Students Speak: I’m Lucky I Didn’t Fall Through the Cracks, Part 2

This is the second half of Lily Corman Penzel’s story on joining SMARTS. Check out Part 1 here.

“I don’t know how many of you in this room would be included in the SMARTS club, but I have to say that knowing you are part of a community of LD people is, to use a buzzword, incredibly empowering. In that Lexington space, SMARTS created an unusual new norm. For a few hours every month, my brain, my learning style, my lack of attention span, my neuro abnormality, was the majority. I’m not sure I can adequately describe just how powerful and welcoming it feels to be included in the majority.

Yes, SMARTS provides truly valuable academic support, but it also teaches kids like me, kids like Alexa, that it’s OK to learn differently. It taught us that we were not the only space cadets in the room as Chase so aptly described. It taught us, and continues to teach students throughout the country, that having a learning difference isn’t bad — it’s just, well, different.

This is something that I have carried with me throughout the rest of my academic and now professional life.

After graduating high school and leaving SMARTS, I ended up a history major and then a public policy master’s student. SMARTS taught me that there is no shame in advocating for myself and my learning disabilities. That to succeed as a student was within my rights just as much as the next non-LD kid.

I never thought 10 years ago when I started SMARTS that I would voluntarily read hundreds of pages a week and then crank out 10-, 20-, 30-page papers. I never thought that I would be the point person to edit client deliverables at work (with the caveat that I don’t do spelling).

However, I rarely had any doubt that the way my brain worked would preclude me from getting where I wanted to go. And for this, in part, I must give SMARTS its due.

So on behalf of all the kids out there whose brains work a little (or maybe a lot) differently, thank you all for being here and thank you for your continued support.”

Stories like Lily’s remind us that, in order to help students thrive, we must think about how to connect academic strategies with social support and acceptance.

Stay tuned for more stories from former SMARTS students!