by Doug Sprei, National Director of Communications
Flashback: July 12
– We arrived early on a Tuesday morning at the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center to join a lively flock of parents and children of Decoding Dyslexia
chapters from various states across the nation. While the temperature and humidity outside climbed into the 90s, our group waited patiently for the Capitol police to unlock the huge heavy doors and move us through an airport-like security process so we could get to our meeting space.
Safely inside the massive marble-lined building, some of us gathered for a photo and waited for the rest of the troops to show up.
In conference calls and email chains over the past month, Learning Ally's team had mapped out this special morning event with Decoding Dyslexia leaders. We named it the Youth Advocacy Camp
, and slated it to run at the same time as another important meeting on the Hill – in which most of the DD parents would be absorbed in policy and education discussions. These and a host of other activities were bundled into a week of advocacy encounters, panels and conversations -- all knit together by hashtag #SayDyslexia.
"This experience showed me that children and adult dyslexics are the strongest voices."
All of the families who have been coming to Washington for Decoding Dyslexia’s gatherings on Capitol Hill over the past four years have realized that their children can’t abide endless hours of big-people meetings. This Youth Advocacy Camp was designed to give the children a chance to inspire each other, get immersed in a fun, interactive atmosphere of their own making, and develop the personal self-advocacy messages they'd deliver in person to Members of Congress later in the week.
You can’t line up a meeting room in the Capitol without sponsorship from a Member of Congress. Our space in CVC-212 was secured thanks to the kindness of Senator Barbara Mikulski
During the first half of the morning, Learning Ally YES! Ambassadors Nick Foley
and Caroline Taranto
sparked a roundtable discussion in which the children opened up about their experiences with dyslexia, issues working with teachers, using assistive tech for reading and learning, coping with bullying, learning to advocate for themselves and much more. The whole conversation was broadcast via Facebook live
, getting several thousand views from our extended national community.
Within a few minutes, the kids were opening up to each other in ways that some of their parents had never seen before. "My son was able to transition from an internally frightened teenager to an engaged member of the group," said Tina Marie DeLong of DD-Pennsylvania. "You can clearly observe it in the video. This may not sound like a big deal to some but it is astonishing when considering my son's significant history of avoidance. Please keep up the amazing work you do!"
In the second half, the kids had an opportunity to practice and record brief statements that they would share with Members of Congress later in the week. Learning Ally’s production experts Dave Kozemchak
, Kevin Ziegler
and Reed Dewey
brought along seven of our audiobook narration volunteers. The team set up laptops and microphones and showed the children how to put their best voices forward. (At left, volunteers Maria Brown and Nora Douglas of the Learning Ally Washington, D.C. Studio.)
After recording their statements, our team copied them to flash drives and gave them as gifts to the children along with a lanyard and cool pins that they could wear with pride. Our volunteers told us later that they were very moved and grateful to meet the children (many of whom ear-read Learning Ally audiobooks
) and learn first-hand about their experiences.
Parents from Decoding Dyslexia who attended were also touched and impressed. "It was a remarkable experience for all of our members’ children," said Jaclyn Paris
of DD-Maryland. "After today, the children truly felt empowered and ready to speak to their legislators."
"It was amazing to me,” added Kelly Fleenor
, another mom from DD-Maryland who is also the new marketing director for the International Dyslexia Association
. (Kelly's son is pictured above with YES! Ambassador Nick Foley and Learning Ally's Dave Kozemchak.)
"My son was extremely hesitant to speak on his own behalf, or even talk about dyslexia, because he’s real quiet and shy about it. After meeting the YES! Ambassadors as well as the other children sitting around the table, he became more and more confident, and understanding of the importance of advocating on his own behalf.
“And that was a real turning point for me as a parent," she continued. "Hearing those struggles of other kids within the classroom that I wasn’t aware of. . . because my son has never talked about it. Listening to the students around that table was one of the best moments – and when I say best, I mean as an awakening moment, hearing the real struggles that they have within the classroom, and how important it is for parents to encourage their children to overcome their fears and stand up for what they need, and know what their rights are in that classroom...
“It’s one thing to get a group of mothers together that are strong-willed; they can stop the world if they want to, but this experience showed me that children and adult dyslexics are the strongest voices.”
* * * * * * * *
Learning Ally thanks the team that made this remarkable event possible: Mary Ann Tomasic (pictured at left with her son, sporting their flash drives and lanyards), Karleen Spitulnik, Jaclyn Paris, Lisa Blottenberger, Sharon Judge, and Laura Schultz of Decoding Dyslexia Maryland; Tina Marie DeLong of Decoding Dyslexia Pennsylvania; Robbi Cooper of Decoding Dyslexia Texas; Senator Barbara Mikulski of Maryland; Diane Taranto and Denise Foley (our YES! Ambassador moms from New Jersey); D.C. studio volunteers Leigh Hamilton, Maria Brown, John Bradshaw, Regan Quinn, Steve Swift, Nora Douglas, and Russell Woodgates; and staffers Dave Kozemchak, Kevin Ziegler, Reed Dewey, Ed Bray, and Jessica Kooper.
Visit Learning Ally's Explore 1 in 5 website to get immersed in a richly informative and interactive space for kids with dyslexia.