According to Understood.org, 1 in 5 kids in the U.S. have learning and thinking differences like dyslexia and ADHD. 33% of classroom teachers and other educators believe these challenges are sometimes just laziness. Forty-three percent of parents say they wouldn't want others to know if their child had an LD and 48% of parents believe incorrectly that kids grow out of learning differences. These numbers are staggering. Facts like these and their own lived experiences led two San Francisco University High School seniors to launch the L.E.A.R.N. Conference (Lead, Educate, Acquire Confidence, Revolutionize Education, Navigate Challenges).
UHS seniors, Julia Hansen and Kyra Kushner, both have personal experience with learning differences, and both wanted to make sure other students didn't experience the loneliness and embarrassment they had sometimes felt dealing with their LDs. Following a "Perspective" she gave at an All School Meeting during the 18/19 school year, Julia was inspired to make a difference. Kyra similarly had an experience where she was inspired to overcome her "embarrassment and the stigma of having a learning difference." They found a partnership within each other to launch the conference and with the help of just a few faculty and staff members, brought the L.E.A.R.N. Conference to a crowd of 50+ attendees. Kyra states, "Together, we decided that enough was enough. It was time to stop being embarrassed about our learning differences, suck it up, and be role models for younger students who were going through the same thing. That's how the L.E.A.R.N. Conference came to be." The keynote was delivered by a renowned speaker, Dr. Nicole Ofiesh, a senior research scientist who specializes in learning and attention differences at Stanford — invited by Julia and Kyra.
Julia and Kyra's intentions? To increase visibility and acceptance in school communities regarding learning differences, try to make a lasting impact surrounding teaching policies and class curriculum to better accommodate LD kids in years to come and learn from other schools about what's working in their programs and what could be improved.
Julia notes, "My goal was to create a safe space for people with learning differences to talk about their experiences with an LD and the ways they have felt supported by their school in addition to the ways they think their school's learning services program could be improved. But I also didn't want to make this an affinity space because I think it's important for those without LDs to learn about what an LD is so that they can better understand their students', peers', or children's situation and be able to best support them." Kyra adds, "I hope that other students with LDs at the conference realized that they too can do well, they can be confident, leaders, and smart despite not processing as fast. They should be proud of who they are."
When asked what they hope those with LDs took away from the conference, Kyra said, "That day was so important to me, and I hope it was for others too. It was the first time I felt like I could be truly open and didn't feel worth less than anyone else. I simply came as I was. Even though I had previously felt unfit for leadership and lacked some confidence, what I never realized was that I was the only one holding myself back. Since that conference, I don't feel like I have to put up a facade of pretending to be better than. I hope that other students with LDs at the conference realized that they too can do well, they can be confident, leaders, and smart despite not processing as fast. They should be proud of who they are."
Julia and Kyra graduate this summer from UHS and will be going on to college. Where does that leave the LEARN Conference, you ask? Well, the duo's hard work has paid off; they not only held a successful conference but have also seen interest from other students to make this an annual event after they graduate.