Through creating community, senior advocates for learning differences at school and national level


Ellis Calleri

Senior Ava Wilczak, co-leader of Lab’s Eye-to-Eye chapter, strives to create community for students with learning differences.

Since her junior year, Ava Wilczak, now a senior, has been the co-leader of Lab’s Eye-to-Eye chapter. Eye-to-Eye is a national organization that provides community, understanding and empowerment to students with learning differences. Last June, Ava lobbied on behalf of the NCLD and Young Adult Leadership Coalition to try and pass the RISE and IDEA acts through Congress, which are bills that protect learning difference testing and accommodations in educational settings. This summer, Ava will travel to Washington D.C. to continue lobbying for these bills and will also intern for Eye-to-Eye national’s Young Leaders Organizing Institute. Ava shares the experiences she’s had that fuel her passion for Eye-to-Eye and advocating for the learning differences community.

Responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

What initially inspired you to join Eye to Eye? Who or what influenced you?

I had heard of it in middle school but it didn’t work with my schedule to participate in it. But then, when I rejoined Lab my sophomore year of high school, Ms. Scott and Ms. Baughn-Cunningham had actually suggested that I do it and apply just to be a mentor. They were the ones who suggested I apply and really showed me more about Eye-to-Eye.

What challenges have you faced as a chapter leader for Lab’s Eye to Eye chapter, and what have these challenges taught you?

It’s pretty challenging to try to get people to join Eye-to-Eye as a mentor. Although we do have a very high rate of people with learning differences as part of this school, I think a big part of Eye-to-Eye is just trying to highlight it and break down stigmas that both teachers and students alike have. I think a lot of it is resilience, and instead of trying to change what I’m saying or make it sound more appealing, instead it just took a lot more confidence to try to stand up for both myself and having a learning difference but really the club to try to break down some of those stigmas.

Throughout your time being a mentor and then co-leading, what’s your proudest moment with Lab’s chapter?

I have so many. Eye-to-Eye is genuinely the highlight of my week. We had a mentee once tell me that I was their favorite person just because I led Eye-to-Eye. It’s one of the sweetest things I think anyone has ever said to me, and so that was really great to know that I had made an impact, even if it was just one student.

What was your experience as part of NCLD LD Day of Action? What were the most impactful aspects of being part of it?

Honestly it was really amazing. I got asked to go back this year. It was really an amazing experience. I did get to meet with people from all over the country, both allies and people with learning differences, to get to work kind of hand-in-hand which was kind of amazing and hear their perspectives and their stories. We got to talk to our congress people’s assistants and their education staffers which was really cool, even though I did send an email to Tammy Duckworth. Getting the opportunity to meet with other people and advocate not only for myself but for other people. The two most rewarding things I got to do was we got to go to a part of the White House and we met with somebody who works for and with disabled people all across the United States. It was one of the most insightful opportunities I’ve had. And just to have that community with other people who also have that passion and love for Eye-to-Eye and who are also there for all the same reasons you are was really amazing. 

What motivates you to continue advocating for and educating about learning differences?

I was super lucky and my learning difference was spotted really early on so I was kind of labeled like “early intervention.” Honestly it was a really amazing thing because of Lab that I got the help that I needed so early on. And then, unfortunately, I was in situations, specifically my freshman year, where I was denied my accommodations. A big part of it came from stigma from other students and teachers in school, so there were a lot of things that I don’t want anybody else to have to go through there or at any other school.

What are your future goals for engaging with Eye-to-Eye and the learning differences community?

Hopefully, I’ll go on to join the Young Adult Leadership Council, but as far as Eye-to-Eye and the LD community, I really hope we’re able to get both bills [RISE and IDEA] passed and fully funded. A future for Eye-to-Eye would be if we could spread it to more schools and give more children the opportunity to have somebody to look up to and have a safe place that they can go to and learn to advocate for themselves would be amazing.