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Literacy & Longboarding: Anchorage teen starts project to bring awareness to dyslexia

By Sierra Starks Photojournalist: Rick Rysso - 3:20 PM May 31, 2016

From the top of the long, winding road of Potter Heights Drive, the view of Anchorage below is breathtaking.

To get to the bottom of the hill, and onto the Seward Highway, some take their bikes; others drive their vehicles.

But Casey Conner prefers to tackle the downhill on his longboard.

Casey got hooked on the sport after building his first board in shop class at Hanshew Middle School. Years later, the 16-year-old is working to master longboarding and become an expert in all its nuances.

“I really just started researching and watching videos and really just going into depth with it a lot,” said Casey of the sport. “I’m still learning. There’s really no end of learning when it comes to this kind of thing.”

Diving into the world of longboarding came easy to the Anchorage teen. But he admits one subject he’s struggled with is literacy. A few years ago, Casey discovered he had dyslexia, a condition that affects the brain’s ability to master things like reading and writing.

“I’m not severely dyslexic, I’m mildly [dyslexic],” the Anchorage teen explained. “But I do understand how it’s really hard to read sometimes and how normal ways of teaching how to read make it really difficult.”

Casey describes a perfect world as one “where everyone knew how to read.” After all three of her children were diagnosed with dyslexia, Casey’s mom Lisa got on board with her son’s idea.

“I never considered that there were other ways or other types of learners because I was very academic and loved to read and write,” said Lisa. “And then when we had our kids, I really started realizing that there are different kinds of learners.”

Lesson plans need to be customized in a different way for each of Lisa’s children. Her two youngest kids, Aaron and Allyson, are both on an Individual Education Plan (IEP). Having been so involved in the planning process when it comes to her children’s education, Lisa says she learned to embrace “the beauty of dyslexia.”

“We don’t see it as a detriment or a disability or that sort of thing,” said Lisa of dyslexia. “We actually see it as our kids are able to see things maybe in a creative way, out of the box, big thinking, big picture.”

For Casey, that big picture looked like his very own longboard shop — a dream come true in 2015. Located in South Anchorage, the walls and racks of 907 Boards are lined with a variety of longboard decks and wheels, protective riding gear and the like. Casey’s shop has also become a school field trip destination, which is part of another project he’s undertaken called Longboard4Change.

Combining literacy and longboarding just made sense, Casey says. Longboard4Change allows him to go into schools around Alaska and use his love for the sport to promote literacy in the way that’s always worked for him.

“A lot more hands-on. That’s definitely how I found it a lot easier to read,” he said. “Reading out of a textbook, it works for some people. Definitely having something hands-on and to grab and be physical with it, I guess you could say, is a lot easier for me and other people with dyslexia is what I’ve found.”

A special wall of 907 Boards is reserved for Thank You cards from a class Casey visited once, where he read to the young students and engaged them with a presentation on longboarding. That wall is proof that there’s more than one way to measure success, Lisa says.

“I think the key is to learn what your kids are passionate about and then help them explore that,” she said. “Schools kind of define success in the way of academics. There’s so many other ways to be successful in life.”

Casey’s way just doesn’t involve straight A’s.

If you think your child is dyslexic, the Anchorage School District’s STEP Center is a resource center for students, educators and parents. Longboard4Change also has a toll-free Literacy Helpline at 888-492-LB4C for sharing important literacy resources.

Contact Sierra Starks at sstarks@ktva.com and on Facebook and Twitter, @SStarksKTVA

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