NoticeAbility, a nonprofit that aims to provide schools with curriculum designed with dyslexic children’s needs in mind, marked two years in the Vineyard’s public school system this summer. In celebration of those who “funded the incubation of the organization,” as Dean Bragonier, founder of NoticeAbility, told The Times, a clambake and bonfire was held on Job’s Neck Beach last Friday evening.
“This spot is of great significance to me,” Bragonier said from atop a hay trailer to those gathered on the sand. “In 2015 I wanted to start this organization to help empower students with dyslexia. I decided the best way to get people’s attention was to do something absurd and attempt to swim around this Island. I got to this point here, which was about three quarters of the way around the Island, and on that particular leg, I got completely lost. There was no landmark. I didn’t know where I was supposed to come out, so I thought, let’s just see if I can find a human being to tell me where I am.”
Harley Stowell was outside reading in an Adirondack chair when he looked up and spied two people walking up the road, one in a wetsuit.
They couldn’t figure out where they were, Stowell noted. Upon meeting Stowell, Bragonier, who wore the wetsuit, began “apologizing profusely” for the disturbance. He then explained to Stowell he was circumnavigating the Island to drum up support for an educational charity focused on dyslexia. That particular leg he’d done with Harvard Law professor Neil McGaraghan, who stood beside him in a bathing suit.
Bragonier asked to be pointed toward the closest road.
Stowell said the road out is three miles long but explained they were in luck. “I have dyslexia,” he said, and he offered the two men a ride.
“We ended up spending two hours together and just hit it off,” Stowell said. He was deeply impressed by Bragonier’s unique approach to curriculum, he said.
For dyslexics, Stowell described NoticeAbility as a refreshing improvement on the “archaic constraints in modern curriculum.”
Among other things, he described NoticeAbility as positively impactful on dyslexics’ sense of self. Absent such curriculum “you get ridiculed; you’re the dumb guy in class. I experienced it myself,” he said.
Stowell, an entrepreneur and tech engineer, learned his vocations in non-traditional ways. “I just had a knack for it. It’s not really what I studied in school,” he said.
Empowering dyslexics with self-appreciation and the ability to tap their inherent skills through Bragonier’s nonprofit spoke to Stowell. He said he and his wife Cindy were very glad to support Bragonier and host a beach evening on her family’s 450-acre Pohogonot Trust property overlooking the Atlantic.
Christian and Greer Thornton, owners of Atria, provided lobster and other food for the event while Jim’s Market provided beer and wine. Sally Taylor, Bragonier’s spouse, entertained with fellow musicians Josh and Seth Larson.
“The families that believed in us first gathered to celebrate the impact of what they made possible for the young people of Martha’s Vineyard,” Christian Henry, NoticeAbility chief program officer, told The Times.
Henry said NoticeAbility is utilized in every public school on Martha’s Vineyard. The curriculum enjoys use in 13 states and 11 countries, he added.
Bragonier said while a grant from the Tower Foundation directly funded the curriculum on the Vineyard, without the folks who gathered at the clambake, NoticeAbility never would have gotten off the ground.
The Tower Foundation grant ran out in June, Bragonier said, but assistant superintendent of Martha’s Vineyard Public Schools Richie Smith recently announced the district was going to forge a contract with NoticeAbility absent the grant.
“It’s an enormous validation,” Bragonier said.
NoticeAbility will enter the Buffalo schools this September, Bragonier said. Thanks to another Tower Foundation grant and the good will of Buffalo schools superintendent Kriner Cash, a former Vineyard superintendent, NoticeAbility will be in the second largest school district in New York, Bragonier said.
Bragonier said it was one thing for the curriculum to take root in fairly well off districts, but in a district with a more complex socioeconomic make up like Buffalo, it may be even more impactful.
Bragonier characterized the type of specialized education NoticeAbility delivers not as a privilege but as a right.
“If 15 to 20 percent of the population is being shut out of the education system, it’s a civil rights issue as far as I’m concerned,” he said.