According to the National Center for Learning Disabilities, students with learning and attention issues are three times more likely to drop out of school.
Marcus Soutra, President of Eye to Eye
, joins host Sheila Hyland for a spotlight on how art can spark transformative mentorship for at-risk youth.
Hyland: The National Center for Learning Disabilities estimates there are 2.4 million American public-school children with learning disabilities. If left without effective treatment, these children are at an elevated risk for substance abuse, trouble with the law, unemployment, and more in their adult lives. Hello, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I´m Sheila Hyland. Marcus Soutra, president of Eye to Eye, joins me to discuss efforts to engage young people with learning disabilities through art and mentoring. Marcus, welcome to our program.
Soutra: Thank you so much for having me.
Hyland: You have a personal experience with this type of a program and this type of learning disability. Tell us about that.
Soutra: Yeah, so, I was a kid -- like the students in our program -- who was identified with a learning disability. I was identified in third grade with dyslexia and ADHD, and went through school kind of feeling like school was a means to an end. It was not something that I felt like I was empowered or engaged with, and often felt kind of marginalized by that experience. And so, yeah. So, this has been a passion of mine for a long, long time, and now using my story to impact kids all over the world.
Hyland: So, how does Eye to Eye work? How does it impact these kids with ADHD and learning disabilities -- and actually, you don´t necessarily call them learning disabilities. You say these are learning differences.
Soutra: Yeah, we definitely try and get the students to think of this as a different way of learning, as opposed to some kind of disability. So, what we do is we kind of work in three different ways with our students. Number one is that we do a direct service-model of mentoring. So, bringing college and high school students who have dyslexia, ADHD, other learning differences into middle schools, working with kids who have similar identified, and teaching them how to advocate for themselves, increasing their self-esteem. So, that´s a big focus of our work. We also do a lot of outreach events at many of the major cities around the country, called Learn Different Days, which anyone could participate in. And then we kind of represent people with learning disabilities at conferences and events and in the media.
Hyland: What is it that people don´t understand about these learning disabilities, about kids with ADHD? I mean, I think they often feel that they´re alone and no one understands them. and you´re getting to them at a young age and making a difference.
Soutra: Well, that´s -- The word "loneliness," what you just said, is the key word about this -- is that this is a hidden difference, right? And for you to talk about this, you really have to kind of come out with the experience, and that can be a very, very challenging thing for a lot of students. There´s so much stigma that exists in our school system around kids with learning disabilities. And being different in general is just not necessarily something that´s often embraced. So when these students get the right interventions, get the right role models, get the right supports, they can succeed, and in many cases, can succeed greatly. Some of the most incredible people in our society -- people with learning differences. You know, Richard Branson is dyslexic, or Steve Jobs or Whoopi Goldberg or Steven Spielberg -- all people who have added an enormous amount to our world.
Hyland: Walk us through the actual program and how art plays a role in what you do. And why art, of all things?
Soutra: Well, art is something that, you know, there is no failure in art, right? And we did not want to have a program where students were feeling that sense of failure again. So the art is really used as a tool to build the relationship between the mentor and the mentee, and teach them these really, really incredible skills. So, teach them how to advocate for themselves, teach them a little bit about how they learn, boost their self-esteem, and give them that sense of community that so many -- so few really have, with a learning difference.
Hyland: And so, what has the impact been with kids? Because the program has been in existence for 20 years now.
Soutra: Yeah, we´re in 170 schools in 24 states and DC -- right here -- and what we have seen is an incredible impact in our work. Most notably, we just have a research study with the University of San Francisco, California´s brainLENS lab, and what they are finding is that we are increasing students´ self-esteem, we are reducing their depressive symptoms that they might have, we are increasing their resiliency, really helping in giving them the skills to perform better academically.
Hyland: So, you obviously have plans for growth with this program. Continuing across the country.
Soutra: Yes, definitely. We are in a huge growth phase right now. So we hope to be in 250 schools by next school year, so adding 50% greater in our direct-service model.
Hyland: And I understand you also have an app available now, too.
Soutra: Yes. Anyone watching this right now can go to the App Store and type in "Eye to Eye Empower," and they can get the Eye to Eye, you know, in the palm of their hands. It´s an opportunity for anyone -- free -- to get an access to our curriculum and help those students really advocate for their needs and give them a sense of community.
Hyland: Tell us a personal story about how this program has had a transformative experience for not only one of the children in your program, but also, one of their mentors.
Soutra: Yeah. It´s incredible. We see the impact in our mentors just as much as we see the impact in our mentees. We see them, you know, working with these students one-on-one each week, being able to give them that, you know, near-peer role model, give them that example of success. And we´ve seen students, now, go from being mentees in the program to not only being mentors, but being leaders in the program and organizing other students on their college campuses. We hear countless stories of students saying, "Oh, you know, I´m at ´X´ University right now and I´m ready to give back, after my experience of being in Eye to Eye."
Hyland: We are so glad that you and this Eye to Eye program are making such a difference. Thanks for being our guest today.
Soutra: Thank you so much for having me.
Hyland: And thank you for joining us, as well. For more great conversations with leaders in your community and across the nation, visit comcastnewsmakers.com. I´m Sheila Hyland. ♫♫ ♫♫