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A Chance to Follow My Dreams

Monica-dyslexia-storyAs I sat with Mrs. Domin at the round table, I stared longingly out the window at the other children playing during recess. This was the first time I was held in during recess because I had not completed my class assignment. I stared blankly at the page, desperately trying to figure out the written instructions. All the other students had already finished their assignments, while I had yet to begin mine. Mrs. Domin leaned over me in an attempt to explain the instructions, but the words on the page still seemed infinite. It was not until she finally read the directions aloud to me that I understood what I was supposed to do.

Monica Strosina, an Anne Ford Scholarship Runner-Up in 2012, was diagnosed with dyslexia at the age of nine after years of painful struggle in school. It wasn't until middle school, when she started attending a school for children with learning disabilities (LD), that she started to understand what it meant to have dyslexia. She learned she would have to work hard and be a passionate self-advocate but that success was possible. This is a lesson she carries with her to this day, as a successful college-bound student.

Throughout most of elementary school, I could barely read or write a sentence. Understanding my written work was like figuring out a puzzle. Even I could not read the words I wrote. It was hard to ignore that all of my classmates were ahead of me in school. I saw that I was falling behind academically, but I did not understand why. I knew that I understood the information that the teacher taught, but I couldn’t reproduce those ideas onto the page. I became extremely frustrated with myself, and often came home from school exhausted and with low self-esteem. It was not until my fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Walsh, noticed my learning disability (LD) and offered to provide an alternative testing method. Once she read a test aloud to me that I had previously failed, I received 100%. This is when I knew that auditory input could improve my comprehension and academic performance.

I was first diagnosed with severe dyslexia when I was nine years old. Most of my teachers in elementary school did not provide accommodations for me, which caused my academic achievement to fall. In the sixth grade my mother sent me to Stellar Academy, a school specializing in LD. As a single mother, she struggled to pay the expensive tuition without any financial assistance from my estranged father. My mother was my advocate, and knew that she had to do everything within her power to support my specialized academic environment.

Although Stellar Academy’s specialized program benefited me in many ways, I still graduated from the eighth grade with a fourth grade reading level. Socially, however, Stellar Academy opened my eyes to the injustices in the American education system. I soon met other students who struggled like me, and heard about their painful experiences in mainstream schools. I fully understood dyslexia for the first time and learned that it was not something to be ashamed of. I noticed that each student at the Academy learned differently and that I wasn’t the only person who struggled without accommodations.

Since Stellar Academy only offered classes up to the eighth grade level, I had to re-enroll in a mainstream school. My new college preparatory high school offered small classes with individualized attention, but failed to provide a special education program or a resource specialist. This became an issue when I registered for the ACT, because my school did not offer the re-evaluation I needed to get accommodations on the test. My mother could not afford the $1,500 to have me tested again, so I was forced to take the ACT without accommodations.

While in high school, I had to advocate for myself and approach individual teachers about accommodations that I myself had researched and developed. Initially, finding support amongst the teaching staff was rather difficult. My academic counselor informed me that I had to set up meetings with each of my teachers and my mother to discuss my learning disability. As I sat in the first meeting with my English teacher, she said, “Well, since dyslexia goes away eventually, why should I make accommodations?” The ignorance about learning disabilities amongst the teaching staff astounded me, and I knew that I would have to work hard to convince them that I was capable of the coursework. Based on my experiences, I began to advocate for other students with learning disabilities at my school and helped them to develop accommodations.

Another conflict I faced in high school was the foreign language requirement. Since I was already struggling to read and write in English, it was nearly impossible for me to conquer another language. I decided to enroll in an American Sign Language (ASL) course at the local community college. I wanted to challenge myself with college coursework and learn a language that could help me advocate for other students with special needs. I eventually founded an ASL club at my school, allowing me to teach ASL classes to my fellow students and bring awareness of the deaf culture to campus. Due to my academic achievement and leadership in high school, I was honored with the City of San Leandro’s Advisory Commission Youth Leadership Award.

I plan to attend a four-year undergraduate institution to pursue a career in physical therapy. I have always demonstrated strength in mathematics and science, and have never needed academic support in these areas. My abilities in math and science have allowed me to tutor other students instead of receiving help myself. A career in physical therapy will enable me to use my skills to cure others. Despite my LD I have achieved academic excellence in high school, which I will continue to demonstrate in college. Like most students with LD, I am very hard-working and am determined to succeed in life.

Being a spokesperson for a cause requires one to empathize with it. I know what it is like to go through life with LD, and I believe that I can be a role model for other students. With my knowledge and experience, I can advocate awareness of learning disabilities and promote accommodations for LD students. My accomplishments exemplify that people with learning disabilities have the ability to achieve. Pursuing an education gives us a chance to follow our dreams and contribute to society.