learning at the Center.
Madeline stated proudly, “I can sound out words or break words apart all on my own.” This is one of the early skills we work to develop with our kiddos so they can successfully read material that is in keeping with their ability. We avoid strategies that have unfortunately become staples in many classrooms like skipping the word, jumping first to context or picture clues, and guessing. When asked if the alumni were using their skills and lessons they learned at the Center in other places in life like school or jobs, Luna and Mariah were both quick to share that the skills they were taught helped them to excel greatly both in school and at their jobs. “I no longer struggle like I did in high school. While I won't say going to college is easy, I have the skills to excel now. And without the three years at the Center, I would not be where I am today.” Luna explained further. Each student has their own positive take away from their time at the Center. For Carter, a highlight was “joking around with the tutors” but Justin’s was “having someone believe in me – besides my parents.”
These kiddos and their families committed themselves to attending lessons twice a week, every week, from one to three years. Despite this being a big commitment for most, they overcame obstacles of all sizes and shapes, and made it through successfully. Carter commented that “I had to miss some of my sports practices, do homework and eat in the car often, and ride with lots of family and friends to help me get there because we lived so far away, but it was all worth it now that I look back on that experience.” We know this is a commitment not to be taken lightly because we do expect families to make sacrifices and that isn’t always easy. For parents juggling schedules, making accommodations, and consoling kiddos who have to occasionally miss out on things they love and are good at can be overwhelming and even frustrating at times but always worth it according to them. “It did take a lot of dedication. There were times I didn’t want to come and I may have given my mom a hard time, but everyone here made you feel like part of a family.” said Luna. This has always been and will always be part of our mission – to help kiddos feel like they belong and that they have a champion in their corner, cheering them on every step of the way. Maddie said it was something she looked forward to every week even though it was hard work when she got there at times. Ruben on the other hand, proudly touts that “I didn’t know learning could be so much fun.”
After graduating from our program, our Forever Clever Club alumni students continue to draw from their experiences at the Center and are advocating for themselves in school and in their jobs. At school, Maddie said she confidently asks for help when she needs it and isn’t afraid to talk with her teachers if she doesn’t understand something being covered in class. She also shared that prior to coming to the Center, she wasn’t comfortable with asking for help or additional information and would never have dreamed of a day when she could do so independently. Like Maddie, this is another thread that carries through with other alumni kiddos. Carter shared that he is not afraid to ask questions and ask for accommodations when needed. Justin learned what his strengths are and uses that to his advantage in school by taking classes in in engineering and mechanics. Justin learned to be more organized and to not wait until last minute to do projects. Mariah shared that she uses the educational and life lessons that she learned at the Center every day in her job. Shae also said that part of what helps her to be successful in her career is her ability to understand her strengths and weaknesses, particularly related to dyslexia, and to be able to educate others about it.
In my mind that is the ultimate lesson learned. When we have taught our kiddos to better understand how their brain functions for peak performance to the point that they are able to take that message forward at school and in their careers, there is nothing that can stop them from being the success they are meant to be. “I know my limits, and am not afraid to come forward and share my limits” said Jack. But the final thread heard throughout the messages shared by the members of our Forever Clever Club is this:
· Stick with it – make the commitment
· Strive to do your best – even when you don’t feel like it
· The short term sacrifice is worth the long term gain
· You’ll appreciate the work you do now - when you get older
And as Jack said it so eloquently, “You get out what you put in here, be prepared to put in the work”. Our Forever Clever Club kiddos are amazing in every way. Their dedication, work ethic, and wisdom surpass their age and I am honored to have played a small role in their lives!