When Eric Laughed

When Eric Laughed

The Shadow Project’s Alejandra Gurrola will never forget the first time she heard Eric laugh. “It was a sound of pure joy,” she said.

Eric, a Portland fourth grader in special education, was reading years below his classmates. On the playground, he got picked on for reading “baby books.” Eric often became discouraged, said his mother, Yim. “Sometimes, he didn’t want to try.”

Then Alejandra began coaching Eric and other Shadow Project students who struggle to access books the way most kids do. Using an audio and visual library for children with learning challenges, she helped Eric set reading goals and celebrate his progress. He began reading with his ears and eyes, donning headphones and following highlighted text on a screen.

One day, Eric burst out laughing while talking to his friends about a funny book they were all reading, Diary of a Wimpy Kid. “Another world had opened up for him,” Alejandra said. Best of all, Eric’s reading catapulted two grade levels last school year!

“Eric is different this year,” says Yim. “Now, he’s reading. He’s reading much better because of the audio books. He’s read a lot of books that he loves, some of them over and over. I am so proud of him.”

Every year, two-thirds of Oregon children with disabilities miss the critical benchmark of third grade reading proficiency that predicts high school graduation. A 2015 report estimated that with the right supports, 85 to 90% of students receiving special education services could meet regular diploma requirements. In Oregon, only 37% do so now.

The Shadow Project is a Portland nonprofit that teams with teachers in 39 local schools to make classrooms a place where children who learn differently—those with dyslexia, autism, and ADHD among others—can thrive. By equipping classrooms with special tools tailored to diverse learning needs, The Shadow Project has fostered academic and social success for more than 11,000 students who are typically one- to three years below grade level.

Eric was one of his school’s top audio books readers last year. He read 14 hours on audio books—464 pages in 17 days—over the summer. And this school year, he reads at least 30 minutes at home every night.

“I want Eric to have an education,” says Yim. “That’s my hope. Thank goodness for these programs that help Eric so much.”

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Shadow Helps Special Education Students

The Hollywood Star News briefly profiles The Shadow Project.

Read the full article here.

Shadow is in Sullivan’s Gulch

The Shadow Project is featured in the Sullivan’s Gulch Neighborhood Association directory. View the full listing here.

Supreme Court Ruling on Students with Disabilities Raises Bar for Oregon

The following op-ed, written by Executive Director Christy Scattarella, appeared on Portland Tribune online on Thursday, April 06, 2017. See the original article here.

Currently, our system does not prepare diverse learners for success. One quarter of our capable children with conditions such as dyslexia, ADHD and autism are chronically absent, which leads to low reading performance, discipline issues, and dropping out. Students with disabilities have among the state’s lowest on-time graduation rates.
Johnny Fernandez was worried. He sat at his desk each day, hoping nobody noticed he was only pretending to read. “I felt like I was cheating,” he said. The Portland fifth grader has dyslexia, and thick chapter books were a jumble of words for a student two years behind in reading. His mother wondered how he would survive middle school.

A landmark decision by the U.S. Supreme Court (on March 21) just raised the bar for how schools educate students like Johnny. The court ruled that educational programs for children with disabilities must be “appropriately ambitious,” wisely overturning a lower-court standard of “merely more than de minimis” (Latin for “too minor to merit consideration.”)

What will “appropriately ambitious” look like for Oregon’s nearly 77,000 students with disabilities?

Currently, our system does not prepare diverse learners for success. One quarter of our capable children with conditions such as dyslexia, ADHD and autism are chronically absent, which leads to low reading performance, discipline issues, and dropping out. Students with disabilities have among the state’s lowest on-time graduation rates.

Most of these children spend at least 80% of their day in general education classrooms, where educators frequently don’t receive the training or tools to support them. In fact, Portland Public School teachers rank these children their #1 unmet professional development need.

No one clears the bar with a rickety pole. Children who struggle to read, write and fit in need solid tools to achieve standards. We must (1) equip teachers with tools that engage diverse learners; (2) provide effective strategies for using those tools, and (3) elevate school climate to normalize what it means to learn differently. Children should not be embarrassed to squeeze a fidget (a stress-relief toy) or don headphones to help them stay calm or focus while reading.

As executive director of Oregon’s only nonprofit that partners with schools to make learning more accessible for children with disabilities, I’ve seen what ambitious standards can accomplish for determined kids like Johnny.

The Shadow Project develops SuperSensory Literacy Spaces, compact, multisensory libraries filled with tailored books, sensory tools that strengthen self-regulation and focus, and audio libraries that make books come alive. By ‘reading with his ears’ and following the highlighted text on a screen, Johnny advanced nearly two grade levels in under a year. Now a sixth grader, Johnny recently brought home his first “A” in English and plans to go to college.

Let’s raise expectations and show we mean it. With supported teachers and appropriate tools, more Oregon children like Johnny can soar to new heights.

Audiobooks Enhance Student Success at Bridger Elementary

The SE Examiner recently discussed how audiobooks—provided by The Shadow Project, as part of Portland Public Schools’ Read Together program—enhance student success in Bridger Elementary classrooms. Read the full post here.