TAVARES — For elementary school students, recess is the glorious reprieve from reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic.
For Tony Naumann, recess did not mean tetherball, playing Tarzan on the monkey bars, or playing red light, green light.
Recess meant catching up on the three R’s.
“I had to stay inside during recess and do math, he said. Dyslexia and ADHD “made school really difficult for me. Having a learning difference can make school really difficult and challenging.”
But not impossible.
That was the resonant message he and classmates from Beacon College — the first higher education institution accredited to award bachelor’s degrees exclusively to students with learning disabilities, ADHD and other learning differences — came to share with students at Tavares Middle School April 7 during its 8th annual disAbility Awareness Day.
Throughout the day, presenters such as the Orlando Magic Wheels, a wheelchair basketball team, service-dog organizations, and disability groups played myth busters, shared truths about disabilities, and educated students on disability manners.
This was the third visit for Beacon students since Michelle Metheny, an autism teacher at Tavares Middle School, first invited the college to participate four years ago. disAbility Awareness Day boosts grade-schoolers awareness about different disabilities. Yet, Beacon students also reap dividends.
They “love participating as it allows them to share their struggles and how they have learned to put accommodations in place to become successful,” says Susan Ward, Beacon’s coordinator of the Career Development and Outreach Center. “They also share their stories to show students that, it doesn’t matter what disabilities may be holding you back, with the appropriate accommodations and drive, you can become a successful college student.”
In separate sessions with sixth-grade students, Beacon’s contingent — seniors Tony Naumann, Ethan Meus, and Amelia Pierce, and sophomores Lindsay Flax, and Cicely Sheffield — schooled middle-schoolers about learning disabilities, ADHD and other learning differences.
Naumann shared how his grade-school classmates mocked him as being slow or dull. He found students simpatico with scholastic struggles through a flurry of questions.
“Who in here has trouble reading?”
Hands pierced the air.
“Who in has trouble with math?”
More hands shot up.
“Who has trouble spelling?”
More hands still.
Mission accomplished — empathy.
“Because of the way my brain is wired,” Naumann explained, “I spell at your level.”
And so it went.
Meus, who has attention deficit disorder and an autistic spectrum disorder, explained ASD hampers his communication skills and often leaves him the butt of jokes. It also, he said, made him once see testing as a race to the finish.
“I’d always wanted to get the test done and get it out of the way,” he said. “I felt it was a big obstacle in my way.”
In the next-door classroom, Flax and Pierce led similar conversations.
Pierce, diagnosed with dyslexia in the fourth grade, struggled with school and low expectations.
“People told me I’d never go to college … but, I graduate in May with honors. Reading and math are difficult for me; I have to do it over and over to get the gist of it.”
Flax realized early that something was different with her because “I took forever in classes. I probably took one hour on tests, so I knew something was up.”
After the Beacon quintet showered students with details of their personal stories, questions from students rained down.
Did your dyslexia get better or worse when you got older?
Does dyslexia affect you in cooking?
Do you take medicine for ADHD?
“They wanted more information,” Ward says of the sixth-graders. They “were still approaching Beacon students with questions as they were leaving the presentation. They wanted more knowledge about how to become successful — how to feel successful.”
Successful — despite the struggle.
Fielding a question about how dyslexia scrambles the written word, Naumann quipped, “I can say articulate in conversation, but don’t ask me to spell it — it won’t go well.”
Yet, life — learning differences and naysayers aside — can go well.
“I was once told that I would never make it. I was told by a teacher that she just didn’t know how to teach me anymore. It hurt. I could have listened to that and I wouldn’t be here right now,” Naumann said. “Instead I believed in myself. So don’t listen to anyone that tells you that you can’t, because you can.”