Teen works hard to beat dyslexia

Businessman tells Friendship kids not to let disability define their future

April 15, 2007|By David P. Greisman | David P. Greisman,Special to The Sun

Evan Paul remembers eighth grade clearly, from the difficulty he had with grammar, composition and reading to the people who told him that he'd never succeed.

One teacher at his Boston-area school told him that the world needed people to work its gas pumps.

Paul was dyslexic. He just did not know it yet.

A month after he was diagnosed with the learning disability, Paul entered Landmark School in Prides Crossing, Mass., arriving with an elementary-school reading level and a lack of self-confidence and self-esteem.

Paul, 18, of Lynnfield, Mass., graduates in June as a college-bound student who not only reads and writes at a 12th-grade equivalency, but also works as the chief executive officer of a multimillion-dollar online video game trading company that he founded.

Paul spoke Thursday at Friendship School in Eldersburg, a private school that, like Landmark, works with dyslexic children.

His story has personal meaning to many of the students, parents and staff at Friendship. His message is one that the young entrepreneur intended to resound, to inspire.

"You can make it happen, too," Paul said. "Find something that you love, that you're passionate about. It will give you confidence and show you that you're not a failure."

For Paul, many of the 69 students at Friendship School and numerous others who have a similar difficulty processing language, learning had once been burdensome.

Diagnosis -- an educational program centered around specific, systematic instruction -- brought relief.

"I didn't like that [no matter] how hard I worked and tried, I wouldn't be able to succeed in school," Paul said. "I just wanted to know what the problem was. This is an impairment; it's not something I'm going to let define me."

But many with dyslexia fall grade levels behind their peers because of an inability to read, said Teresa Ankney, the head of Friendship School. Her school, she said, works to close the gap, thereby rebuilding the students' self-esteem.

"We exist to show that these children can be taught to read," said Ankney, who has two sons with dyslexia. "It is not acceptable to leave these children behind."

Friendship's students, who are in first through eighth grades, receive instruction in classrooms with an average student-teacher ratio of 3:1.

Their daily studies include writing and literature, math and science along with an hour set aside for one-on-one tutoring.

"The public schools generally don't know how to teach these students -- or they can't or don't have the resources," said Thea Medvetz, the school's admissions director. "It's developmental. It really shouldn't wait. It doesn't take as long to remediate."

Although some children stay at Friendship for additional instruction, Ankney said the typical student needs three to four years before reaching their correct grade level and re-entering the public school system.

After four years at Landmark, Paul is planning to attend the University of Arizona. Having dyslexia, he said, has prepared him for the pressures of college.

"Naturally you're going to need to be a harder worker, because everything comes harder," said Paul, who combines schoolwork with hours dedicated to running eGamePlace.com.

Paul was 15 when he started a Web site through which video game players could trade their games. This year, he estimates the company will pull in $3.6 million in revenue.

"By no means was it easy. It's a lot of work," he said. "Finally, everything's fallen into place."

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