Dyslexia is my Superpower was a powerful conference for parents and students

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
The Parent and Student Conference, hosted by The May Center for Learning and sponsored by SWIDA on October 6, was a success in so many ways:
  • Eight adult mentors with dyslexia spoke to an audience of over 100 (which met venue capacity at The Site in Santa Fe) about growing up dyslexic with all its challenges and gifts.   Then,  each mentor spent the afternoon with a groups of students on a variety of highly interactive projects.
  • The Dyslexia Justice League‘s 1st comic was launched and sold;
  • Parents experienced four dyslexia Simulation stations/situations that always proves to be valuable no matter how many times they’re experienced;
  • Erin Brown, SWIDA Board Member, presented Dyslexia 101, a powerpoint and talk on the basics of dyslexia;
  • This was followed by a highly informative panel of experts on dealing with schools in a positive and effective manner, chaired by SWIDA Board Member and May Center teacher, Amy Stanton.


Meet Mentor Rebecca Avitia who shared her story about being diagnosed in 3rd grade, and then “taking off” with reading in 8th grade.  She was always told by her mother, who also is dyslexic, that she was a “different kind of smart.”  Now Rebecca prefers “just smart.”

Rebecca L. Avitia is the Executive Director of the National Hispanic Cultural Center, and oversees the Center’s visual arts, performing arts, and history and literary arts programs. Before joining the NHCC, Rebecca was a Shareholder at the law firm Montgomery & Andrews, an Assistant District Attorney in Valencia County, and a Litigation Associate at the New York City office of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer and Feld. Rebecca received her bachelors in Sociology from Trinity University in San Antonio and her law degree from Columbia Law School in New York City. During law school, Rebecca also externed with then-Second Circuit Judge Sonia Sotomayor. Since returning to New Mexico in 2008, Rebecca has served as President of the New Mexico Hispanic Bar Association, been a member and leader in many professional and philanthropic associations, including serving as the Vice Chair of the Board of Directors for the non-profit incubator and micro-lender WESST, and as a member of the leadership council for the Hispano Philanthropic Society within the United Way of Central New Mexico. She has been recognized with an AV® Preeminent Peer-Rating by Martindale-Hubbell, as well as a “Top CEO” and “40 Under Forty Honoree” by the Albuquerque Business First, a Southwest Rising Star in Business Litigation by Super Lawyers, and as the Outstanding Young Alumna by Trinity University. Rebecca is a native New Mexican of Puerto Rican descent, and the proud mother of three young children.


“I am here on this planet to create safe spaces for greater community creativity and healing.”

— Ross Chaney


Ross Chaney grew up on the Osage reservation in Oklahoma with his Cherokee Grandma. He eventually went to college to study political science and Japanese. At a very young age, he decided that his future would involve being a local leader that was trained internationally. He draws inspiration from the philosophical and aesthetic influence of his years, studying in Japan where he went to graduate school. He left Japan and went to work for Lucent Technologies – Bell Labs. From there he moved to Santa Fe, NM to pursue various leadership roles in Tribal governments, nonprofits, public policy, art organizations and local, state, and city government.

Ross credited his mother for all her support, especially in teaching him patience. 


James Dernocoeur is a Physician’s Assistant working in the Emergency Department at Presbyterian Health Care in Albuquerque.  He has served as Clinical Faculty at Grand Valley State University and he is Chairman of the Grand Valley University Physician Assistant Advisory Board.  He has served as a paramedic in various cities and he traveled to over 26 countries as an Emergency Medical Systems consultant.

 James told the student he’s grateful that he’s a “creative problem solver”, and while it took years to get help with his dyslexia, he finally got help from an “old biddy.”   [Which we assume means a teacher who knew how to teach the structure of the language.]

Daisy Guranichwas named New Mexico Montessori Teacher of the Year in 2017.  She was born in Los Alamos, New Mexico and she has two daughters.  She is a Montessori trainer with the Montessori Training Center in Albuquerque, and she is the Lead Early Childhood teacher at May Center for Learning, specializing in working with young children with developmental and speech delays. Daisy is passionate about following the individual child’s needs in her teaching.

Daisy told the students to be patient, and to hold themselves accountable for learning.  Her husband said he finally “got it” when he went through the Simulations on October 6.  


Jason Harvey was born in Colorado, the oldest of 3 boys. His family moved to New Mexico when he was a baby. Jason served a two-year mission for his church, worked two seasons as a whitewater river guide, was an auto parts manager, and an armored car vault manager. Jason started his career as an Albuquerque police officer in July 2000. He was an open space search and rescue officer with APD for 12 of his 19 years on the force. During this time, he was on the APD dive team and did many body recoveries.  He also volunteered with NM Task Force One K-9 FEMA unit as a boat team manager, search team manager, and K-9 handler.  He enjoyed that time of helping others and saving peoples’ lives with his dog Jessie P, a third-generation search and rescue K-9.  Jason recently retired from APD. He now owns a business that sells off-road gear like shovels, rescue ropes, and mounting systems for jeeps. He started his business out of the garage and now sells through Instagram and his website all over the world.  Jason was married in 2002, and he has three children He loves driving his tricked-out jeep, hiking, and being in the outdoors.

Jason said “everything was hard in school.”  He realized why as he watched his daughter struggle as he had.  His advice to students is to “find your strengths.”


Born and raised in New Jersey, Marjorie Hanus earned a Bachelors of Fine Arts and Masters in Teaching from William Paterson University. Soon after she finished her Masters Degree, Marjorie was drawn to teaching at a school specializing in autism and learning differences because of her own struggle with dyslexia. She moved to Santa Fe in 2007 and taught at a private school for several years before taking some time off to stay home with her children. Marjorie is excited to have the opportunity to work at May Center where she can help children reach their full potential. When she is not teaching, she enjoys spending time with her family and learning about natural health and remedies.

Art allowed Marjorie to express herself; suddenly there were no barriers. 


Vanessa “Rockstar” Robinsonis a Rookie NASCAR Driver participating for the 3rd year in the NASCAR K&N PRO SERIES.  At the age of thirteen, Vanessa made her racing debut at the Southern New Mexico Speedway in her hometown Las Cruces, New Mexico.  In 2009, Vanessa won the Championship Dirt Street Stock Race as the Youngest Female Driver in Las Cruces, New Mexico.  In 2012, She was the First Female to join the Lucas Oil Modified Series.

2015 was one of Vanessa’s most successful years. Not only was she named Rookie of the Year in Super Late Model at the Tucson Speedway, but also for the entire state of Arizona as well as in NASCAR Whelen All American Series. She was also the first female driver to win a major event at the Tucson Speedway and was that year’s driver with the most wins. Vanessa was also invited to participate in NASCAR ‘Drive for Diversity’ Combine where she and her team finished 2nd in the Super Late Model Category.  One of Vanessa’s most notable events of the year, however, was winning the Championship at NASCAR’s Inaugural North American and being named the First Female Hispanic NASCAR Driver in the K&N Pro Series.  In 2016, Vanessa “Rockstar” Robinson was honored by Congressman Pearce at the New Mexico Hispanic Heritage Month Conference.  Vanessa’s dream is to move on to the National Cup Series.

Her notable recognitions in a male-dominated sport are not the only thing that make Vanessa stand out.  She also has dyslexia.  Vanessa’s ‘Determined Will’ has enabled her to rise above the challenges she has faced.  Not only is Vanessa “Rockstar” Robinson breaking barriers at the track but she’s also doing it in life.

Vanessa talked about being bullied, her talent in working with numbers, and in problem solving.  

Neal Piltch is the Head of School at Albuquerque’s Manzano Day School, and has spent 41 years as a teacher, coach, and administrator. Mr. Piltch was educated at Hobart College and Oxford University. He is the fifth of nine children, and is also one of four family members who have served as Heads of Schools throughout the U.S. His tenure at Manzano Day School began in 2001, and during that time the school has undertaken multiple Capital Campaigns which have provided, and continues to provide, new facilities and an enhanced endowment. As a true sports enthusiast, Mr. Piltch was an inaugural member of the South Florida Lacrosse Hall of Fame, and is an avid golfer. He has been married to Rhonda Loos for 29 years, and feels that the most rewarding part of his job as Head of School is, “making a difference in children’s lives.”

Neal stressed the importance of parents being advocates for their children.  He suffered in school because of dysgraphia, and was relieved when finally diagnosed because then he knew he wasn’t “stupid.”