From the Rooftops: How dyslexia set Paula Hamp on a mission to make learning accessible for students

by Mary Pembleton

Paula Hamp and her Dog

As a child growing up in an era when educators sometimes forced right-handedness, Paula Hamp used both of her hands to write. But while she wrote correctly—from left-to-right—with her left hand, she wrote right-to-left with her right hand. In an attempt to remedy this, her second-grade teacher tied Paula’s left hand to the desk. The result? Paula could only write backwards.

Though backwards writing isn’t a typical sign of dyslexia, Paula was diagnosed with a reading disability early-on, and school in the 1960’s was a struggle. “I hated to read,” Paula says. “Books were my enemy.”

Paula didn’t read her first book cover-to-cover until she was in the tenth grade. A high school guidance counselor told her: Paula, you’re not smart enough for college.

You need to go over to Kmart and get a job and be happy.

But that counselor didn’t know who he was talking to; Paula, who describes herself as just so passionate, doesn’t yield to obstacles. Like when Paula’s father removed her from that second-grade classroom for a different school that “let me be who I was,” she told the teacher who’d tied her hand down “I want to be a teacher someday, and I’m going to be better than you.”

Paula Hamp

Paula was good to her word. She now works as a behavior interventionist at Dakota Valley Middle School in South Dakota, and she’s garnered some pretty impressive accolades, like Learning Disabilities Association Educator of the Year in 2015 and the Council for Learning Disabilities Outstanding Teacher of the Year in 2005.

In addition to her full-time work, Paula is the president of the Learning Disabilities Association of Iowa and an adjunct faculty member at Morningside College in Sioux City. “I tend to have about 40 students per semester, so I’ll often have 40 essays or term papers to read,” Paula says.

So how does a person with dyslexia who didn’t read a book until the tenth grade juggle the intense literacy demands of a full-time job, academia, and advocacy?

The answer is complex, but it involves three things: the assistive technology Snap&Read, Paula’s passion and determination, and the help of several extraordinary advocates who supported Paula in her educational journey.

Explore how Snap&Read makes it possible for Paula, who has dyslexia, to grade 40 term papers at a time

Paula now applies that very same passion and determination in the classroom, where she’s exactly the kind of tenacious, heartfelt advocate for her learners as those who helped her succeed.

This is her story…

When I was in high school, a counselor took me into his office and told me, Paula, you’re not smart enough to go to college.

I remember a crushing feeling in my chest. As I walked out of his room, I didn’t know that Mr. Hill, the counselor next door, had been listening to our conversation. I was a high school swimmer, and Mr. Hill had pictures of me swimming posted on his bulletin board.

He called me into his office and asked if I was going to go to college. My shoulders just sank.

I said, I can’t go to college. I’m not smart enough. And my parents don’t have the money to send me.

He said, Paula, you swim. They will pay you to go to college.

Paula Hamp swimming

Mr. Hill called my dad and told him to write down all of my swimming times in a letter to 100 universities. In that letter, we also said that I was dyslexic.

We started getting letters back. Lou Holtz, who went on to be named National Coach of the Year for football, recruited me to swim for the University of Arkansas.

I knew I wanted to work in special education because of my own struggles in school. So before I started college, my father and I met with Dr. Sam Yalowitz, a phenomenal instructor in the special education department at Arkansas. Dr. Yalowitz told my father, we’re going to take care of your daughter. He was like a father to me.

Paula Hamp in Highschool

I had a lot of support in school. Dr. Yalowitz showed me where the sample tests were in the library, so I would have an idea of what would be on my quizzes. I had a roommate that was in the area of special ed, so we had a lot of the same classes and they would scribe for me. Arkansas was really ahead of the times as far as guiding me through my education.

And now, I just love teaching. Oh my gosh, if I could do it for free, I would. I just love being able to help kids.

I love teaching them how to problem-solve, that there is a solution to every single problem. That’s what I really want them to understand: no matter what problems they come to me with, whether it’s educational, emotional, behavioral, that there is a solution to every problem.

When it comes to reading challenges, I cannot say enough about Snap&Read.

I was first introduced to Snap&Read in 2018-2019 while I was a Special Education Coach in Sioux City Community School District. I immediately went into the high school and put it on the computers of every student on an IEP. I then put the program on every student enrolled in the ELL program. Then I went out to the rest of the high school students via their English classes.

Student smiling at the camera in front of a chromebook

Students were so thankful! Students with reading disabilities would stop me in the hallway and thank me for putting it on their computer because now they could read through things as quickly as their classmates. The English Language Learners were so thrilled, as were the teachers!

One day I walked by a math class, the teacher called out; she wanted my help with her class. She was teaching Algebra I to a class where seven different languages were spoken! I reminded the students how to turn on their Snap&Read. As soon as they turned on the program cheers rang out because words were translated for them and they could then understand the math concepts.

Nothing is better than helping a student reach their full potential.

Two years later I took a job in South Dakota. The very first week, the head of Special Services asked me how we were going to get texts read aloud to students who were in need of these services. I immediately said they needed to get Snap&Read.

Are you ready to see what Snap&Read can do for your students?

I then set out to show all grade levels how to use Snap&Read. I sent out weekly reminders to use Snap&Read, along with the fabulous ‘how to’ videos for students and teachers to watch to become more versed in using the program.

Teacher in front of class

Teachers made it part of their curriculum, which truly made it successful! I had students sending me emails thanking me for showing them how to use the program. I had students stopping me in the hallway asking me if I was the one who showed them Snap&Read, and then they would tell me how much they enjoyed using the program.

My two favorite stories would be when I showed a 3rd grader how to translate into his native language. He had such a great expression of a sigh of relief that he could now understand what the teacher wanted him to do in the classroom.

A month later, his teacher told me he was a completely different boy. He volunteered during class, he was happier, more outgoing, and was even making more friends. It just opened a whole new world to this boy.

Young boy writing

And then I had a high school student on a 504. Every time I sent out a reminder, he would send me an email that would read, “NEVER, I’m NEVER going to use Snap&Read.” This went on for months! He and other students would come to my room for additional help with their classes. In history class, they had to write papers and cite their sources.

All the students were using Snap&Read to read the articles, take notes, and cite their sources. The young man who refused to use it missed so many points. Near the end of the year, he asked why everyone was finishing before him, and why they were getting better grades. I told him that they all used Snap&Read … reluctantly he let me show him how he could use it to help him with his papers.

Within a few weeks he had to write his final exam and he used Snap&Read all the way through. He waited until everyone left the room and said, If I would have known it would have saved me that much time, I would have used it long ago. YES! SUCCESS!

It’s not only K-12 students who benefit from this program. As a dyslexic veteran K-12 teacher of 38 years and a college adjunct professor for the past 21 years, I use Snap&Read all the time. Snap&Read makes my life so much easier. I can’t say enough – your child needs to use Snap&Read, your student needs to use Snap&Read, YOU need to use Snap&Read.

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and see how you can support your students with dysgraphia.

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