This post originally appeared in area newspapers to announce two remaining teacher scholarships and share the inside story of the Houchard family's experience with Camp Spring Creek and the Orton-Gillingham method.
When Harris Middle School English Language Arts teacher Tamara Houchard first learned about the Orton-Gillingham (OG) methodology for teachers, she was sitting on a panel to observe fellow teacher Kristie Autrey’s National Board certification process. “I found out just enough to become interested and did some further research about the philosophy and methods of learning and instruction,” Mrs. Houchard recalls. In October of 2009, she enrolled in Camp Spring Creek Outreach Center’s Associate Level training in the OG method. This training is administered by Camp Spring Creek co-founder and dyslexia advocate Susie van der Vorst. Valued at nearly $1500, many scholarships are offered to Western North Carolina teachers for the training, including 2 for a training beginning later this month. Mrs. Houchard received a scholarship funded by the Samuel L. Phillips Foundation and completed her OG coursework during winter 2010.
“One of the greatest lacks I felt I had in my own teacher training was a consistent, research-proven method to approach reading instruction,” says Mrs. Houchard, who has taught in Mitchell County Schools for 15 years. “Even during my Masters and National Board work, I could not find an approach that seemed to be reasonable and agreed upon by many experts. OG seemed to address these issues and to be appropriate for every learner.” The OG method uses a language-based, multisensory approach to tutoring that relies on a student’s problem-solving and creative thinking skills to circumvent processing weaknesses. Although OG is most commonly used for children with dyslexia, it is successfully incorporated into learning environments for students of all styles and abilities. Currently, Mrs. Houchard is focused on modifying OG principles such as grammar basics, generalizations for spelling, and vocabulary foundations for best use in her classroom, where small-group work is not always possible.
Over the past several years, Camp Spring Creek has trained 11 Mitchell County teachers or assistants on full scholarships and plans to train even more. Assistant Superintendent of Mitchell County Schools Morgen Houchard (husband of Mrs. Houchard) hears nothing but positive results from teachers using OG methods in their classrooms. “Many have stated that OG is possibly the best reading training they have had,” says Dr. Houchard. “I would also agree that those teachers who have had the training seem to be very dedicated to student achievement and improvement.” Dr. Houchard, who has worked for 20 years in Mitchell County Schools as teacher, assistant principal, principal, director, and assistant superintendent says he believes a child’s education should be the most important thing happening in their lives and the lives of their family members. “If we can get parents and legislators concerned about education above and beyond quick fixes,” Dr. Houchard believes, “we will make great strides as a community. The more support, the fewer obstacles teachers will face in the classroom.”
Indeed, this summer Dr. and Mrs. Houchard sent their 8-year-old daughter, Josie Houchard, to Camp Spring Creek for 6 weeks as a day camper. Mrs. Houchard worked at the camp as an OG tutor, alongside Lissa Jo McMahan and Dennis Gilfillan, who also work in Mitchell County schools. “I really liked woodworking, art, and swimming. The lessons were fun and the teachers were great,” says Josie. “I was a little nervous [before camp] because I was younger and I did not know any campers there…but it was fine. I met a lot of nice people and I would tell my friends to go. You can really learn a lot!” During OG tutoring at the camp, Josie especially focused on generalized rules of spelling and cursive with her tutor. This year, Josie is in Mrs. Boone’s 3rd grade class at Deyton Elementary School.
Although Josie is not a child with dyslexia and does not exhibit learning differences in the classroom, both parents agree she clearly benefitted from healthy time outdoors with her peers and regular OG one-on-one tutoring sessions. “Josie made terrific reading and spelling growth over the summer, and furthermore her confidence in her reading abilities soared,” says Mrs. Houchard. “She enjoys reading even more, and is delighted at her stamina for chapter books.”
Educators, administrators, and parents interested in the OG method, training, and camp opportunities can contact Camp Spring Creek at 828-766-5032 or visit www.campspringcreek.org. The next OG Associate Level training is Sept 20-30 in Bakersville, and 2 heavily funded scholarship spaces are still available for public school teachers in Western North Carolina. Dates for camp next summer are June 15 through August 9, 2014.