For 17-year-old Matt Pramas, this is a victory lap.
Diagnosed with dyslexia prior to the third grade, the Andover student has spent the last eight years learning within the walls of Landmark School in Prides Crossing, which serves students with language-based learning disabilities.
“Writing never came easy to me,” Pramas said. “I worked hard at it, and had a number of very inspirational teachers along the way.”
But though his road to clear writing and fluent reading skills has been rockier than many, the high school junior’s recent achievement has proven that he’s made it.
Pramas was recently named one of 15 Massachusetts finalists in a regional writing competition that drew submissions from more than 3,000 students.
Called the Massachusetts Letters About Literature Contest, it tasked students with researching an author and thinking critically about the impact of the writer’s work. From there, applicants wrote a letter to their chosen author explaining how their work had influenced them.
Pramas chose the late Christopher Hitchens, who died in 2011 from cancer. The accomplished author, co-author and editor put his mark on more than 30 books, ranging in topic from politics to literature and religion.
“(Hitchens) was tremendously inspirational to me in terms of the way he wrote and the topics he wrote about,” Pramas said. “He was an incredible educator, an intellectual person and wrote as he spoke.”
In his letter to Hitchens, Pramas offered his thanks.
“Having been born with a language-based learning disability, I found and still find myself on the opposite wing of the majority,” Pramas wrote. “But this near constant has led me to often willingly bring myself against the common rule.
“Over this current epoch, I have been educated on the great value of the underdog, and nothing less than a significant thanking goes to you.”
While Pramas is grateful to all his teachers, he said one in particular stands out.
Ed Storey, aptly named given his role as Landmark School’s literature teacher, knows that his students don’t often take kindly to writing. He said his goal has been to motivate his students, encouraging them to want to go to battle to acquire knowledge.
“I designed a competitive writing class a few years ago,” Storey said. “My students — they’re not writers instinctively. I wanted to make them want to write, and entering in this competition helps them look upon writing favorably.”
Participation in the contest isn’t a course requirement, Storey said, but many of his students take part anyway. He guides them by using the letters of former winners, breaking those works down to explain the organization of a successful submission.
For Pramas, this made all the difference.
“Landmark helps most by being aggressive organizers,” he said. “They help to organize our thoughts, so that we can focus on the best way to combine them into what we want to say. Students here are exceptional thinkers — we just need graphic organizers to help us put our thoughts onto paper.”
This year, 13 Landmark students submitted letters for the contest. Of those, two were finalists, and one was a semi-finalist. Pramas’ classmate, Eliza Wildes from Groveland, was the other top finisher from the school.
Pramas, the son of Nick and Diane Pramas and brother to Caroline, will receive an award for his accomplishment at the State House in Boston on Monday, May 18.
“It’s a remarkable achievement for these students, Matty and Eliza,” Storey said. “They work incredibly hard and if you compared them to other students from the state, you’d find that they put in three or four times more effort in their studies.
“Two of the top 15 finalists (in the competition) are students at Landmark, so what we’re doing here is working.”