New York, NY — Eleigha Love, who describes her brain as a computer, and Jared Schmidt, a teenage sky diver, are the recipients of this year's $10,000 Anne Ford and Allegra Ford Scholarships given to two graduating high school seniors with documented learning disabilities (LD) who are pursuing undergraduate degrees. Anne Ford, Chairman Emerita of the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD), is a well-known philanthropist and author, who has been a long-time parent advocate for children with learning disabilities, starting with her own daughter, Allegra. The scholarship was created in 2001 by the NCLD board when Ms. Ford stepped down as chairman in honor of her service. In 2008, Allegra agreed to match the existing award, creating a second scholarship.
Anne Ford and Today Show Host Al Roker presented the scholarships at this year's NCLD 34th Annual Benefit Dinner, emceed by Paula Zahn in New York City. Jared and Eleigha are two of more than 2.5 million students who are wrestling with learning disabilities. They are among the mere 64 percent of students with LD who graduate high school, and only 10 percent with LD that go on to a four-year college.
"We received over 300 applications, and let me tell you everyone of them came from students deserving a scholarship," said Anne, handing out the awards to this year’s winners. “We hear so much about the challenges and struggles of students with LD, and it is so inspiring to see that so many are able to meet and surpass those challenges."
"Our goal is to see every child with LD graduate from high school," said James Wendorf, Executive Director of NCLD. "We are still failing about 1 million children. We've seen graduation rates and classroom inclusion rise more than 15 percent over the past 10 years. But we need to continue to empower parents and teachers, reduce stigma among kids, and keep education funding on the top of the education agenda if we are going to see those numbers increase, not decrease."
One of the biggest problems with learning disabilities is diagnosing them in time, before children get frustrated with the system. "To a child with learning disabilities, school can be a very isolating place, it can be a very frustrating place and frankly overwhelming," relayed CNN's Anderson Cooper at a recent NCLD lunch. "Too many kids with LD struggle to try and keep up with their peers and suffer from low confidence and self-esteem and lose their love of learning at a young age. It's hard to rekindle that once it's gone, which is why the work of this organization is so important."
Jared Schmidt, 18, is from Hermon, Maine. Home schooled during his early elementary school years, his dyslexia and dysgraphia were first identified at the end of the fifth grade. The oldest of four boys to a single mom, she rarely got to him at homework time because she was busy with the younger kids. Jared also held down an afterschool job to help out at home, working up to 28 hours a week. With the right support, Jared excelled in school, earning As in economics and physiology, played basketball, and is part of a Wilderness Intensive Leadership Development (WILD) program in northern Maine that exposed him to other teens with other real life struggles. After college, Jared aspires to work in youth ministry or as a school counselor.
Eleigha Love, 16, is from Flower Mound, Texas. After she was found to have dyslexia in third grade, Eleigha made the conscious choice to excel not retreat. She won spelling bees and Latin competitions and became a mentor to others with LD. In high school she volunteered working with incarcerated youth, some of whom have undetected or untreated LD. "I learned that many of those who are incarcerated are very bright individuals who have undetected or untreated learning disabilities. They didn't learn the skills to compensate and advocate for themselves, so many turned to alcohol, drugs and crime to cope and survive. I'd specifically like to work with juvenile offenders, giving them hope that they can succeed and become productive members of society by helping them learn to read and to learn self-advocacy." She is graduating a year early from high school, and may pursue a career in criminal justice or substance abuse treatment.
NCLD has created www.LD.org as a resource center that includes the LD Checklist, which helps identify key milestones in identifying LD; the Resource Locator that can help you identify resources in your community and school; and a rich array of fact-based articles, publications, and other resources to help parents become better advocates.