Every student with dyslexia remembers the word. For Skye Malik, it was "doughnut."
While all her friends were flying through the 2nd and 3rd books in the Harry Potter series, Skye, only on page four of the first book, got impossibly stuck on the word doughnut.
Her unexpected difficulty with reading is called dyslexia. Skye got a professional diagnosis at the end of 2nd grade. She was grateful - "I was relieved that there was a name for it. And I understood that other kids were going through the same thing."
Knowing she wasn't alone in her difficulty with words made it easier on her somehow. What wasn't easy, even after all the help she got from special tutors and reading programs, was fluent reading. She could decode the words, but it took her so much time and involved intense concentration. What many people do without thinking - reading - she had to struggle with word by word. Sometimes letter by letter. In class she would hear the other kids flip through the pages on assignments and go on to the questions while she was still doing battle with the first paragraph.
She was as frustrated as she was discouraged. But she didn't know of any other way. That is, until her 4th grade teacher, Miss Pollock, told her about something called Learning Ally. Skye says matter of factly, "It literally changed my life."
Learning Ally is a non-profit organization that offers audio versions of books. A crew of volunteer readers has recorded 75,000 classic novels, children's books, and school textbooks that help more than 300,000 students and adults with learning differences or who are blind. Now Skye could listen to the books' content with her ears on her headphones and follow the words with her eyes on the page.
Suddenly the bright girl who tested in the 4th percentile of reading fluency could keep up with the rest of the class. Instead of having her mother read her textbooks to her, she could independently do her work. "With Learning Ally, I feel confident and capable and can easily keep up with my classmates," Skye explains. "And I want other kids to feel empowered, just the way I did."
So Skye, now age 16, created The Paco Project (http://thepacoproject.org), a fundraiser and educational initiative focusing on giving students with dyslexia in New York City access to the same Learning Ally technology that changed her life. She aims to raise a minimum of $25,000, and is well on her way with $9,000 already committed.
She named the project after her own hero, her grandfather Leo Corey, nicknamed "Paco." Paco lived with and hid from everyone (including his wife) the shame of his difficulty with reading and spelling for 80 years, thinking instead he was simply stupid. It was only when Skye was diagnosed with dyslexia that he came to understand his challenge had a name.
A hero is someone who steps outside of herself to help others. Skye Malik is such a young woman, realizing that she is "one of the lucky kids who has been diagnosed." She knows that educating teachers about dyslexia and giving students with the learning challenge the tools they need is a "great first step in meeting dyslexia head on, and helping them be confident, capable students."
"Right now they feel stuck - ashamed, unsure and insecure about their school work. If I could help stop these students feeling this way, that would mean the world to me."