Midsummer Motivation

Another nonstop week in Baltimore and Towson, and it feels like my time here is slipping away faster and faster with every task I complete! IDA has been keeping me busy with my first project, which consisted of translating fact sheets from English to Spanish to make them more accessible to parents and educators who speak other languages. That project is almost wrapped up, only some revisions left before they can be handled by the communications department for public sharing. I really enjoyed getting to translate these documents into something that more people can read and use to help their loved ones, whether they be their students, children, or other friends and family who are trying to understand more about dyslexia. I actually learned quite a lot about the resources that are available to students in the U.S. beyond the standard information regarding special education classes; I never thought about all the work that could go into requesting accommodations for the day-to-day classroom, and especially for standardized tests, like the SAT and GRE. It can take MONTHS to prepare all of that paperwork and submit, and even then, there is still no guarantee that you’ll receive the accommodations you requested if there are any issues with the paperwork or justification.  

I imagine there are plenty of people who don’t even know that such a process exists, that they can even receive these services, especially for students who move through several years of school without ever receiving an official diagnosis of their learning disability. It must be infuriating to be in that position as the student, but also as a family member who is trying to understand the best way to support this student. It was also interesting to consider how many parents who do not speak English may be able to benefit from accessing this information. Perhaps this will at least point some of these parents to the people who can help their children be more comfortable and successful in school instead of watching them struggle without any informed guidance. This is something I care a lot about personally, given my experience with several students whose parents had very little knowledge of how their children’s educational needs could be met appropriately and affordably. Where I worked as a reading tutor last summer, it cost more than $100 per HOUR of private instruction, and many parents were advised to enroll these kids for four hours daily, five days a week, after paying for the initial assessment as well. While these are upper class parents who could afford it, there are many who cannot even begin to invest that type of money into a single child’s education. Even with a consultation of some sort, many of these parents still had a difficult time understanding their children’s needs and how they could supplement their learning at home as well.  

On the other hand, I’ve worked with children in a rural part of Peru, many of whom were reading well below their grade level, but didn’t seem at risk to their parents, who often had limited education due to financial and historical circumstances. While many public schools in Peru do have a system in place to identify students with reading difficulties, many of the students I tutored attended private institutions based on their location and ability to afford uniforms, supplies, and transportation. The attention to their reading and language-related delays was just not present, and it was immediately apparent to me when I would help them with their assignments. While I understand that a few fact sheets cannot act as a solution to the larger issue of illiteracy and lack of resources, I still hope that this can serve as a stepping stone to understanding the different types of support that do already exist for these children. Once the sheets go live, I plan on sharing some of the links directly with my former co-workers in Peru so that they may spread it among their community as well. Access to information is extremely important to me, and I believe that the creators and distributors of that information are fully responsible for making it as open as possible to people outside of research and academia. That is not limited to inter-language translation; it also refers to making the terms as readable as possible to people who are not familiar with field-specific terminology. The original writers of the fact sheets did a really terrific job in terms of simplifying the terminology that can really confuse parents and teachers, so that added a level of comfort to my writing in Spanish. I’ve started reading journal articles on the bus every morning and translating them to Spanish with more readable vocabulary in my head, just to practice. This gets me even more excited for the opportunity to share my own research one day with a Spanish-speaking audience... I will get there soon! 

As for the next project, I’m moving along swiftly in collecting information about the different Global Partners and their current legislature/policy surrounding dyslexia assessment, intervention, and the current statistics on each country’s literacy rates/progress. This has been challenging in finding sources that have the same types of statistics collected on each of the countries I am trying to compare, a lot of sifting through data sets, along with figuring out which statistics are most recent and reliable. I enjoy learning about how each country addresses and makes strides toward education, and it’s pushed me to reflect a bit on some of the conversations I had with my cohort surrounding identity and perspective. For example, I am aware that I hold several stereotypes of what it is like to be a woman in the Middle East, simply by nature of living in the U.S. and being exposed to very limited media portrayals of this region. So, learning that the Saudi Ambassador to the U.S. Embassy is a Princess to the Kingdom was a huge surprise to me, and it definitely made a shift in my understanding of a culture that’s making big efforts to educate and invest in their youth and women. Reading about her efforts to empower women through educational access was so uplifting, especially when I can see the statistics and progress made to back up that effort. More broadly, Saudi Arabia has made some of the most extraordinary efforts to eradicate illiteracy by 2024 by committing 51 billion USD to the education sector, with a significant portion being invested particularly in women’s colleges. I’m thrilled to read about this and use this information to mold my viewpoint of the female experience in Saudi Arabia, and to create learning opportunities for my organization as well. Moving forward, I’m anticipating the ways in which we can connect to the leaders who are making these educational strides and support them with our partnership! 

— Valeria Rigobon