It wasn’t until fifth grade that senior Molly Roberge finally felt comfortable reading. All through elementary school, she struggled, trying to catch up to her classmates while handling dyslexia, short-term memory and partial hearing loss.
Academically, it was hard. She was taken out of class regularly for individual tutoring. Most of the time, that helped. But sometimes, the tutoring left Roberge less confident that ever.
“During one of our sessions they had taken me out of class and I was sitting in the smallest room. It was like a closet,” she remembered. “It’s me and this teacher. It’s hot, and she’s just drilling me. I finally burst out crying. I was so tired of not getting it. She kept repeating, ‘No, no, no –it’s this.’ And I was thinking, ‘You know what? I’m sure it is this. But I can’t get it. And it’s frustrating because I should be getting this. Other kids are getting this. Once again, what’s wrong with me?’ ”
Other students didn’t help. Roberge became a social outcast, and that only made things more worse. “When kids know that you’re different, they’re not the nicest,” Roberge said. “So having that stigma – all those terrible words that people will call you, it hurt my confidence and my performance in school more than my disability did.”
The University’s DREAM office – Disability Resources, Education, Access & Management – meets a growing caseload. In 2000, just 77 students used its services. Today, Roberge is among nearly 500 students at GU who have learning disabilities requiring accommodation. Gonzaga’s DREAM office provides dyslexic students with options such as textbooks in a read aloud format, dictation software, and extra time and a quiet space to take exams.
“Some students, we wouldn’t have a clear picture of their abilities without DREAM,” said Kathryne Shearer, DREAM coordinator. “We have a message of empowerment, meeting their needs so they can contribute like anyone else.”
Even with DREAM, Roberge had to make tough choices due to her dyslexia. In her freshman year a defining moment came with an important test in biology. She had struggled with the course material; this test would make or break her plans for a major in nursing.
“I’ve always wanted to be a nurse,” Roberge said. “I had studied two weeks in advance every day. I took it up in the DREAM office so I was by myself and I had as much time as I needed. I had studied so hard, but I got my test back and it was not what I needed to get. I cried all the way from Hughes back to Catherine-Monida and I don’t think I got out of my bed for two days. And yet I had a friend in that class who said, ‘I didn’t even study for that test.’ ”
Roberge switched her major to sociology, which she loves and finds easier. Sociology requires less memorization. Now, she’s comfortable talking and even joking about her disability. “I have a shirt that says ‘I put the sexy in dyslexia,’ ” she said.
Last year, Roberge helped to coordinate Eye-to-Eye, along with Austin Carrillo, now a senior. They and 10 fellow students, all with learning disabilities, spend Tuesday afternoons at Garry Middle School. This year Roberge continues as a member of the club. These students serve as mentors to middle school students who, themselves, also struggle with learning disabilities.
“I think the greatest part of this program is that it is not only a huge benefit for the kids but also for the mentors,” Carrillo said. “I have probably have learned more from these kids than I have taught them. The main goal of Project Eye-to-Eye is to empower these young students to not only prove to everyone that their learning disability won’t hold them back, but also to show them that it is something to be proud of. I sincerely believe that without my ADHD I would not be as academically, socially and professionally successful.”
Discussions with the Garry students usually center on an art project developed by the national Eye-to-Eye program.
“One of my favorite projects was the invention,” Roberge said. “You create something that will help you in school. A lot of ADD kids will make a remote because when they zone out they miss what’s said, so when they start zoning out they could press pause. I always thought those ones were the neatest. Or kids would make glasses if they had dyslexia so the words wouldn’t be mixed up on the page, they could just read normally.”
Still, the purpose isn’t art. It is to help learning-disabled kids see a path to success, and to give them the tools to get there.
“We’re there because we don’t want the kids to go through the same things we went through,” Roberge said. “If we can tell them early what works and what doesn’t work and how to get through school to get to college, that can help them.”
When four of middle school students were named Student of the Month, Roberge said, “It shows that Eye-to-Eye was helping them. Or they’re just really great kids.”