"This culture of inclusion and celebration of learning differences is very rare around the country and around the world."
Posted on December 13, 2017 by Julie Funasaki Yuen
Mid-Pacific students, faculty and parents were recently treated to an informative and lively presentation by nationally renowned learning differences author and advocate, Jonathan Mooney. On Wednesday, November 29, Mooney spent the day on campus speaking with middle and high school students, all Mid-Pacific faculty, as well as parents and family members at an evening Na 'Ohana Pueo Parent Association evening event. Mooney is the author of "Learning Outside the Lines" and "The Short Bus: A Journey Beyond Normal," two books about neurodiversity, learning differences and his personal experiences with dyslexia and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). After learning to read at age 12 and overcoming countless labels and obstacles, he went on to attend Brown University and earn an honors degree in English literature. While still in college, Mooney co-founded Project Eye-to-Eye, a non-profit advocacy organization dedicated to supporting students with learning differences that now has 38 chapters in 20 states across the nation, and provides services to more than 10,000 parents.
Mid-Pacific High School P.E. Teacher Ian Hunt was instrumental in ensuring Mooney's Mid-Pacific visit. "At age 39, I was diagnosed with ADHD," shared Hunt. "I found Jonathan by chance when I was looking for perspective on cognitive differences, and learning differences, and seeing them from a positive light. I found Jonathan's wonderful video and at that point I thought it would be wonderful if we could bring him down to speak."
Mooney started his day at Mid-Pacific with a round table discussion with Mid-Pacific High School Principal Tom McManus, High School Assistant Principal for Student Life, Jennifer Grems, Teacher Ian Hunt, K-5 Learning Specialist Kathy Hessler, and Jessie Mitchell from the Behavioral Therapeutic Services of Hawaii, Mid-Pacific's counseling partner. The team discussed Mid-Pacific's approach to learning differences and how the school is working toward creating learning environments that work for all types of learners.
"It's about balance, patience, and taking away the idea that you have to fix a child," says Kathy Hassler, Mid-Pacific preschool-5th learning specialist. "We would like to see the 'fixing' language go away and a new narrative emerge. We are all unique and different, and our focus is a strength-based approach while working collaboratively to reduce learning barriers or remove obstacles to enhance student learning."
During his visit, Mooney spoke with Mid-Pacific middle and high school students during chapel, and shared his inspiring story of attending school while learning differently.
Jonathan Mooney speaks with Mid-Pacific high school students about neurodiversity and learning differences in Bakken Auditorium on November 29.
"We all learned to confuse being smart with reading and writing and a narrow band of academic skills," says Mooney. "And we all have to unlearn that myth that there's one way to be smart. Because intelligence isn't one thing. It's many things. It's not singular. It's multiple. You all have the spark of genius inside of you. Don't ask yourself 'how smart am I?' Wrong question. Ask yourself 'how am I smart?' Which opens up the possibility that each and every one of you has something that's right about you."
When speaking with Mid-Pacific faculty, Mooney offered additional suggestions for creating classroom environments where learners of all types would thrive.
"Universal design of learning can often empower students who otherwise wouldn't use accommodations, to use them, because when you are being accommodated for your problem, often you don't want to do it. When the norm in the environment is multiple different ways to be a student, there is no stigma one way or the other."
Nearly 200 parents attended Mooney's presentation on learning differences at an evening Na ʻOhana Pueo Parent Association meeting in Bakken Auditorium.
"Dyslexia wasn't my disability," says Mooney. "My disability was feeling stupid in school. It wasn't the ADHD, it was the sitting still and the passive learning experience that really held me back. And realizing that helped me understand that different isn't deficient."
"Normal isn't a fact in the world that we discover," continues Mooney. "It's a construct we create with our actions and with our decisions. And there's good news in that. Because we, in the systems that we design, with the choices we make, we can build schools, communities, places of work, that include more people. That broaden our definition of what is normal. That re-imagine the concept to include different minds and different bodies and help them live a good life as they are. And that matters."
Mooney was impressed with Mid-Pacific's approach to learning differences and the community of support surrounding these differences.
"I've been speaking for 20 years, in multiple countries, at hundreds of schools, and there are three things I left impressed by Mid-Pacific," says Mooney. "The first was a whole community embrace and celebration of neurodiversity from administration to faculty to the student body, to the student body of folks with neurodiversities to young people that had no neurodiversities but were interested in supporting their fellow community members. This culture of inclusion and celebration of learning differences is very rare around the country and around the world."
"The second thing that I left feeling inspired by, the thing that makes Mid-Pacific an outlier is the thoughtfulness and intentionality around building the institutional processes and practices that build for an inclusive environment, shares Mooney. "There's a very intentional strategy around services for folks with learning and attentional differences. There's an intentional set of activities around accommodations."
"Lastly, there is a focus on universal design," Mooney explains. "What does it mean to start building a learning environment that works for the diversity of minds and bodies that we know are normal in any population?"
View Jonathan Mooney's complete Na ʻOhana Pueo Parent Association presentation on the Mid-Pacific YouTube page.