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Seeing Eye to Eye

Arts mentoring program helps children with learning disabilities succeed

In the classroom, it often starts simply — sometimes with the confusion of basic words, trouble telling time, a short attention span or avoiding reading aloud.

It often ends simply, too — with a startling statistic. According to national research, American students with a learning disability will drop out of high school at twice the normal rate.

Evening the Odds

A group of Bentley students are fighting this academic crisis through a nationally based mentoring initiative called Eye to Eye. A Bentley Service-Learning Center program since 2005, Eye to Eye pairs middle school students with a learning disability or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) with Bentley students with similar diagnoses as a means of academic empowerment.

“The mentors help facilitate productive conversation about life and learning,” says Stephanie Brodeur, assistant director of disability services and supervisor of the Bentley chapter. “It’s all about celebrating differences and turning weaknesses into strengths.”

A Voice Through Art

At the core of the Eye to Eye program is a national, arts-based curriculum. Why art?

According to Brodeur, the regular school curriculum often assumes everyone processes things the same way; art eliminates those boundaries. “With art, there is no wrong answer,” she says.

On a recent Monday afternoon, the Bentley students and their mentees, seventh- and eighth-graders at McDevitt Middle School in Waltham, gathered in the school’s art room for the week’s project: designing a leaf representing their interests, strengths and likes. The leaves were then glued to a large, cardboard “community tree” representing their chapter of Eye to Eye.

“With the arts-based curriculum, meaningful conversations just naturally happen,” says third-year Eye to Eye mentor Leah ’14*. “It’s almost effortless.”

A Common Bond

Many of the Bentley mentors believe that a program like Eye to Eye would have made a world of difference when they were young.

Leah, for one, recalls plenty of teachers and tutors who were eager to teach her strategies for learning more effectively. But because none of them had a learning disability themselves, she felt that they didn’t completely understand her struggles, emotions and frustrations.

“The fact that mentors and mentees have had similar experiences is the number one thing that sets this program apart,” she says. “There are few places in the world where these kids can feel completely equal and identify with everyone else there.”

To learn more about becoming a mentor with Eye to Eye, contact Stephanie Brodeur at sbrodeur@bentley.edu.

*Last name withheld for confidentiality