A one-of-a-kind art show at East Carolina University demonstrated how middle school students with learning differences used art to learn about their strengths and express their individuality.
Destiny Dixion-Braswell and Jadaja Britton examine artwork on display at the Eye-to-Eye art show at Joyner Library on April 11. (Photos by Kathryn Kennedy)
The art show held April 11 in Joyner Library featured the work of middle school students from a Building Hope Community Life Center afterschool program. Students in the program all have learning differences. They have been visiting campus weekly this semester, working with ECU student mentors to create collaborative art works as part of a mentoring program called Eye-to-Eye.
Eye-to-Eye is based on a national organization that pairs middle school students with a learning disability or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder with college students who have similar diagnoses to promote academic and personal empowerment. Read more about the program.
ECU has had an Eye-to-Eye chapter for three years and is one of only two universities in North Carolina with the program. Most of the ECU students in the organization are participants in Project STEPP (Supporting Transition and Education through Planning and Partnerships), a program designed to support ECU students with learning disabilities. Project STEPP is part of the UNC-system College STAR initiative.
About 30 student projects were on display during the art show. They included paper-mache hands and superhero tool belts, projects which enabled the students to identify and visualize how many people come together to make them successful.
Emily Bosak, ECU sophomore and member of Project STEPP, and Marvion Wilcox, a student in the mentoring program, enjoy the art show.
“It gave the students a chance to explore who they are as a person and as a learner,” said Emily Johnson, associate director of Project STEPP at ECU. “There was an emphasis on identifying their strengths and building on the skills they are going to be able to rely on as they cope with the challenges of having a learning disability.”
Pairing younger students with college students who are succeeding in school in spite of similar learning challenges enables them to see how they too can be successful. Visiting the ECU campus once a week has also enabled the Building Hope students to envision themselves in a college environment.
Lee Olson, a senior at ECU, is one of two student coordinators for the ECU Eye-to-Eye chapter. "This program gives students the opportunity to build a friendship with someone who gets to know their strengths. It lets them see that there is a community of people that is just like them--they are not really different or the only ones with a learning disability," she said.
A Project STEPP participant, Olson said running the program with fellow coordinator Emily Bosak, a sophomore from Raleigh, has enabled her to build relationships and hone her leadership skills.
"I've gotten to know myself a lot better,” Olson said. “It has definitely made me more confident. I thought at one point, college wasn't going to be an option for me since high school was such a struggle.” Olson said she has learned to manage her dyslexia and welcomed the opportunity to show the middle school students that they could succeed as well.
College STAR is a project of the University of North Carolina system designed to support students with learning differences and faculty members interested in teaching methods that can facilitate student success. The program is being implemented at ECU, UNC Greensboro and Appalachian State University. It is funded by the Oak Foundation of Geneva, Switzerland, and the N.C. GlaxoSmithKline Foundation.