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On The Road to Self-Advocacy

On The Road to Self-Advocacy
Jillian DeBusk, Upper School Learning Specialist

LeDerick Horne, spoken word poet and advocate for students with learning disabilities, shared his personal journey with Dana Hall students in October 2019. Students listened with rapt attention, and his presentation ignited conversation amongst many about self-awareness and affirmation of their learning challenges. During the lunch following his presentation, students expressed interest in continuing the conversation to explore their own journey. Although the hummus sandwiches and Lola cookies from Flour Bakery might have been part of the draw, nearly 30 students met enthusiastically over lunch to discuss their experiences being students who identify as having learning differences. The affinity group lunch, open to all students in grades 9-12 who self-identify as having a learning difference, was facilitated by Megan Anderson, Jillian DeBusk and Kim Stewart, the Learning Specialist team, and Erica Ramirez, Director of Community, Equity and Inclusion.

While students munched on sandwiches and cookies, they listened as the conversation turned to the topic of self-advocacy and where students are on their journey. As students shared, it became clear that the road to self-advocacy begins with developing self-awareness, realizing how one learns best, and resisting the urge to compare oneself to others. Next comes the affirmation of one’s learning difference and acceptance of it, because without acceptance, one cannot move on to finding efficient strategies that lead to success. The path to self-advocacy is not always linear, and individuals may revisit various stages before finally arriving at a place where they are truly ready to self-advocate. 

Seniors kicked off the conversation by describing where they are on this journey. Their confidence was evident as they shared their experience and offered advocacy tips to younger students. By articulating what worked for them and what didn’t, older students demonstrated that they know themselves well as learners. One of the key pieces of wisdom that seniors offered seemed so simple, yet takes practice and courage to do: realizing what type of help one needs and how to ask for it. In response to the seniors’ comments, the younger students felt encouraged to share their own personal experiences.  

As a way to continue the discussion, the concluding activity had students pair with someone from a different grade to share where they are on their journey to self-advocacy. Students wrapped up the meeting by volunteering their final thoughts with the larger group. As they grabbed one more cookie before heading to class, there was general agreement that the first Learning Differences Affinity Lunch was valuable. Students expressed that they are eager to meet again, and the facilitators are busy working with them to plan a spring event.