Eye to Eye mentorship program helps students with learning disabilities learn to self-advocate

Purdue student Shane Grime (center) makes lemonade with students at West Lafayette Junior High School during the Eye to Eye program. Purdue student Shane Grime (center) makes lemonade with students at West Lafayette Junior High School during the Eye to Eye program.

Research suggests that the most important factors determining life success for adults with learning disabilities is not IQ or academic achievement, but self-esteem, self-awareness and self-determination.

Shane Grime has been there, and he says the research confirms his own experience. He didn’t learn to read until the fourth grade, and he didn’t pass a standardized English test until his junior year of high school. But now—having just earned his bachelor’s degree from Purdue’s College of Agriculture—Grime is able to share his success story with local middle and high school students who have similar struggles.

“There was a time when I was unsure whether I’d graduate from high school, let alone go to college,” Grime says. “Fortunately, I’ve learned not to dwell on my weaknesses. The main thing is to figure out how to highlight your strengths.”

Grime and his cohorts have been sharing that message as part of Eye to Eye; it’s a national organization with a growing network of youth mentoring programs run by and for those with learning differences, including students with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or dyslexia. Using an arts-based curriculum, mentors help younger students understand their unique way of thinking, all the while striving to help them build self-esteem and develop skills needed to become self-advocates.

Purdue’s program, which is the only Eye to Eye chapter in Indiana, has partnered with the West Lafayette School Corporation for the last four years, pairing college students who have learning disabilities with young learners. Once a week, the mentors facilitate an hour-long session in which the mentees use art projects to explore their personal and professional aspirations.

For example, one year students were asked to create a career booklet including comic strips representing the careers they hoped to have later in life.

“One of my students was really struggling in science and math, and he wasn’t getting his homework done,” says Grime, who this year served as Purdue’s Eye to Eye student coordinator. “When I saw in his book that he wanted to be an EMT, I started asking him why the profession appealed to him, and what he’d have to do to make it happen.”

Grime says the conversation spurred the student’s realization that strong marks in science and math would be necessary for him to achieve his dream. On top of that, Grime believes many of the students seem “uplifted” just by interacting with older versions of themselves who have dealt with and overcome familiar challenges.

In fact, according to the Eye to Eye website, up to 85 percent of mentees report feeling better about themselves as a result of participating in the program, and up to 82 percent report that their mentor is the kind of student they want to be.

“One of the best parts about this program is being able to see the student mentors and mentees just click,” says Susie Swensen, an accommodation specialist in Purdue’s Disability Resource Center and the advisor of record for the group. “In addition to developing these students’ confidence and self-advocacy skills, the program lets mentees know that someone is taking time to give them attention, show that they care and build a connection.”

Lori Eubank, special education teacher at West Lafayette Junior High School, says her students look forward to Eye to Eye activities and don’t even realize the number of valuable lessons they are learning amidst the fun.

“One of the greatest outcomes from Eye to Eye from my perspective is the increased awareness of how advocating and utilizing accommodations can help,” Eubank says, citing Individual Education Plans (IEPs) as one example. “Some of the students who participate don’t even know what an IEP is before attending Eye to Eye.”

This semester’s program culminated with an art show at West Lafayette High School, where participants showcased their projects and were honored in an Eye to Eye graduation ceremony. As Grime recently participated in his own Purdue graduation, he reflected on the many ways the program inspired him as well.

“When I think about this experience, I realize that I’ve learned more from these kids than they learned from me,” Grime says. “Seeing what they go through on a daily basis has given me clarity, as well as an appreciation for where I came from. It makes me even more grateful to be able to give back in such a meaningful way.”

Writer: Andrea Thomas, Communications Director for Student Success, 765-496-3754, thomas78@purdue.edu

Sources: Lori Eubank, 765-746-0400, eubankl@wl.k12.in.us

Shane Grime, 260-417-7335, sgrime@purdue.edu

Susie Swensen, 765-494-1144, sswensen@purdue.edu

Last updated: May 16, 2016


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