When Tanya Dvorak was held back after first grade, she thought it was her fault.
At the time, she was seeing her classmates around her learning to read, but she struggled with even the simplest words. The letters seemed to move around on the page in front of her — “dog” became “bog.”
The frustration was immense Tanya recalled, especially when she saw her classmates progressing while she struggled to keep up.
“The kids would look at me and wonder why I wasn’t getting it,” she said.
Tanya didn’t know it yet, but she had dyslexia. She didn’t find out until she was in fifth grade, after a six-month testing process that shuttled Tanya back and forth between doctors at Gundersen Lutheran and her special education teachers at school.
“For a while, I was just coping,” she said. “But finding out was a huge relief. It meant I wasn’t doing anything wrong.”
Once Tanya knew her diagnosis, everything changed at school. The same students who wondered why she was struggling then became her tutors and eventually her friends as she worked hard to make up for lost time in class.
“The other kids became much more patient as they explained things to me,” Tanya said. “It brought me a lot closer to them.”
Working closely with Dene Muller, then the La Farge Middle School and High School special education teacher, helped Tanya begin to conquer her dyslexia. Through trial and error, they learned together which study techniques worked best, and Tanya began to excel.
“We incorporated a lot of movement while she was studying,” Muller said. “Tanya walked a lot through the halls with the flash cards she made. There’s something kinesthetic about writing the words that you’re trying to memorize.”
Now, as a senior, the student who struggled mightily with reading even a page of text is taking advanced-placement classes, volunteering at the elementary school three times a week and participating in forensics and drama.
“My goal in high school was to be on the honor roll two times per year, but the best I’ve done is making it once a year,” Dvorak said. “But even though I didn’t make my goal, I know I still did my best.”
Forensics coach and AP composition and literature teacher Maeve Peterson has seen Tanya blossom into a hardworking, risk-taking student who is more willing to talk and discuss literature with the class.
“She’s a really perceptive reader,” Peterson said, “even if sometimes it takes her a little longer.”
Tanya aspires to one day be an elementary school teacher so she can help students during that critical time in their education. She feels that because of her experience, she’ll be better qualified to identify the signs of a student struggling with a learning disability.
“I love working with children,” she said. “I really just want to be there for them and help them the way my teachers helped me.”