Community Service and My Future

Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma – anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.

In the summer of 2016, I met Dimitria, an eight-year-old native of southeast Atlanta, at Park Avenue Baptist Church’s literacy camp, an effort to reduce the local high school’s 68% drop out rate. On the surface, she seemed like the other soon-to-be third graders: obsessed with watching Disney Channel, jumping rope, and braiding hair. When it came to reading out loud, however, it was as if she hit a wall; she would melt down, cry, and completely withdraw from the group. I initially concluded she was hungry or tired, but, after closely watching her the next day, it dawned on me that Dimitria could not read. Instead, she had devised coping mechanisms to get by, like recognizing shapes of words and letters, rather than actually reading them – mechanisms that did not always work. Although I understood that the children I was working with were underprivileged, that didn’t alleviate the sting I felt when I realized that this delightful girl had been failed not only by her teachers, but by many other adults in her life as well.

Sadly, Dimitria isn’t the only child like this, and she probably won’t be the last. This deficit, the inability to read and write adequately enough for functioning in society, affects 14% — or 32 million — of American adults, according to the US Department of Justice. Additionally, children like Dimitria who are not reading on grade-level by the fourth grade are twice as likely to drop out of high school, as well as more likely to end up in prison. Moreover, extensive research has shown the glaring issue of illiteracy is a class issue: income affects the type of parents one has, accessibility to resources, and many more factors that impact academic potential. To me these aren’t just numbers and scientific findings; these literacy deficits take shape in people I know and care about. Illiteracy of this magnitude does not have to persist, and, although I am merely seventeen years old, I have endeavored to tackle this problem by conducting research focused on illiteracy.

Since the science fair is the only avenue for student research at my high school, I needed to find a scientific approach for tackling the social issue of illiteracy. In order to do so, I elected to research the connection between visual perception and reading. Visual perception is a fundamental cognitive function at all levels of education that involves skills such as copying text accurately, deciphering elements, and developing a visual memory, all of which come together to develop reading ability. My research focused on sharpening visual perception skills in an attempt to fine-tune reading skills. Through personalized practice on, as well as SET (a card game that focuses on visualization, logical reasoning, and focus), my subjects (students from my Title I high school who come from backgrounds similar to Dimitria’s), exhibited improvement not only on the motor-visual perception test, but also on grade-level reading comprehension assessments. Findings from my research indicate that visual-perceptual skills, a very important learning aid for school-aged children, can be enhanced with proper training and practice, and that improved visual processing skills can eventually improve literacy.

From the research I started in the eleventh grade, I desire to continue exploring solutions to benefit children like Dimitria. In fact, in college I hope to bolster my commitment to service and research; ultimately, I aspire to make a lasting impact on society and improve the well-being of all, no matter their nationality or creed.

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