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Finding a Level Playing Field for Students with Language Based Learning Disabilities

Mr. Rogers, Headmaster of The Gow School, has witnessed this throughout his over 40 year career working with students with learning differences. Mr. Rogers works every day to create a level playing field for dyslexic students and help them recognize their super power here at The Gow School. 

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"This is my very first video blog. Maybe there'll be more. We well see how it goes, but it's an opportunity for us to talk about dyslexia and related language-based learning disabilities. My name is Brad Rogers, I am the Headmaster of The Gow School. A boarding school just outside of Buffalo, New York specifically designed to help students with dyslexia and other language based learning disabilities, learn how to read, learn how to go to go to school the correct way, become prepared for college and university and then launch to that next chapter of life. But this is not a Gow infomercial. It's not a commercial for The Gow School, although I love The Gow School and believe full-heartedly in what we do in terms of our program delivery and how we educate students. No, this is a bigger topic of conversation that I'd like to say is what we call as the level playing field. The level playing field. 

So imagine, you're on a soccer team and you've got an away soccer match and you go to the match. You get off the bus, you're getting ready to compete and you look up on the field, where you've never played on this field before, you look and notice that the field is up on a hill and your team not not for half the game but the whole game has to play going up hill. You've got to kick the ball uphill, you got to pass uphill, you got to shoot up hill. And your opponent gets to run downhill, kick downhill, shoot downhill. They got gravity on their side. That's not fair. 

A five-year-old kid would quickly realize that's not fair. That is not a level playing field. This is not fair. That is not a level playing field. This is not fair. And by the way fairness is not, everybody gets the what they need and that's maybe another blog for another times but let's go back to the level playing field. 

I've been lucky enough to leach and lead several schools specifically designed for students with learning differences and I have to tell you that the notion of the level playing field is perhaps the most critical component to go to school if you have dyslexia or some form of a learning disability. To go to a school and know that you are struggling in your reading or you're the lowest speller in the classroom or you have a difficult time completing tasks when they're due to like everybody knows that everybody in the fifth grade classroom they know who the worst reader is. They also know who the best reader is so just by the fact that it's a public environment, where everybody knows or at least they seem to know that you're struggling in school. That's a burden. That's a hard thing to get up in the morning, to get dressed, get ready for school, listen to that bus come down the street, and know that you're going to school and you're probably going to have a bad day, that's a big pill to swallow. Why?

Because that is not a level playing field. Because people with dyslexia, people with language based learning difficulties, school is a hard dangerous place because you have do publicly in front of others, what you typically don't do well even though you're intelligent. Even though you have a very specific skills, maybe in technology, maybe in public speaking, maybe art, who knows what is might be. But bottom line is in fourth grade, in third grade and in sixth grade everybody's gonna have a chance to read out loud in front of the class, kiss of death for a student with a learning disability. It's really frustrating. It's not a setup for success. Maybe if the student knew ahead of time which paragraph was going to be theirs, maybe that would be a setup for success. That's fair. They have a learning disability. They're gonna need to prep for that and the teacher can create an environment where that child is set up for success and give them the advanced question, that maybe leads into the level playing field, but I have to tell you it's not that simple.  

For an 11 year old to come to school knowing he or she is in a community, a school with similar learners that just takes so much pressure, wait a minute, these are my people, like every kid here is struggling in school. I like that like, these people speak my language, this is my village, this is where I can stretch and risk and learn and not be ridiculed or humiliated for stumbling over words or misspelling or needing more time on a quiz or answering a question completely way off. I mean kids can be cruel but among their learning peers there's a little bit of grace, there's a lot of empathy and I have seen over a career 37 plus years where students struggling in school, their peers also with learning disabilities will watch them and say "dude, you got this. Take your time. I've been there. I empathize." Keyword empathy creating a level playing field where everybody has specific needs and requires extra time and attention and instruction. It's so comforting. It's so validating, it takes the social and emotional pressure off. It eliminates humiliation which is a huge barrier for young adults, elementary school children, college students who learn differently. 

Humiliation is a barrier and most people would rather not face that humiliation and give up stick with denial or flights and not do those hard things and frankly we don't blame them but once students with dyslexia, language based learning disabilities are among a place that they can call their community. Their peers, they're learning with people that speak their language, this is their village. It's far more emotionally comfortable and the willingness to take risks increases and over time. I've seen this.

if you're a mom or a dad, a parent raising, a child with learning disability, find an area private school that is specifically designed for these homogeneous types of learners. Get them in there, you will see growth in reading but you're also going to see an enhanced self-esteem in your child. For decades, I've had parents say being in that school environment  so good for my child's spirit so good for their self-esteem, to be in a level playing field where everybody speaks the same language and struggles with the same challenges and has the same goals it is so emotionally comforting and a school like Gow, our missions is not to elevate self-esteem in students that's just a beautiful byproduct of an independent school specifically designed to help kids with learning disabilities. 

It's a hard decision, it's an expensive decision. This is going to cost time and money, no doubt about it. But your child's spirit is priceless. You can't put a price on that so those sacrifices they have to be made. Relief, comfort, being in their community is so helpful.

So, I'm going to wrap this up and first of all thank you for watching my first video blog and if it seems like people are watching this, maybe I'll do another, but I've got a lot of material. I got a lot of stuff to say and share about raising a child with dyslexia or some similar type of language based learning disability. There's hope, there are programs but its going to require a great deal of effort. There will be tears. There will be hard conversations and most of all there will be joy. Remember mom's and dad's whatever your child does well, nurture that. Support that. Find the level playing field and you will see in your child some self-esteem enhancement. 

Stay tuned, more later!"