Maura Baker
Maura Baker

The 2021 Virtual Workshop student keynote speaker Maura Baker epitomizes the character, empathy and leadership that educators seek to impart to their learners.

Baker, a 16-year-old junior from West Orange High School in Essex County, will headline the annual conference at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 26 and help kick off the three-day event.

As a teen who lives with dyslexia, Baker has used that lifelong diagnosis as a launchpad to enlighten others about the neurologically-based condition.

“One thing I really want people to understand is that having a learning difference or a learning disability doesn’t mean that you can’t learn, or that you’re not smart. It just means you may have to work a little harder to learn in some cases,” said Baker, the student representative to the New Jersey State Board of Education.

Dyslexia is a common learning disability that affects 20% of the population, and 80- 90% of those with learning issues, according to The Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity. Students with dyslexia often demonstrate difficulties with reading, spelling, and decoding and recognizing words.

Baker focuses on abilities, rather than disabilities. She founded a blog, website and Twitter account called Smart Kid — Mad Myths, where she provides students with information about the importance of time management, communicating their needs, staying academically sharp during the summer, understanding personal learning differences, and seeking classroom accommodations that might help.

Her goal is to improve all student experiences in New Jersey, both academically and emotionally.

“Maura’s authenticity is her superpower,” said Dr. Lawrence S. Feinsod, NJSBA executive director. “I hope that her honesty and courage inspires others to normalize learning disabilities and understand that they do not define who students are or what they can achieve in life. That is a remarkable lesson for all of us.”

The 2021 Virtual Workshop, scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 26 through Thursday, Oct. 28, is co-sponsored by the NJSBA, the New Jersey Association of School Administrators (NJASA) and the New Jersey Association of School Business Officials (NJASBO).  It endures as the largest training event for school officials in the state and attracts thousands of people every year.