Eye to Eye, a national organization run by and for people with learning and attention issues, is based on the power of spending time with others like you.
The UW-Madison chapter, which is the largest in the country, was started in 2014 when members began working with Wright Middle School students. Last school year, members started working with Hamilton Middle School students.
“I’ve gone through my own struggles … and to use that to help other students in challenges they may be facing is quite rewarding,” said Adam Tarshish, who just graduated from UW-Madison and has been involved with the organization for three years.
Tarshish, who has been diagnosed with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), gives presentations around the country as an Eye to Eye diplomat. This year he was serving as the Eye to Eye Wisconsin chapter coordinator along with Andrew Maurer, who also just graduated and joined Eye to Eye at its inception.
Eye to Eye’s five objectives are self-advocacy, accommodations, allies, self-esteem and metacognition or thinking about how you think. The mentorship model is designed to inspire by example and along with an art-based curriculum focuses on strengthening essential social-emotional skills, including community building.
Eye to Eye also advocates for college students and runs other activities such as Learning Different Day and social events.
Sixth-grader Micah Chadwick said coming to Eye to Eye is a chance to do art.
“I also like expressing my feelings for dyslexia and AD and ADHD,” he said. “They’re helping me learn how to manage my schools things.”
A recent art project at Wright was an empathy picture frame. Mentees decorated a picture frame to depict a day in their mentors’ lives. The idea is for mentees to develop understandings of the challenges their partners face and the similarities they share. Then the picture frames will serve as reminders of the relationships that mentors and mentees have built throughout the year.
An earlier art project involved creating a utility belt out of art supplies and outfitted with objects that symbolize helpful tools, such as a clock to represent extra time they are allowed on exams, headphones for a quiet space and running shoes for taking a break.
Joseph Allen, Tarshish’s mentee last year, now comes to Wright to serve as a mentor.
“I like being around my friends because I had friends in here and are still in here,” said Allen, a ninth-grader at West High School. ”It makes me feel good knowing I’m helping other people with learning disabilities.”
Tarshish said when Allen first started coming to Eye to Eye as a middle schooler, he was missing a number of class assignments. But then he put in the time to finish his school work and talk about more realistic goals. Now he is an A and B student in high school and on a path to attend college, Tarshish said.
“We get to help a group of students … understand themselves,” said Gerald Porter Jr., who served this year as a mentor from UW-Madison. “They help us understand ourselves as well. It’s very much a symbiotic relationship.”
Porter likes to show younger students that people can attend college even though they have a learning disability.
“We’re helping these kids learn different pathways in life,” he said.
Seventh-grader Jamaree Tyson, who joined Eye to Eye this year, likes to be able to do art projects and work with mentors on social skills.
Amara Stovall, a seventh-grader at Wright Middle School who is in her second year in the program, said a favorite activity was the clipboard project, which was designed to help the students stay organized.
“Now I actually take notes,” she said.