Students Try to See Eye to Eye

University students Christina Gonzalez and Dana Oppenheim told an audience at Bey Hall about a new program that they are starting for the University called Eye to Eye on October 24.

Eye to Eye is a not-for-profit, after school art program for kids with learning disabilities whose main goal is to teach the next generation to become advocates for themselves. The program understands that these kids know what they cannot do and set out to teach them what they can do. There are 51 chapters in 19 states so far. The chapter at the University is not yet up and running because Gonzalez and Oppenheim are waiting for the all clear from the schools in the Long Branch area.

“We are really excited about it,” said Oppenheim. “It’s a mentoring movement for different thinkers.”

When Oppenheim, who has Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), transferred to the University, she discussed the program with Disability Services and they helped her get it started. She and Gonzalez, who also has A.D.D and an auditory processing disorder, spent four days over this past summer at Brown University where they learned how to talk to younger kids about learning disorders and about the curriculum that Eye to Eye has laid out.

Oppenheim and Gonzalez learned not to push the younger students to talk about their learning disabilities. “We are supposed to talk about ourselves as much as possible so that they can make the connection,” said Oppenheim.

The idea is to pair older students who have learning disabilities with younger students who are struggling with the same or similar problems. Oppenheim told the audience that mentors are placed with kids who share a common hobby or interest. The program wants younger kids to see that there is hope for the future, that if these older students can survive, then so can they. Eye to Eye is after school so that the students are not singled out from their classmates.

According to Eye to Eye, research suggests that the most important factors in life successors for students who have a learning disability are not academic success or I.Q., but instead are self-esteem, self-awareness, and self-determination. Mentoring builds self-esteem. Students and their mentors must build a partnership out of trust and cooperation. Mentors help students learn about themselves and help them develop their own skills so that they can be successful in life.

They also helped to break a world record with 106 other college students who all shouted, “I’m L.D. (learning disabled) and proud to be.” The previous record was 93 students.

The goal is to learn through art projects. “We use art projects to build confidence, so that they can become advocates for themselves,” said Gonzalez. “Art projects have no wrong answer and it’s not about being perfect. They aim high because there is no set goal.”

“There is no school work. It’s all about fun and art and finding their own voice,” said Oppenheim. At the end of each session, the kids stand up and present their project to the rest of the class. The mentors can do it for them in the beginning, but the goal is to get the kids to stand up and explain themselves to the rest of the group. “Art makes for an easy environment,” said Oppenheim. “There’s a purpose behind each art project.” The confidence gained in Eye to Eye also carries over into the classroom environment.

At the end of the presentation, Oppenheim and Gonzalez had some advice for professors and teachers who work with learning disabled students. “When teachers are open to change, it helps,” said Oppenheim. “Little things, like not being so strict about the way things have to be done. Being aware, reciprocating and acknowledging the student wants to do well, helps.”

“Having extra help, extra explanations, little things are so helpful,” said Gonzalez. “Being patient is so great.”

Heather Kelly, the Assistant Director of Student Activities for Multicultural and Diversity Initiatives, expressed her pride in how Disability Awareness Month was handled this year at the University.

“Altogether we had seven programs for the month which were all successful and we are very proud of the accomplishments,” said Kelly. “Our keynote speaker was Matt Stutzman who is an Olympian Silver Medalist in archery and was born without arms. We also had quizzes on depression and anxiety where we had a turnout of 900 students. This was a successful month for us overall.”

There are currently six students registered as mentors at the University. If any student, who has a registered learning disability with Disability Services, is interested in becoming a mentor, talk to Disability Services in the Student Center. Students who do not have a learning disability can also be a part of the program as allies. Contact Disability Services for more information on how to become an ally.  You can also check out for more information about the program.