Scholarship named after late Park City graduate honors students who have learning disabilities
When Charlie Fiveash read about Joseph James Morelli’s life, he discovered several similarities with his own. Both thrived in the outdoors and excelled in math, but both were also diagnosed with dyslexia.
Morelli graduated from Park City High School in 2012. He died two years later in a car accident while attending Montana State University in Bozeman. Now, his life is remembered through the Joseph James Morelli Scholarship, which his mother, Barbara Wirostko Morelli, started after his death. Fiveash was one of 26 recipients this year to receive the scholarship for the first time. Another 12 were returning recipients.
Four recipients were from Park City High School and one, Fiveash, was a recent graduate of the Winter Sports School.
The scholarship is awarded to students around the country who are pursuing an education in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields and have one or more of the learning disabilities dyslexia, dysgraphia and dyscalculia.
Morelli was not diagnosed with dyslexia until he was a freshman in high school. The Morellis were living in New York and Barbara Morelli said that the school district her son attended always told her that he was a late bloomer or that he was not trying hard enough. Later, they learned that he struggled through school because he had dyslexia. The Morelli family moved to Park City soon after.
After he was diagnosed and received accommodations to help his learning, Barbara Morelli said that he went from failing his classes to high honors.
“(He was) feeling proud of himself and feeling accomplished,” she said. “The transformation was amazing.”
Fiveash has a similar story. His dyslexia and dysgraphia, a writing disability that makes it difficult to write coherently, went unnoticed until he was in seventh grade. Before that, he was in lower level reading groups and assumed that something was wrong with him. English and writing were extremely difficult subjects for him, but math was a different story. He excelled in the subject.
“I found a place where I really thrived,” he said.
He heard about the scholarship this year and, after reading Morelli’s story, decided to apply.
“I thought I was a good match because me and Joseph have so much in common,” he said.
When Fiveash was selected as a recipient, he said that it felt satisfying that somebody recognized his efforts.
“It’s cool that it is rewarding and highlighting dyslexic people’s strengths,” he said.
Fiveash plans to attend the University of Colorado, Boulder, this fall to study mechanical engineering.
Barbara Morelli loves to give that feeling of accomplishment and recognition to students around the country, which is why she started the scholarship. She said that the fund has provided about 80 students with almost $90,000 in the last four years.
While the students appreciate the money, more than anything, they are happy that someone is recognizing their “hard work, struggles and difficulties,” she said.
Charlie Matthews, who was Joseph Morelli’s advanced placement physics teacher at PCHS, as well as a friend and mentor, agreed. He is on the review committee of the scholarship fund.
“It’s more of a pat on the back. The scholarship says, ‘We have faith in you that you can do this. You can go on and do great things,’” he said.
He and Morelli have both been pleasantly surprised to see how many of the student applicants, like Fiveash, relate to Joseph Morelli and are inspired by his story.
“The fact that Joseph’s story is still impacting students and giving them courage and hope, I don’t have words for it,” Barbara Morelli said.
Matthews said there are still moments of reflection and sadness, like when the committee is sitting around the table to select scholarship recipients and they all look at Joseph Morelli’s photo on the screen, but he is happy that they have found a way to share the legacy of Morelli’s life and his accomplishments.
“He is a real beacon for kids who are out there who realize that they have the same struggles that he had,” he said. “If he was able to overcome, (they) can overcome.”
A Parkite who immigrated to the U.S. when he was 13 is giving scholarships and internships to three first-generation graduates from PCHS.