A Fresno student with dyslexia learns the most valuable lesson

Madison Vidrio in a school photo.
Madison Vidrio in a school photo. Courtesy photo

I often hear people talk about the most useful thing they learned in school. For some, it’s history; for others, it’s algebra. For me, without a doubt, the most valuable lesson I learned was the importance of perseverance.

For most of my life, I struggled with school. Then, two years ago when I was in 7th grade, after years of stressing about keeping my grades up, I learned that I had dyslexia. When I first learned about it, I didn’t want to keep trying. I had an excuse now for why my grades were so low — why should I try harder?

Fortunately, failure wasn’t an option. Our school had just introduced a new personalized learning program called summit learning. With summit learning, we’re encouraged to learn at our own pace, using the resources that work best for us — whether that’s reading a resource, watching a video, or taking notes. With summit, you’re not allowed to “fail” and move on to the next topic. Instead, you work on mastering the material, and you don’t move on until you do. Failure is not accepted; failure happens in life, but we learn from it and improve.

At first, this new approach made me extremely frustrated. I thought the material was beyond me, that there was no way I could move on. But my teachers challenged me to try. They showed me that the goal was no longer to pass the class, but instead to really understand the material.

Slowly, my mindset changed. Instead of using my dyslexia as an excuse, I started pushing myself a little harder. I learned strategies to help myself understand the material; for example, by watching videos about the topic, taking detailed notes and reviewing them with my teacher. And I learned what it felt like to be successful. That changed everything.

One of the biggest transformations for me has been in how much I enjoy reading. Because of my dyslexia, I used to hate reading. In middle school, sometimes we would do “popcorn reading” in class, where the teacher would call on us to read a paragraph out loud. I would dread those days. But with the help of my teachers, I learned how to break paragraphs down slowly. After reading Percy Jackson’s “The Lightning Thief” for 8th grade reading, I read the entire rest of the series on my own time. Now, instead of putting up with reading, I love it. I even raise my hand in class when my teacher asks for volunteers to read aloud.

Like most people, when I try something that is new and I don’t succeed at immediately, I get frustrated. But now, I know what I am capable of and ways to help myself get over the hump. I’m more confident in my abilities. I’m no longer satisfied with getting an 80 when I know I can do better. I don’t ever want to say, “I wish I had tried harder.” Even if I passed, I always ask myself it was my best.

My experience in middle school, with summit learning and the support of my teachers, has taught me the value of perseverance. And now, it is still the single thing I am most proud of today. I went from being a struggling student to being in the top 12 percent of all 800 freshman in my high school. I’ve learned how to work hard and push through. After all, maybe I can’t do everything — but why not try?

Madison Vidrio is a sophomore at Koinonia Academic Center in Fresno.