SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

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April 16, 2012

Landmark advocates advise future teachers

WENHAM — The education majors in the Schools and Society class at Gordon College will someday teach a class that's likely to include a student with a learning disability.

For an hour last week, the future teachers got a lesson from a group that knows exactly what those students will be thinking and feeling.

The Landmark School Student Advocates, a class of 11 students from Landmark School in Beverly, spoke to the Gordon College class about the needs and feelings of students with learning disabilities and the often painful, and heartbreaking, consequences when those disabilities are not identified or acknowledged.

The advocates universally praised Landmark, a private school for students with dyslexia and other language-based learning disabilities, as their salvation after years of struggling in public schools. And they urged the education majors to be aware of students who are lost academically — not because they're uninterested or unintelligent, but because of a neurological disorder that makes it difficult to read.

"You guys have a choice," Alex Belyea said. "To help out a kid who's struggling, or miss that kid and watch him struggle through school for the rest of his life."

The student advocate program is a four-credit course at Landmark that began in 1995. The advocates have spoken at a variety of schools, from elementary schools to Harvard University's Graduate School of Education.

At Gordon, many of the Landmark students said they went through elementary or middle school feeling stupid and blaming themselves for their lack of academic success. Those feelings sometimes manifested themselves in disruptive behavior.

Julia Malynn said her teacher would give her an irritated look or make a sarcastic comment about her behavior, but her disability prevented her from picking up on those signs.

"I would be sent out of the classroom, and I wouldn't even know why," she said.

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