VIDEO PRODUCTION: Gina Benigno
Middle-school students at Clymer Elementary School in North Philadelphia raced toward plastic bins overflowing with art supplies. Today’s project: decorating plaster casts of their hands.
A week earlier, the casts had been molded as Temple University students with learning disabilities (LD) or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) shook hands with grade-school students with similar disabilities.
One half of a handshake: Nat Margolis, Class of 2015, a media studies and production major who moonlights as a stand-up comedian. The other half: 12-year-old Javon Bennett, a student at Clymer.
Each week, mentors in Temple’s chapter of Eye to Eye visit Clymer and Grover Cleveland elementary schools, both part of Mastery Charter Schools, for an hour and a half to engage in art projects with mentees. Eye to Eye, a national organization that pairs high school and college students with LD or ADHD with middle school students who have similar disabilities, uses art as a vehicle for creative expression and conversations about what it means to have LD or ADHD.
Nationally, Eye to Eye has 57 chapters at high schools and colleges across 22 states and serves about 2,000 mentors, mentees and volunteers annually. In just its second year, Temple’s Eye to Eye membership has surged to 30 mentors, making it the largest chapter in the country and one of only a few high-impact chapters partnering with more than one school.
Micah Goldfus, Eye to Eye’s national program director, credits Temple’s founding student coordinators, Matt Cahill and Holly Jean Mainiero, both Class of 2015, as well as Temple Disability Resources and Services, with the passion and commitment to generate engagement and to serve as a model for other chapters.
“Philadelphia frankly wasn’t on the map,” Goldfus said, adding that Temple’s success bodes well for the region, as Eye to Eye opens chapters in geographic clusters. “If Temple is the flagship in Philly, future chapters can all learn from Temple and build up this movement in Philadelphia. We see our chapters as local change agents, and Temple is doing that to an exemplary level.”
Last summer, four Temple students attended the Eye to Eye Organizing Institute, an annual, national conference that helps student coordinators build leadership and other skills they can use to start or strengthen their chapters.
Also, two Temple students have been selected and trained as Think Different Diplomats, members of the Eye to Eye speakers bureau who give presentations across the country. It’s a rarity to have two diplomats from the same chapter, as the speakers bureau selected only 13 students nationally this year.
“Growing up without anybody else who was like me, I always felt like I was alone, that I was the only one who was different,” said Think Different Diplomat Lou Ashodian, a Class of 2016 biology major. “It’s nice to have a network of people to share that with.”
Nowhere is that network stronger than in the art rooms of schools like Clymer. Eye to Eye’s one-to-one mentoring is built on mentors sharing their own experiences and skills with mentees, focusing primarily on three areas: metacognition (the ability to understand and express how one learns best), self-advocacy, and proactive learning strategies and academic accommodations.
Shoshi Goldfus, a social worker at Clymer, facilitates the relationship with Temple.
“At Mastery, our focus is the road to meaningful postsecondary success,” she said. “To see adults who have had the same struggles that [mentees] have and accomplished great academic success, that was really game changing for our kids. It helped answer the question of what happens next.”