Student Spotlight

Forman Students Attend Young Leaders Conference

September 1, 2022

Two Forman School students attended Eye to Eye’s Young Leaders Organizing Institute, which was hosted at the University of Denver in August 2022. Jeanine Blakeman ’23 and Maddie Smok ’23 are Forman’s Eye to Eye Chapter Leaders and were selected to attend the all-expense-paid conference. Eye to Eye is a national nonprofit that brings together middle school students who learn differently with local high school and college students who also learn differently in a supervised, school-based setting. 

Jeanine and Maddie joined more than 200 high school and college youth leaders from across the country at the conference. They attended workshops, events, trainings, and seminars where they learned new leadership skills designed to help them and their mentees better advocate for themselves as individuals with learning differences. 

“I enjoyed hearing from all the speakers because they all had learning disabilities, and they talked to us about how they struggled with their learning disability and how they overcome the stereotypes and everything that comes with having a learning difference in today’s society,” Jeanine says. 

“There were a bunch of activities and a bunch of conferences that were held with speakers who shared their stories of how they became involved with Eye to Eye and how they found it, their struggles in middle school and high school, and how they overcame them,” Maddie adds. “It was really nice to hear their stories and how I can relate to them and all the other chapter leaders too.” 

Forman School’s Eye to Eye chapter partners with Torrington Middle School. Each week, Forman mentors meet with their mentees and work together through a fun and engaging curriculum of art projects designed to improve critical social-emotional skills such as confidence, self-esteem, growth mindset, and self-advocacy.

Jane Benson, Cognition and Learning Teacher and Eye to Eye Chapter Advisor, launched the mentoring program at Forman last year. 

“Our students have the opportunity to develop through their work. By giving the gift of listening and collaborating with a young kid, you, in turn, become better at understanding yourself, your strengths, and areas of difficulty,” says Benson. “You’re talking about rising above your learning difference so often, and it just gets in your blood. It helps you in so many ways, which service does all the time. You get what you give, and that is definitely true in this program.” 

In June, Jeanine also joined a group of young leaders from Eye to Eye and the National Center for Learning Disabilities Young Adult Leadership Council in Washington, D.C., for Learning Disability Day of Action. She and the other young leaders met with their local senators and representatives, as well as Miguel Cardona, the U.S. Secretary of Education, and Emily Voorde, the White House Disability Liasion; shared their personal stories of having a learning difference; and pushed for support on legislation, including the RISE Act and the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA) Part B. 

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