Susie van der Vorst

Susie on Summertime

1000346_10201835018062970_515520756_n We took a few minutes to ask Susie about "summer slide" and any tips she might have for our readers--be you fans and supporters from afar, grandparents checking on your child at camp, or one of our many local followers dedicated to providing well-rounded educational experiences for your children. Here's a quick note from our co-director:

Summer is a season when children can spend more time playing, learning their own limitations, and problem solving in areas they feel drawn to. Society doesn’t allow much time for imagining anymore, but that is an important skill and we need to encourage our kids to dream. We also need to provide opportunities for our kids to develop critical thinking. At Camp Spring Creek, we want to keep our childrens' academic skills from sliding during the summer, but we value our outdoor time as much as our tutoring time.

For those reading our blog from afar, if your child has a natural interest in something, summer is perfect for devoting time to developing that interest. Be it cooking, hiking, building, or dancing—whatever their passion, there’s always a way to incorporate basic educational skills and keep it fun. This interest need not be an expensive hobby or something that requires high-tech equipment. Whatever they choose, we need to encourage our kids to dream and then reach for those dreams.

At the end of every school year, I take our children to a bookstore and let them pick a book that interests them for summer reading. If you can’t afford to buy a book, go to your local library and borrow a book. Most libraries have books on CD, which you can listen to while you’re taking a trip in the car or while you are sitting by a brook in the shade.

During the early years (and also in adult life), is important to build meaningful relationships and reflect on those relationships. We have always encouraged our children to write to family and friends during summertime and, often, they get mail in return. If a friend has moved away or a grandparent or other relative lives far away, this is a wonderful way to stay connected while also getting writing practice. Journaling is a private way to keep writing active and kids can get very creative with their journals, pasting in items and photos from different activities they have enjoyed.

In short, our golden rule: Get outside, play with friends, learn a new skill, dream, and write to your grandparents; like summer, they won’t be around forever.

Top 5 Ways to Avoid Summer Slide

CampersOnHikeChildren who spend summer vacation with hours of unstructured activity per day might be gaining independence and exploring their imaginations, but they will also lose math, reading, and spelling skills as a result of “summer slide.” Many families are unaware that a few simple steps can integrate learning into their children’s daily lives, picking up where traditional teaching methods fail without sacrificing those wonderful “daydreaming hours” associated with summertime. One in five school-aged children has dyslexia, yet less than 1/3 of these students receives school services guaranteed to them by law for their reading disability. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the high school dropout rate for students with dyslexia or related learning disabilities is more than twice the national average for students who don’t have a learning disability. During the summer months, most students lose two months of grade level equivalency in mathematical computation, and low-income youths lose an additional two months in reading achievement. For children with dyslexia, the numbers are even worse.

“Residential summer camps allow children to boost their self-confidence as they overcome homesickness. They spend time developing their interests and they can also focus on reading and writing while having fun,” says Susie van der Vorst, co-founder of Camp Spring Creek and one of only 145 actively training Orton-Gillingham Fellows in the United States.

van der Vorst recommends involving children in family plans, such as doing math to budget for the grocery store, organizing driving routes using maps for a family trip, or starting a family book club using self-selected material that everyone can enjoy. Citing nearly thirty years experience as an educational advocate for children with dyslexia and related learning differences, van der Vorst concludes that the most dynamic summer learning experiences for children happen in supportive social, outdoor, educational environments outside the home.

Camp Spring Creek’s day or boarding program offers the following opportunities to address summer slide and help create positive learning habits for children, so they become more dynamic, confident, curious learners:

  • 1:1 Orton-Gillingham language tutorials using a proven diagnostic and prescriptive multi-sensory approach that teaches the structure of language.
  • An hour of supervised oral reading at the camper’s independent reading level.
  • Daily activities including art projects, swimming, wood shop, waterskiing, and outdoor education to encourage exploration and creative expression.
  • Socialization with peers of different nationalities and socio-economic status through shared living spaces, teamwork opportunities, and memorable experiences such as campfire or singing.
  • Math enrichment and math remediation as per the needs of each camper.

“We often see students make two to three years worth of progress during a six to eight week session at camp,” adds van der Vorst. “Our approach is designed to target a child’s individual strengths and weaknesses and help them excel, but we also recognize the value of keeping kids active throughout the day. Most campers grow as much in terms of ‘measurable’ skills as they do in self-confidence, communication skills, and their ability to take learning into their own hands.”

Camp Spring Creek is fully enrolled for the 2014 season, but welcomes names for its waiting list (you never know!) and early interest for 2015.

Camp Spring Creek Receives Anonymous Grant

logo_30This press release was originally published in our local newspaper and we'd like to share the exciting news with our broader audience by re-posting it here, on today's blog.

Camp Spring Creek Receives Anonymous Grant

Spruce Pine, NC – Last week, Camp Spring Creek received a grant in the amount of $2500 from the Anonymous Fund of the Triangle Community Foundation in Durham. “This was such a surprise and so altruistic,” said camp co-director and co-founder Susie van der Vorst, who did not apply for the grant nor have any affiliation with the organization.

The grant, which will be added to the camp’s operating budget, came completely unannounced and out of the blue. “This grant was made by a donor-advised fund here at the Triangle Community Foundation,” said Donor Services Officer Melchee Johnson. “Since it is anonymous, I cannot provide details on the selection process. Generally, our fund holders of donor-advised funds make grants to organizations they have great interest in or passion for. Before the grants are made, organizations are given due diligence to be sure they are in good standing.”

The Camp Spring Creek operating budget covers things like rent, utilities, and salaries, among many other line items. For instance, last year the Camp used part of its operating budget to supplement scholarships and the technology budget. This coming year, the camp is hoping to put up an archery fence to catch bows, so they don’t get lost down in the creek. “Ultimately, every gift provides opportunities for these children with eclectic learning styles and each gift makes our possibilities greater,” says van der Vorst. “We are very grateful.”

Camp Spring Creek Featured in WNC Magazine

We're so proud to be featured in last month's print and online issue of WNC Magazine. Please take a moment to enjoy this brief feature by clicking HERE and scrolling down to Steve and Susie's photo.


Camp Spring Creek Seeks Teachers for Free Training in WNC

1ReviewingFingerTapping-tapb4youwriteThis press release was originally published by local newspapers in Mitchell and Yancey Counties. Spruce Pine, North Carolina – December 8, 2013 – Camp Spring Creek Outreach Center, a non-profit organization in Mitchell County, received grant funding to train up to 10 teachers and assistants in the Classroom Educator Class.

Camp Spring Creek was recently awarded a $20,000 People in Need grant funded through the Community Foundation of Western North Carolina, the Lipscomb Family Fund, the Fund for Mitchell County, and the Nelle Crowell Fletcher and G.L. Crowell Fund. These monies are specifically allocated to train up to 10 public school teachers or assistants who work with children during the literacy block.

“We’re so grateful to all the organizations that contributed to make this funding possible,” said Camp Spring Creek co-director Susie van der Vorst. “Now we’re ready to make it known that there are 10 spaces available. Thanks to the grant, the training is free. We’re hoping for 5 teachers from Yancey and 5 teachers from Mitchell, and we can work with individual schedules to offer the course during their free-time.”

The Classroom Educator Class is a 35-hour course based on the Orton-Gillingham approach to learning. Participants will learn the structure of English, primarily focusing on specific methodologies for differentiating instruction to meet individual students’ unique learning needs within small group or whole class instruction. The course will cover phonemic awareness, syllabication, and the spelling patterns of our language, among other concepts.

"Orton-Gillingham training was definitely that 'missing link' in my professional training!” said Tamara Houchard, 6-8th grade ELA teacher at Harris Middle School, who has completed numerous trainings through Camp Spring Creek. From her basic training, she says she “was able to understand the foundations of the English language and, more importantly, able to teach my students—at any level—how to read, understand, and comprehend in a systematic and logical way. No reading teacher could ask for more from a training!"

While the Classroom Educator Class is especially designed for K-3rd and Exceptional Child teachers, “we will take anyone interested,” said van der Vorst. “We would like school principals to contact us if they have teachers or assistants who are interested.” Following course completion, participants will receive 1 year of mentorship through conferences and in-class visits from van der Vorst, who is also the instructor.

The Orton-Gillingham philosophy, or OG, as it is commonly called, uses a language-based, multisensory approach to learning 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, the method has been successfully incorporated into learning environments for students of all styles and abilities. For information, call the Camp Spring Creek Outreach Center at 766-5032.

Video: Alphachips Activity

We've added a Category to our Camp Spring Creek blog called Resources (see right hand sidebar). Here, we'll be posting video clips of Susie in action during her training sessions, other informative videos that we want to share with you, and videos of our tutors and local educators doing what they do best. To kick things off, check out this Alphachips Activity video and stay tuned on our Facebook page later this winter, because we'll be giving away a set of Alphachips for you to use in your own classrooms or homes! Enjoy! [youtube=]

Camp Spring Creek Heads to Pennsylvania

ReadingHouratCamp2This press release was originally through published in Bucks County, PA area media outlets in anticipation of our 1/6/14 Camp Show in Buckingham, PA. Read below for info about hosting a camp show in your area, and also some choice quotes from Camp Spring Creek's very own Susie van der Vorst. Buckingham, Pennsylvania – January 6, 2014 – Summer camp for children with dyslexia offers film and open house.

Camp Spring Creek, located in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, is an academic and recreational camp supporting dyslexic children ages 6 to 14. Invited by a local Doyelstown family whose child attended the camp, co-founder and director Susie van der Vorst will screen “How Difficult Can This Be? The F.A.T. City Workshop” by Rick Lavoie and facilitate a brief discussion afterwards. This unique film allows viewers to experience the frustration, anxiety, and tension that children with learning disabilities face every day, as if seeing it through the eyes of a dyslexic. The event is free, open to the public, welcomes children, and includes refreshments.

“Camp Spring Creek changed the way my daughter, Morgan, thought about her ability to read,” said mother and Doyelstown resident, Lisa McBride. “She came home with the understanding that she could face her reading and spelling challenges. As a result, her third grade year has been significantly better and she’s already excited to return to camp!” According to the camp co-director, children with dyslexia often have a hard time learning the skills associated with reading, spelling, and writing. “Dyslexia doesn’t necessarily mean you read backwards, as people often think,” said van der Vorst. “Children with dyslexia have difficulty processing language but they are often very gifted in analytical reasoning and creativity, which is why a high percentage of people with dyslexia become corporate CEO’s, engineers, artists, entrepreneurs, surgeons, and architects.”

With support, people with dyslexia often lead lives of accomplishment. Some of the most successful people in history had dyslexia, including Winston Churchill, Thomas Edison and Walt Disney. Some modern day people who have dyslexia are Robin Williams, Tom Cruise, Henry Winkler and Charles Schwab. “So many people with dyslexia are misunderstood,” said van der Vorst. “But just look at the wonderful role models we have! Many succeed in spite of their education. Imagine how they’d be if they had been instructed in the ways that they learn best.”

One of the most highly effective methods for such instruction is the Orton-Gillingham approach. It teaches the structure of language using multisensory techniques that lead students to see, hear, and write a concept at the same time. Processing a single concept in many different ways allows dyslexic kids to grasp skills they cannot learn using traditional methods. “We often see students make two to three years worth of progress during a six to eight week session at camp,” said van der Vorst. “Our approach is designed to target a child’s individual strengths and weaknesses and help them excel. But we also recognize the value of keeping kids active throughout the day. These kids can’t learn as well if they’re stuck behind a desk. The learning needs to be hands-on so that they can get multiple senses involved.”

The academic program at Camp Spring Creek includes one-on-one tutoring using the Orton-Gillingham approach, keyboarding and writing classes, one hour of reading aloud each day to camp staff, and one hour of study skills. Optional math remediation or enrichment is available as well. The activities offered by the program include wood shop, art, gymnastics, swimming, orienteering, and waterskiing. There are also field trips to explore the surrounding Blue Ridge landscape and culture.

Camp Spring Creek is one of only three residential camps in the United States accredited by the Academy of Orton-Gillingham Practitioners and Educators. The open house and film screening will be held Monday, January 6 at 7 p.m. at Trinity Episcopal, 2631 Durham Road, in Buckingham. For more information, call (828) 766-5032 or visit

Call for Camp Registration: Spots Are Filling Up!

We have already confirmed 26 campers for our 2014 Camp Spring Creek season (June 15 to August 9)! It seems an appropriate time to revisit the van der Vorst's own story of taking a leap and letting go. Below, please find Susie's Director's Message from our Fall 2013 Newsletter. We all have to let go as parents. Here's our story: -6

I often help parents who fear that leaving their child for four, six, or even eight weeks could be a heartless act. This fall was very bittersweet for Steve and me as parents. Now, after parting from our own children—Marguerite off to college and Anina to Miss Hall's boarding school, we understand your feelings. Our children are starting their own life experiences without Mom and Dad at the helm. The pang we feel when we drop off our children to an unknown—and even known—environment can indeed be heart-wrenching. But we must remember that we are doing what is best for our children.

It’s easy to think it would be wonderful if we could magically view their lives away from us, but we need to relax and wait for the stories to come. When our children feel homesick, we need to understand, but realize this is a natural process. When they feel elated by an experience, we must share their excitement, instead of resenting that we weren’t there to walk beside them. And when they call us, frustrated with a challenge, we must reassure them that they have the tools to figure out a solution of their own. We cannot fix everything for them. After all, our goal is to raise responsible, resilient children. We need to let them make new friends, experience new adventures, and struggle with their own predicaments in order to grow. Letting go is hard—full of anguish and trepidation; however, it is these very opportunities to face the unknown and its accompanying challenges that are essential in their developing self-confidence and independence.

This year, it was our turn to let go. The girls have been gone for only a little over two months, and Steve and I already see them growing into the strong, unique young women they were meant to be. Every summer, parents like you let go as well, and Camp Spring Creek is privileged to be a place that has the opportunity to nurture your children as they grow and mature. Thank you for being a part of our extended Camp Spring Creek family.

Susie & Marguerite near UNC-Wilmington

Advocating for Children with Dyslexia

Here's a snippet from one of Susie's presentations at the 2013 IDA Conference in New Orleans. During a discussion titled "Parenting Tips & Advocating for Children," she offered: Diagnosed Dyslexia is a specific language disorder, and your child qualifies for a 504 plan and/or IEP. Public schools MUST provide a psycho-educational evaluation if there is suspicion of a learning disability, but often school districts have one school psychologist to work with the entire district, so if you can afford it, it can be quicker and more thorough to get an outside evaluation.

Psycho-ed evaluations vary in price depending on your location. In Western North Carolina, they run about $1,500, but in other areas they can be $5,000 and upward. A thorough evaluation takes an average of 6-8 hours and can be broken into chunks depending on the child’s age. The report should be 15-20 pages and specific to your child, and the psychologist should sit down and go over the report with you. The school MUST comply with the psychologist if the psychologist is licensed.

If you have not had a full psycho-educational evaluation, you will need one to get services for your child. Then they should be updated every 3-4 years. Be sure that you use a psychologist who has expertise in varied learning styles. I have a list of psychologists we recommend, and if I do not know a psychologist in your area, I will try to help you find a good one.

In Her Own Words: Shay on Associate Level OG Training

Shay & Charlie #3This fall, Susie led a 10-day Associate Level Training session at Camp in Bakersville. Continuing our series of testimonials, today's post features Shay--a "retired" elementary school teacher who taught for over 30 years in 3 different states. Enjoy this glimpse into her OG experience, which was profound on both personal and professional levels:

Camp Spring Creek: Tell us a little about yourself.

Shay: My joy in life are my two grown sons, a sweet daughter-in-law, and one precious grandson. I'm living in South Florida now, teaching pre-school.

CSC: Tell us about a critical turning point or moment of learning (an "ah-hah") that you experienced during your 10 days of Associate Level Training with Susie:

Shay: The critical turning point for me was at our first session when I realized I was in the company of some brilliant women who had come prepared for an upper-level very intensive study that I felt totally unprepared to handle. However, I've always had to deal with the fact that I felt intellectually inferior, so I just had to work harder and find a way to survive this training and try to be successful. I made a determined effort to absorb all the information, do the homework, and prepare for the quiz each day. However, after learning the characteristics of dyslexia I began to see myself on every page of our book. The red flags were flying and it was overwhelming! I hesitated to diagnose myself or make an excuse for not being able to keep-up but the evidence seemed crystal clear.

CSC: What did you learn or realize that was most surprising to you? Perhaps something you had never considered before...

Shay: I have been living with these painful characteristics for so long I consider them part of my identity. All the shameful patterns of hiding what you don't know or can't seem to understand what everyone else grasps with ease cannot be easily broken and exposing them would be risky plus humiliating. But I felt safe with this group of women and our instructor out at Camp. When I admitted my feelings, Susie wasn't surprised at all  since she had already come to the same conclusion and was waiting on me. Everyone was very supportive and understanding. It was hard but rewarding to finally understand many of the difficulties I've experienced over the years and it gave me even more compassion for my students who struggle with these same problems.

CSC: How will you use your OG training?

Shay: I have been using some of the techniques of OG in my classroom and hope to give my students a head start to success for the future, so they can avoid some of the painful patterns that develop in an effort to cope in our educational system.

In Her Own Words: Valerie on Associate Level OG Training

ValerieMillerThis fall, Susie led a 10-day Associate Level Training session at Camp in Bakersville. Continuing our series of testimonials, today's post features Valerie--a mother, homeschool teacher, and OG tutor! Enjoy! Camp Spring Creek: Tell us a little about yourself.

Valerie: I am a former teacher turned homeschool mom. I homeschool my twin 7 year old daughters while my 4th grade son attends public school. My twins both have learning issues that brought me to Susie for training. One twin, Kaitlyn, is dyslexic, while her sister, Brooke, is deaf and uses Cochlear Implants. Both have language difficulties in speech, sentence structure, grammar, and reading.

CSC: Tell us about a critical turning point or moment of learning (an "ah-hah") that you experienced during your 10 days of Associate Level Training with Susie:

Valerie: There were many moments during training that made me think, "That makes so much sense, why have I not been doing it!" One of those moments was when studying the brain and the need for visual, auditory and kinesthetic easy for a teacher to do--but I just didn't know that I should do it.

CSC: Describe your experience at the Camp in Bakersville, working hours and hours every day, somewhat in you immersed yourself in the world of OG:

Valerie: We worked very hard during the 10 days at Camp. Most days we worked from 8 am until 5 pm, a few nights until 7-8pm, and then the infamous night of 1:30am when most of us had to retake a quiz. Susie worked us hard, but was always supportive and encouraging. She often said that if we were not learning then she was not teaching and would teach it a different way. I really think being at camp, completely submerged in OG, was a true benefit. There was always another trainee to ask questions, study with, or help with homework. I learned so much from my fellow trainees.

CSC: What did you learn or realize that was most surprising to you? Perhaps something you had never considered before...

Valerie: I learned that I can use Orton Gillingham with all kids, not just those with dyslexia. I learned the great reasons behind teaching cursive (which I thought was old-school and something unnecessary to teach in our current technological age). I learned that cursive is quicker, more fluid, and helps students get their ideas onto paper much more easily. At home, I am teaching my 7 year olds cursive and require my 9 year old son to do all his homework in cursive.

CSC: How will you use your OG training?

Valerie: I am currently tutoring my twins 5 days a week with Orton Gillingham. I began tutoring my first student on October 30th. I plan to begin my practicum in January 2014.

In Her Own Words: Jennifer on Associate Level OG Training

JennMerkelThis fall, Susie led a 10-day Associate Level Training session out at the Camp in Bakersville. As always, our participants each came from unique backgrounds. Today's post features a testimonial from Jennifer, an education specialist, impassioned teacher, and advocate. Enjoy! Camp Spring Creek: Tell us a little about yourself.

Jennifer: I am an Exceptional Education teacher with an undergrad in Communication Disorders. I have been working with children with various disabilities and processing disorders for the last 8 years. I consider myself a brain-based teacher with an interest in neuroscience and sensory-motor development. Most of the children I work with have a disability that can’t be “seen.” I teach with their brain in mind while helping them understand how they best learn. My intention is to promote awareness on multi-modal teaching techniques, their efficacy, and the importance of teaching to develop a “unified” brain and honor the whole child.

CSC: Tell us about a critical turning point or moment of learning (an "ah-hah") that you experienced during your 10 days of Associate Level Training with Susie:

Jennifer: Despite, previous exposure and practice with Orton-Gillingham derivatives, it was during this training that I realized how much more efficient and effective my approach could be! My “ah-hah” moment was visualizing how the 9 OG principles were brought to life in the new lesson format. The lesson plan is static but reflects a highly dynamic, multi-dimensional process occurring within the child!

CSC: Describe your experience of the Camp in Bakersville, working hours and hours every day, somewhat in you immersed yourself in the world of OG:

Jennifer: The 10-day training at Camp was challenging. But then, I also believe that anything worth achieving is never simply handed to you. Being away from home, operating on less sleep with exams at 8 am was not easy! I would prepare anyone by telling them that it is truly intense (as advertised). Reflecting on it now, I wouldn’t have changed a thing. Being surrounded and immersed in the material amplified the importance of what and why I was studying OG. This hyper-concentration allowed me to focus deeply on the material and internalize it faster than if I had taken days and weeks in between training. Plus, I met some amazing women! It was cozy and authentic—forging meaningful bonds. I will never forget them or my time at Camp!

CSC: What did you learn or realize that was most surprising to you? Perhaps something you had never considered before...

Jennifer: My surprise was realizing how poorly I had learned cursive and, worse, how poorly I was prepared to teach it!

CSC: How will you use your OG training?

Jennifer: In all my years of schooling, I had never heard of Orton-Gillingham. Moving to NC was a blessing for my career as I was exposed and awakened to this researched-based philosophy. I feel that OG has literally changed the way my brain functions and improved areas that were underdeveloped. I have seen the majority of my students blossom and become empowered, confident learners as a result of it. Susie’s teaching and mentoring is providing me with an opportunity to further develop myself as an educator. As teachers/specialists we assume an important oath. We should demand excellence from ourselves because our responsibility to our students demands it. I am grateful that Susie demands excellence from herself and her trainees. I will continue my Orton-Gillingham training as I believe it provides a superior approach to helping our kids learn how to master language and become confident, lifelong learners.

Summer Camps for Children with Dyslexia

Today's blog post is written by Camp Spring Creek's very own, Susie van der Vorst. Susie originally wrote this for The Fortune Academy's blog, Oaks & Anecdotes, which published it last February. Enjoy! Residential summer camps are a great way to build independence and self-confidence. Whether a child needs a shorter experience at a sleep-away recreational camp or the intense immersiphpThumb_generated_thumbnailjpgon of Orton-Gillingham instruction along with the confidence boosting camp activities, there is an experience that will keep them from lagging behind in the summer. By attending an accredited OG summer program a child can not only maintain the growth he or she has achieved, but often gain in skills during the summer months, providing a springboard for success in the fall. There are three residential summer programs that are accredited by the AOGPE: Camp Dunnabeck, Camp Spring Creek, and Durango Mountain Camp. Each camp is similar, and as one who has worked at all three camps, I can briefly describe each camp.

Camp Dunnabeck is the oldest camp of its kind. It was founded in 1955. At Dunnabeck the residential campers are generally ages 11-16 with day students from 6-11. Recreational activities include horseback riding, water skiing, tennis, art, and several other stimulating activities.

Durango Mountain Camp was established nearly two decades ago and caters to older residential campers (11-17) who are sports enthusiasts. Along with the 1:1 OG tutoring, Durango suits the older, thrill-seeking youths who want the adrenaline rush of extreme sports to help develop creativity, enhance self-esteem, foster individual strengths and generate a great deal of enthusiasm.

Camp Spring Creek is the direct result of experiences at Dunnabeck and Durango Mountain Camp. Susie and Steve van der Vorst met at Dunnabeck in 1990 and worked together there for four summers.  We started Camp Spring Creek offering an approach for the “whole” child, including OG tutoring, life skills and activities such as wood shop, swimming, art, camping, hiking, water skiing, rock climbing, and archery.

Often geographical location can play a large role as well. Most important is to find a place where the child feels safe and can make the most progress possible. For those living in Indianapolis, Fortune Academy’s B.R.I.T.E summer camps are a valuable option.

The Houchard Family

Josie 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 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.

Mitchell-Buncombe Nonprofits Partner for WNC Children

jumping This article was originally published in local papers.

Spruce Pine, North Carolina – Camp Spring Creek of Mitchell County and OpenDoors of Asheville join forces to make a difference in the lives of four Western North Carolina children.

This summer, four Buncombe County children connected through OpenDoors of Asheville were awarded full scholarships to attend Camp Spring Creek, an academic and recreational camp focusing on literacy, language, and math skills. Located in Bakersville, the camp has served children from WNC and around the world for 11 years and is one of only three residential camps in the United States accredited by the Academy of Orton-Gillingham Practitioners and Educators. OpenDoors connects local children living in multi-generational poverty with enrichment and education opportunities to help break the cycle of poverty. The organizations teamed up to provide jointly-funded scholarships made possible through private donations, enabling four children from Buncombe County to attend Camp Spring Creek for four weeks at a total value of $29,920.

According to Jennifer Ramming, Executive Director of OpenDoors, the nonprofit currently partners with 13 Asheville city schools for 48 students, more than 2/3 of whom have some type of language-based learning difference and suffer greatly from “summer slide.” The Orton Gillingham methodology offered at Camp Spring Creek provides daily, one-on-one, multisensory tutoring sessions for each camper that is both diagnostic and prescriptive. “The students were assessed and progressed in areas such as phonemic awareness, decoding, encoding, writing mechanics and study habits,” says Ramming. “There was also a wonderful section on the report [from Camp Spring Creek] for each child called ‘Recommendations’ that gives us a road map for how to continue our student’s success in partnership with the teachers and specialists during the upcoming school year.”

Co-founder of Camp Spring Creek Susie van der Vorst is overjoyed about the partnership. “The kids from OpenDoors had the most integrity and the best manners of any campers I’ve ever seen,” she says. ”All the OpenDoors children were an asset to our program and taught us as much as we taught them. Everyone fit right in and it was great to see the OpenDoors kids getting to know the other campers and branching out to form friendships of their own.”

As a part of their study hall sessions at Camp Spring Creek, campers write letters home. The OpenDoors campers also wrote thank you letters to “sponsors” whose donations made the scholarships possible. “I am a better reader now and I met new people,” wrote one 7th grade child, “Thank you for helping me come here.” Another camper, age 10, wrote: “My reading is improving. My tutor is cool and she taught me cursive. I have made lots of friends here and some of them are from different places.” Their letters also included positive responses to new experiences they had at camp, such as whitewater rafting, paintball, swimming lessons, and woodshop.

For more information about services from OpenDoors, residents of Buncombe County can call 828-777-1135 or visit For information on teacher training, camp, or tutoring opportunities through Camp Spring Creek, call 828-766-5032 or visit

Join Us Next Month in New Orleans!

IDA_logo_2C The International Dyslexia Association, or IDA, “promotes literacy through research, education, and advocacy.” Susie is delighted to be one of many skilled presenters at this year’s conference. The full program can be accessed online by clicking here. If you’re a parent, administrator, educator, homeschool teacher, or other professional looking for continuing education credits and innovative teaching philosophies for a variety of learning environments, please consider attending this internationally renowned event. If you’re friends of Camp Spring Creek, let us know you’ll be there and we will try to meet up at the conference or in New Orleans!

Susie’s sessions are scheduled as follows:

Thursday, November 7: “TP15 Word Origins”


Explore the origins of the English language with a multimedia presentation and hands-on activity. Learn to identify the etymology of a word based on a few facts that will be enlightening. Why is this important, well for starters, if you know where the word originated, you are more likely to spell it correctly.

Saturday, November 9: “S20 Parenting Tips & Advocating for Our Children”


One size does not fit when parenting children with dyslexia. An array of tips will be offered to assist in providing a balanced environment where children are encouraged to be responsible, accountable and perseverant members of the community. This will be an interactive session to discuss parenting and advocacy roles with different types of students, so that we, as parents can assist in developing our charismatic and determined children into leaders of the future.