Dyslexia is a common learning difference where people have trouble reading at a good pace and without mistakes. “They may also have a hard time with reading comprehension, spelling, and writing. But these challenges aren’t a problem with intelligence,” Hamilton student Parker G. ’27 told the crowd that was gathered at the Rhode Island State House last month in recognition of Dyslexia Awareness Month. “Research shows that about 20 percent of people have reading challenges,” Parker explained, but despite dyslexia’s prevalence, there remains a great amount of misunderstanding–and sometimes stigma–associated with it.
That’s why Parker and fellow members of the Wheeler and Hamilton communities joined members of the public and Rhode Island legislators at the recent event to light the State House dome red. “You may be wondering how the color red is associated with dyslexia awareness,” said Ada A. ’27. “For a long time, red ink pens were used to correct student writing and mark errors in spelling and punctuation. By having red as our signature color for dyslexia awareness, we take back ownership of this color and use it as a way to bring visibility and awareness of dyslexia and the many gifts that individuals with dyslexia offer.”
You can read more about the effort to light Rhode Island red in our recent story on the initiative that was spearheaded by Parker and his family. It was one of several ways that students at Hamilton–a school that focuses on children who struggle with reading, organization, and study skills due to dyslexia and other language-based learning differences–were raising awareness about dyslexia. “A major part of the Hamilton School‘s mission is to empower children with learning differences to take pride in their learning styles and advocate for themselves,” said Head of the Hamilton School at Wheeler Bill McCarthy. “Our students are engaged in ongoing education and conversations about neurodiversity and learning with the objective of promoting greater self awareness and healthy identity development.”
While this important work happens throughout the school year at Hamilton, there is a special emphasis each October, which is recognized internationally as Dyslexia Awareness Month. “Dyslexia Awareness Month offers the opportunity for our students to become activists for change by bringing visibility and a call to action for equitable and accessible support for individuals with dyslexia,” Mr. McCarthy said.
In addition to the remarks from Parker and Ada at the recent State House ceremony, Hamilton students also displayed a banner that highlighted some of the many strengths they possess as part of their dyslexia. Eighth-graders in Teacher Peter Kim’s class also shared their stories in a special video project they produced for Dyslexia Awareness Month. “The idea for a video came after reading the book, The Dyslexic Advantage,” Mr. Kim. said. I wanted the students to understand the gifts and advantages that dyslexia can provide. As a teacher, this project helped me understand the technical and creative skills our 8th-graders have in video editing. It has motivated me to continue incorporating video editing into the curriculum and further develop these skills.”
The students tapped into those narrative skills as they thoughtfully and compellingly produced personal reflections for the video. “I had a really hard time in 2nd-grade,” shared one student. “I never wanted to go to school, but my mom knew what dyslexia was and started looking at Hamilton. I was convinced that Hamilton could make a difference with me. I wasn’t sure that I could learn, but I did, and I proved everyone wrong. And it has been one of the best experiences of my life. Everybody should have teachers like we have at Hamilton. Because of them, I’m confident in my future and excited to see what comes next.”
“I think my dyslexia helps me focus when I build legos and make things out of wood or build things in games. It also helps me focus when I play sports,” said another student. “It is a big part of my personality, and I would not be the same person I am now without it.”
Through their efforts, Hamilton students are letting others who have dyslexia know they are not alone and they have many strengths to celebrate together.