VHS Student Overcomes Disability; Helps Others Do The Same

VHS Student Overcomes Disability; Helps Others Do The Same

There are some high school students that make it their mission to make a difference about something that they are passionate about.  VHS junior Emma Francullo is one of these people.

Emma was diagnosed with dyslexia when she was quite young.  Her first grade teacher noticed she was having a hard time reading and remembering words.  “I would skip over words I didn’t know while reading out loud,” she says.  When she was tested, she found out she would have to come to terms with having dyslexia.  It turned out to be a mild form and she feels she has mostly overcome it now but that took hard work and motivation.  Her motivation to do so comes from her drive to succeed in the future.

“My future motivates me since I want to be successful later in life,” she says.  Since she has experienced it herself, Emma wants to educate other people on dyslexia and help people who have it learn to read.  This is why Emma has become involved with a new student organization called, “Student Ambassadors For Education” (SAFE). This program is being piloted through Verona’s Special Education Parent Advisory Committee (SEPAC) called C.H.I.L.D.  SAFE is a self-advocacy program that will focus on helping students learn more about their learning challenge, learn how to self-advocate in school, network and find support with other students their age, and learn from a Student Ambassador about how successful they have been in advocating for themselves in middle and high school.

SAFE is modeled after Learning Ally, Inc.’s program called YES! Youth Examples of Self Advocacy.  Learning Ally is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to helping blind, visually impaired and dyslexic students succeed in education.  The organization has existed since 1948 and is located in Princeton, New Jersey.  The YES! program started in Colorado, but is expanding to New Jersey and Massachusetts.  C.H.I.L.D. decided to model the program and bring it to VHS.      .

Emma’s mother, whom she identifies as her role model, is co-president and founder of C.H.I.L.D.  She and her mom “work together to bring awareness and help people find strategies to support people with dyslexia,” she says.  Emma and seven other students have been training since November to become Student Ambassadors and Emma’s passion for it is obvious.  “I could talk about it for hours,” she says.  Some other VHS students, including Sam Gomez, Nikhita Pandian and Brad Smith, are also part of the program along with other middle and high school students from Caldwell, Jersey City and Randolph.

Emma spoke about her dyslexia for the first time in public last year.  She was part of a student panel that spoke to parents, teachers and administrators from neighboring towns about their experience in school.

The Student Ambassadors will be matched with younger students in March and will work with them until the summer so that they are prepared to return to school in the fall to speak with their teachers.  Emma says “I feel a strong connection helping these kids, since I had to go through the same things they have to deal with on a daily basis.”

As to that future that motivates here, Emma is fascinated by international interactions, especially those in Europe. She hopes to one day go to college in Europe and end up in law school.