This article originally appeared in The Beacon Fall 2018 issue.
For his first few years of elementary school, Noah Mansoor attended P.S. 6 on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, along with his older and younger brothers. Although Noah enjoyed socializing with his classmates, he was skeptical about school and found the classroom to be an intimidating place. He recalled he was one of 30 students in his class, with a teacher and assistant teacher.
“That environment wasn’t great for a dyslexic student like me to get the attention I needed and specialized instruction,” said Noah, “but, at the time, I liked it because I was able to fly under the radar during our reading and writing periods. I would either pretend to read or escape to the bathroom and hide during those periods. I didn’t know I had dyslexia, so I just thought I couldn’t read or write.”
Noah continued to feel discouraged as he entered third grade, still struggling with school, while seeing his brothers progressing and learning to read. His teachers would comment that he appeared to understand the curriculum content, but simply could not perform well.
“When a teacher would ask me to read aloud in a classroom of 30 and I said something different from what was written, it was humiliating and embarrassing,” reflected Noah. “I felt destined for failure, and I absolutely hated school.”
His grandmother and her sister were both educational therapists, so they were aware early on that Noah had dyslexia and needed more support than his public school could offer him. His grandmother knew about The Windward School and urged his parents to enroll Noah. Finally, when his parents realized that he may have to repeat the third grade, they set up an appointment at Windward.
As he arrived at Windward on his first day of fourth grade, Noah’s skepticism about school remained. Slowly, however, he felt his reservations lift and discovered a shift in his attitude. For the first time, Noah began to feel comfortable in the classroom.
“Windward was different because failure was no longer something humiliating; failure was now something constructive,” said Noah. “Being at Windward didn’t make being dyslexic any easier, but the classroom environment was arranged so that I learned to try again or take another approach.”
Being at Windward didn’t make being dyslexic any easier, but the classroom environment was arranged so that I learned to try again or take another approach.
Within a couple of months, Noah’s reading and writing improved tremendously. The small class sizes, being matched with peers in similar reading level sections, making friends on the bus ride from New York City, and the amazing teachers were all factors that Noah credited with making him feel much more comfortable at school and, specifically, Windward.
“Ms. Zuckerwise is awesome, and I loved how she taught grammar rules in class,” shared Noah. “In sixth grade, she had a point system of fictitious money, which I called Zuckerbucks. As you earned fictitious dollars for learning new grammar rules, you could buy a prize or a snack time for the whole class. Ms. Travers was a very empowering teacher. Her class was the first time I fell in love with the subject of U.S. history. I did very well in her class, but she still always encouraged me because she said I could do even better. Mr. Manganiello’s Study Skills class helped me a lot in learning how to organize my thoughts when tackling a big research paper. Without him, when I went to high school and was asked to write a 10-page paper, I would not have even known where to start.”
Outside of the classroom, Noah was a three season athlete and competed on the Windward soccer, basketball, and lacrosse teams throughout his middle school years.
Towards the end of his eighth grade year at Windward, Noah appreciated the lessons he learned on how to be a self-advocate in the classroom. His teachers candidly told him and his classmates that mainstream schools would be much different than Windward. Multi-paragraph outlines would not be provided, and there would not be one-on-one conversations about how to structure essays.
“What stuck with me was that Windward teachers told us that an infrastructure for students with dyslexia may not be in place in our high schools, but we didn’t have to accept that because we could still advocate for ourselves,” said Noah. “They didn’t try to hide these realities from us. Instead they prepared us to voice our concerns and ask about resources available for those of us with disabilities.”
Noah acknowledged that the first three months of high school at Dwight-Englewood were challenging. Yet he learned to advocate for himself, which he believed made his transition after Windward much smoother.
“As I began to really love to learn and realize that school is an awesome place, I developed a reputation as one of the more studious students at Dwight-Englewood,” recalled Noah, “which was completely new for me, but empowering.”
“Windward saved my life,” continued Noah. “Windward taught someone who absolutely hated the classroom, someone who never thought he could read or write, to enjoy school. It was a boot camp where I learned how to learn, which is so important. It gave me the tools to be able to go on to live the rest of my life and progress to a higher level of learning that is so stimulating.”
Windward taught someone who absolutely hated the classroom, someone who never thought he could read or write, to enjoy school.
Atop academic success, he continued playing lacrosse and participated in Model Congress. Because his academic interests spanned from the hard sciences to the humanities to computer science, Noah was inclined to maintain a well-balanced and rigorous education through the core curriculum model in college. In the fall of 2015, he matriculated at the University of Chicago.
Three years later, Noah is a senior, studying public policy with a specialization in economics. Again, he noted the transition between schools was difficult, but he adapted to the particularly laborious reading workload for his collegiate classes.
“I have had hundreds of pages of reading a week,” said Noah. “But the books I’ve read have been absolutely fantastic – everything from Marx to Adam Smith to Rousseau to Plato to Nietzsche – school has been awesome. I found I really like public policy because I can engage with economic theory in an actionable way. Yes, we need economic analysis, but I enjoy understanding and communicating what that means for a given government or populace.”
Noah has also felt well supported by the Students with Disabilities Office at the University of Chicago. He recounted a case in which he needed to complete formal testing to demonstrate that his dyslexia diagnosis should grant him extra time for his schoolwork. Noah already completed the testing twice, for both Windward and Dwight-Englewood, so rather than sit through another two-day testing session, he asked the university office if he could obtain the documentation he needed for extended time and be excused from a third testing. Because the decision did belong to the University of Chicago, the Students with Disabilities Office granted Noah the proper documentation he needed because he advocated for himself. Additionally, he became aware of other free resources that the university offered that he would not have known existed if he did not meet with the office.
Lacrosse has remained a passion for Noah, and in his senior year, he is the returning captain for his club lacrosse team. His other hobbies include fly fishing, cooking, and mixology.
After college, he intends to pursue a career in finance. To gain work experience related to investment banking, following his sophomore year, he interned with Time Inc. in the mergers, acquisitions, and corporate strategy group. Since then, Noah has gravitated towards the sales and trading arena of the financial world, so this past summer, he interned at JPMorgan Chase in their corporate and investment bank.
Learning to navigate the workplace with a disability has been no easy feat, but Noah has gained valuable knowledge and mentorship through the organization Lime Connect. Dedicated to serving those with disabilities, Lime Connect members are part of a community that offers not only professional development opportunities and career coaching but also social events and tools to help those with disabilities reach their full potential professionally and personally.
Since he heard about Lime Connect from a fellow dyslexic student at the University of Chicago, Noah has been an active proponent of the organization and its mission. “It’s great to be an advocate for yourself and your disability first,” said Noah, “but then if you can be an advocate for the greater disability community, that’s even better.”
It’s great to be an advocate for yourself and your disability first, but then if you can be an advocate for the greater disability community, that’s even better.
“Through Lime Connect, I have learned about the optional process of disclosing to your employer that you have a disability and resources for employees with disabilities,” said Noah. “There’s a fellowship program for rising college juniors that links students with corporate partners, but it is a great network for any Windward alumni. I’ve been promoting Lime Connect to my friends from Windward to let them know that there are organizations and people to support us in our careers.”
Noah believes others will find the same reassurance he does in knowing that many companies are willing to partner with organizations, like Lime Connect, that serve those with disabilities because they recognize that individuals with disabilities have a “unique way of seeing the world.”
“Because of the way I learn and intake knowledge, it gives me a different perspective on a problem at hand,” said Noah. “So I may come up with an out of the box solution. My disability is not debilitating, but an ability in itself. I believe that’s true for not only myself but also anyone in the greater disability community.”