2018 YOUTH AWARD
Co-Founder, Bright Young Dyslexics
De Pere, Wisconsin
For many children, the first days of kindergarten are filled with the unknown excitement of new friends, a new routine and new things to learn. For Caragan Olles, kindergarten was a constant struggle that left her in tears at the end of most days. It was the beginning of many years ahead that would leave her feeling inadequate amongst her peers, labeled as lazy for not trying as hard as her classmates and seeing her self-worth plummet at the expense of bullies and teachers who could not understand her struggle.
Caragan was diagnosed with dyslexia in third grade, which helped her to identify her learning differences and strengthened her confidence by knowing that she was, in fact, incredibly smart, carrying a higher IQ than many of her classmates. She began to study with a tutor, which helped immensely, but it wasn’t easy. Tutoring can range anywhere from $60 to $80 per hour and is often required three-to-four days a week for several years—a financial burden that adds up. It wasn’t long before she realized that she wasn’t the only child struggling, and at 10 years old, she decided to do something about it.
In 2013, Caragan co-founded Bright Young Dyslexics, and she has been working every day since then to help other children with this learning disorder. Bright Young Dyslexics is the only organization to offer funding for tutoring and assistive technology for dyslexic students in Wisconsin regardless of race, religion, location or finances. The funding provided by Bright Young Dyslexics is the difference between students stagnating and failing in the classroom or overcoming their struggles to succeed in school.
Bright Young Dyslexics offers in-school programs to educate teachers, train them on how to identify students who may be suffering from dyslexia, and provide them with tools on how to best accommodate these students in the classroom. This training fundamentally changes the classroom environment and effectively improves the education for all of their dyslexic students. In addition, her dyslexia simulation events have big impact on students, changing the way children treat their classmates and increasing dyslexia awareness in a way no other organization does.
Today, at just 16 years old, Caragan is speaking at conferences, conducting trainings, implementing reading resource centers at local libraries, and providing classroom presentations to school districts. But in spite of the impact she’s made, it’s often not enough.
To this day, she still struggles to find support from some teachers. Just last year, she was brought to tears by a math teacher who joked about and mocked dyslexia in front of Caragan and her classmates, even though he was fully aware of her journey. The year prior, she was a victim of cyber-bullying when a Twitter account was set up to mock her dyslexia and Bright Young Dyslexics. But it hasn’t stopped her. She’s used these moments as the reason to continue on and to fight for other children who are suffering. She is a role model for students who are looking for hope and trying to find their way in a world that so often allows children who are different to be bullied and left behind.