Students see “Eye to Eye” with mentors


TPN File Photo

Eye to Eye works with children with ADHD and learning disabilities to teach them skills for both inside and outside the classroom.

By Maggie Young, Staff Writer

According to the National Center for Learning Disabilities, one in five people suffer from learning and attention issues. Parents and teachers often think it’s due to laziness, and that their students will eventually grow out of it — but that’s not always the case.  

Eye to Eye is a national organization that works to combat this stigma and provide resources to children with ADHD and learning disabilities to teach the skills these students need for the classroom and life beyond school. Through a mentorship program, younger kids are paired with older ones to share experiences and practice self-advocacy and perseverance.

Pitt’s Chapter of Eye to Eye, founded in 2012, partners with the students of Schiller Academy, a middle school located in the East Allegheny neighborhood. Pitt students travel to Schiller Academy on Mondays, where they host an Art Room from 4 to 5 p.m, the designated hour for mentors and mentees to spend time together.

The goal of the Art Room is to support students with ADHD and learning disabilities by pairing them with a college student of a similar diagnosis. One of these mentors is Jesse Mogilyansky, one of the chapter copresidents and a junior history and English writing major. She said this pairing is helpful for showing middle schoolers that ADHD and LD will not keep them from being successful.

“When I was in middle school, I didn’t know that I had ADHD,” Mogilyansky said. “I didn’t know that I had a learning disability. So, it [was] really hard because school was difficult for me, and I didn’t understand why. I thought college would be infinitely harder and that I would never get there. For middle schoolers, seeing people with their diagnoses in college and being successful is inspirational.”

Fellow copresident Julia St. John, a junior neuroscience major, agrees. St. John was diagnosed with ADHD when she was in fifth grade. She joined Eye to Eye during her first year at Pitt, and said middle school especially is a challenging time because it is a period of extensive change — and it’s the first time school becomes really difficult and important.

“Just being able to talk to kids and know what it’s like to be stuck, having ADHD and having to sit down for eight hours every single day in this environment built for people who think differently from you, that means a lot to them,” St. John said. “Especially in middle school, middle school is a terrible time for everybody. Nobody remembers middle school fondly.”

Cole Hendricks, the national program coordinator of Eye to Eye, said it’s essential to teach kids to fight the stigma of LD and ADHD at this age. It can be harmful for children to be told that this is something they will just outgrow.

“ADHD doesn’t go away. Dyslexia doesn’t go away. These are things that we have for life, and associating it with laziness is really detrimental to someone’s self-esteem, just because you feel less than the ‘normal’ population. And that isn’t true at all, we just have to look at things in a different way,” Hendricks, who has ADHD, said.

Part of fighting the stigma of ADHD and learning disabilities is spreading awareness, Hendricks said. Eye to Eye will encourage their chapters to do this during the month of February by hosting events on campus.

“This upcoming month, we have created what we like to call ‘strike out stigma month,’ and it’s Eye to Eye’s way to really just broaden community awareness and publicly denounce the stigma that revolves around learning disabilities and ADHD,” Hendricks said.

Although one in five people have learning disabilities, Hendricks said the stigma still persists. College Eye to Eye mentors remind their middle school mentees that ADHD and LD are things that make them different, but they are still things to be celebrated.

Because of this overarching message, it is essential that Eye to Eye be an experience-based program, Hendricks said. Mentors in the program generally have an ADHD or LD diagnosis. It’s much easier for an older student to help someone else when they had similar difficulties in school.

St. John uses her own diagnosis to bond with her mentees in terms of school. She said her ADHD is beneficial to her school work, allowing her to think differently.

“My ADHD has helped me so much in neuroscience because when I’m passionate about something, I can work so hard and so diligently about that,” St. John said. “I can work really well with problem solving, I’m great with neuroanatomy because I can think in 3-D very well and I understand processes. All of that is a part of my ADHD.”

In addition to this support and empathy, Eye to Eye teaches younger students the skills they specifically need in the classroom.

These skills include self-advocacy, which Hendricks said is especially important. Student needs to know how to speak up for themselves and ask for the accommodations they need in the classroom. If a student needs extra time taking a test, Eye to Eye wants to teach them how to ask, Hendricks said.

According to St. John, art is a great way to present these lessons to students with ADHD and LD.

“People with learning differences tend to be very hands-on, so doing arts and crafts is really helpful,” St. John said. “It allows them to be creative, which is something that they’re kind of denied in a lot of traditional classroom settings. Just have fun with it. Plus, who doesn’t love arts and crafts?”

In addition to lessons about self-advocacy and embracing ADHD and LD, Eye to Eye uses art projects to try to give these students strength.

“We have an art project called ‘grit kit’ where we have them get pencil boxes, then we have the kids put stuff that motivates them into the box,” Mogilyansky said. “They open the box when things are hard and then they’re like,‘oh, I can keep going.’”