spruce pine

Local Focus: Geraldine Ellis on Dyslexia and Success

GeraldineEllisPhotoToday's post was originally published as a feature in our local newspaper. Geraldine Ellis Retires, Reflects

When Geraldine Ellis was passed the basketball during the final seconds of a game at Mitchell County’s then Bowman High School, she could fire off the winning shot. Not too many years later, when hired as an assistant for a local dentist’s office, she could remember patient names and faces with uncanny precision. Despite never earning her college degree, Ellis would go on to work in banking and customer relations for over twenty years, become Director of Mitchell County Chamber of Commerce, and eventually retire as Executive Director of United Way of Mitchell County in late 2013. But for all the things Ellis proved she could do, what she couldn’t do was easily spell or quickly comprehend large blocks of text.

“Connecting with people comes naturally to me…but if you hand me a folder and say, ‘There’s something interesting in here. Take a look at it and we’ll discuss it tomorrow,’ you can bet I’m not going to read it,” says Ellis, who was diagnosed with dyslexia in the early ‘70’s. Today, Ellis is speaking out in the community she dedicated her career to, with the hope that other children and adults who struggle with learning differences will have their needs met.

One in five children in the United States has dyslexia, along with more than 40 million adults, although very few are diagnosed during their education years, if ever. Parents and teachers are in the best position to notice early signs of dyslexia or other learning differences. In an atmosphere of support that is rich with resources and options, this potentially devastating setback can in fact be revealed as an exceptional gift.

Fourteen public school teachers in Yancey County and fifteen from Mitchell County have received Orton-Gillingham Associate Level certification. Five teachers from Mitchell have continued their training and mentorship, incorporating the strategies they have learned into their everyday teaching. Two feel so strongly about this training that they now present how to use these strategies in statewide teaching conferences sponsored by the Department of Public Instruction and Exceptional Children’s conference. This training and tutoring methodology uses a diagnostic and prescriptive, multi-sensory approach to teach the structure of language to children of all ages, abilities, and learning styles. “My great regret is that I did not go on to college,” says Ellis, who did not receive special assistance or tutoring of any kind during her education years. “I think the dyslexia held me back. I didn’t know my options at the time.” Although Orton-Gillingham, or OG as it is commonly called, provided successful remediation for children with dyslexia as early as the 1950s it is still a distant possibility in many education systems today.

“I remember one day working at the dentist’s office when my good friend Jane Brown brought her boys, Billy and Jerry, in for an appointment. She happened to be in the room when a supply salesman came in. The doctor told me to write a list down and place a supply order from that list. He said we needed ‘blue periphery wax,’” recalls Ellis. “I wrote ‘periphery’ and then I got stuck. I could not get the word ‘blue’ onto the page because of the ‘b.’ I asked, ‘What does blue start with?’ and they all looked at me. At that point, Jane asked me if I’d mind taking a few quick tests…come to find out, I had dyslexia.”

Dyslexia is a diagnosable learning difference under the umbrella of the Americans with Disabilities Act, guaranteeing equal access education through the public school system. “Dyslexia doesn’t necessarily mean you read backwards, as people often think,” says Susie van der Vorst, Co-Director of Camp Spring Creek and its Outreach Center and one of only 145 OG Fellows in the United States with almost 30 years experience.“People with dyslexia have difficulty processing language but they are often very gifted in analytical reasoning and creativity,” she explains, “which is why a high percentage of people with dyslexia become corporate CEO’s, engineers, artists, entrepreneurs, surgeons, and architects.”

Or community activists. Although Ellis is too humble to call herself as much, it’s difficult to take a look back at her career without noticing her gifted ability at viewing the big picture. While one common indicator of dyslexia is struggling with minute details or seemingly unconnected pieces of information, one strength of many dyslexics is their talent for thinking outside the box. When serving as Director of Mitchell County Chamber of Commerce, Ellis pinpointed a major local misconception that could potentially hinder growth and development. “It saddened me to hear local people—and I’m one of them—say, ‘Tourism doesn’t mean anything to us.’ In fact, the number of people our local craft artists attract is a huge part of Mitchell County tourism. We do have another industry besides mining and it’s been here all along, too. We can make both work for us and become aware of our unique offerings,” says Ellis.

Ellis applied this same creative thinking to get through challenging situations in school or, later in her professional life, business conferences and classes for professional development. “I’m a very visual person so I try to visualize success. It’s not helpful to look at some things as a negative; we need to look for the positive. I had to stop taking notes in class even though I was scolded for not paying attention. But I knew what I needed to do for myself in order to succeed and if I took notes, I got confused while trying to listen at the same time. I learned to rise above the confusion and I learned to worry about the resources that I had, instead of the ones I didn’t.” Furthermore, in her work for United Way, Ellis focused on “the big pool of people falling through the cracks.” She knew the support that local government and other organizations provided, but because of her longtime commitment to Mitchell County and her sense of vision, she also understood that huge numbers of people were being overlooked and were still in need. “At United Way the theme was ‘Taking care of our own,’ and I could really get behind that,” says Ellis.

Several months into retirement, Ellis says she is enjoying Bible Study and getting back to her walking routine. When asked what advice she has for those entering retirement themselves, she says, “Enjoy it!” When asked the key to a successful marriage, she advises: “The year that’s critical in your marriage is the year you’re in!” She and her husband, Kenneth, will celebrate 50 years of marriage this June.

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.”

Interview: Nancy Burleson

NancyBurlesonCamp Spring Creek is delighted to welcome Nancy Burleson to our Board. Nancy brings decades of educational and literacy experience to the Board, not to mention an affinity for Western North Carolina. Camp Spring Creek: Please tell us a little bit about yourself.

Nancy Burleson: I grew up in Spruce Pine, NC and have lived here all my life, with the exception of the four years I spent in college at UNC-Greenboro. I am a retired teacher with thirty years of experience in the Mitchell County School System. During that time, I spent most of my career in the fourth and fifth grades. For the last six years, I served as the Reading Coordinator for the county and worked in all of the schools. I have enjoyed being a part of the community and currently serve on the boards of the Spruce Pine Public Library, Spruce Pine Montessori School, and the Foundation Board of Blue Ridge Regional Hospital, in addition to that of Camp Spring Creek.

CSC: Can you share an early education memory of your own with our readers?

NB: I was fortunate to grow up in a home where education, and reading in particular, were valued and encouraged by my parents. I had a great uncle who lived with us when I was a child who read to me constantly. My mother told me that he enjoyed the experience so much himself that he would often read to me until he had no voice left. My parents were also avid readers, and I am sure their example had an early impact on my love for books.

CSC: What inspired you to volunteer for the Camp Spring Creek board?

NB: I am very interested in the mission and the entire experience of Camp Spring Creek. I have always had a passion for the importance of reading, especially in the early years, and feel that success in reading is necessary for success in school and in life. By meeting the needs of struggling readers, Camp Spring Creek is preparing children for success in both.

CSC: What part of the Camp Spring Creek mission or experience do you find most inspiring or important?

NB: I believe that the most inspiring and most important part of Camp Spring Creek is their genuine concern for education of the whole child in a rewarding and fun-filled experience. The desire of the directors to connect with the public schools is also commendable. Their commitment to the constant improvement of every area of their camp is truly inspirational.

Meet Wendy

DSC02421Camp Spring Creek has a new Office Manager and Bookkeeper! We are happy to introduce you to Wendy Woody, originally from Burnsville and very happy to be working with us. Wendy will complete her Associate Degree in Business Administration from Mayland Community College this December, and has consistently earned a 4.0 GPA.

Prior to working for Camp Spring Creek, she was a Sales Associate at Cato in Spruce Pine and a tutor at Mayland for students enrolled in business classes. "It was a really busy schedule on top of school," Wendy says, adding that she is grateful to have a single employer now as she focuses on finishing her degree. Wendy is also mother to two sweet young girls, Madelyn age 3 and Mackenzie age 1.

Wendy has been working for Camp Spring Creek for about a month and is already putting her delightful demeanor and hard skills to work. "I'm using a little bit of what I've learned in my degree every day," she says. "Probably the biggest thing I've used so far is Quickbooks and Accounting, but I'm learning more and more every week."

Welcome--we're so happy to have you!

Our Outreach Center

This time of year, we're all about life in Bakersville at Camp Spring Creek and honored to have counselors, tutors, and campers from all over the world. But in the bigger picture, part of what we strive to do is make Orton-Gillingham instruction and tutoring available to all children, regardless of financial need...and especially to those children in our own backyard of Western North Carolina. To that end, Susie works throughout the school year to train Mitchell & Yancey County Public School teachers in Orton-Gillingham tutoring methods. This training is often funded by grants, donations, or a combination of both. Following training, Susie makes extensive classroom visits all over the tri-county area, assessing teachers and students alike. The end of the school year is an exciting time for our Outreach Center, as we've gathered enough results from classroom visits over the course of a semester to see the details on paper. Here's a quick look at some before and after grade points in Riverside (Mrs. Barrier) and Bald Creek (Ms. Willis) Elementary classrooms. "DSPT" stands for Diagnostic Spelling Potential Test. To learn more about our Outreach Center training opportunities, click here.

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Pilot Orton-Gillingham/Camp Counselor Program

This summer, we're thrilled to announce the pilot launch of our new Orton-Gillingham/Camp Counselor program to benefit Mitchell County children who cannot otherwise afford Camp Spring Creek or one-on-one OG tutoring. Two of our international camp counselors, Lilja and Grace, have completed the 70-hour Associate Level Training in Orton-Gillingham methods and will donate 1 hour a day for 4 weeks tutoring a local child. As of this week, two children with dyslexia started coming out to Camp Spring Creek in Bakersville to spend an hour in a one-on-one tutoring session with Lilja and Grace. After tutoring, the children get to stay an additional hour and join the other campers in a fun activity such as woodshop, arts & crafts, or swimming.

Lilja and Grace with their OG materials

Orton-Gillingham Training

Last week, five hard-working homeschool teachers joined Susie at our Outreach Center in Spruce Pine to embark on their Associate Level Training. This 70-hour training empowers teachers to tutor students one-on-one using the Orton-Gillingham curriculum. Following their work with Susie, each will spend the next year completing their practicum. The practicum includes 10 observations and constant contact with Susie. Each teacher can then apply to the Orton-Gillingham Academy for official certification. Co-founder of Camp Spring Creek and the Outreach Center, Susie van der Vorst, is one of approximately 120 certified Orton-Gillingham Fellows in the country. As a Fellow, Susie can train others in these methods and professionally observe and mentor educators as they complete their practicum year. The requirements to become a Fellow have changed over time, but when Susie first began her own Orton-Gillinghman training, the minimum requirement was 10 years of experience in the field. Susie earned recognition as a Fellow in 2003 and has trained countless parents, teachers, tutors, and professionals ever since.

We are very pleased to present our blog readers and supporters of Camp Spring Creek with this debut video, documenting snippets of the Associate Level Training. If you like what you see, subscribe by email to this blog (on the right sidebar) or to our YouTube channel, and you won't miss a beat. Meantime, many congrats to the five teachers who finished the first, major step in a year-long journey!

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5yFjyC75hd8]

In Her Own Words: Maeve, Teacher

Screen shot 2013-03-28 at 11.41.02 AMThis testimonial was originally published in the Camp Spring Creek newsletter. To view or download any newsletters for free, click here. My name is Maeve, and I am a Kindergarten teacher in Raleigh, NC. I was able to attend a training class in the Orton-Gillingham method of teaching reading. Susie van der Vorst, director of Camp Spring Creek, ran the training at the Outreach Center in Spruce Pine. During thsi training, Susie brought a young boy to our class to be a practice student. His name was Caleb. Caleb touched my heart from the moment he entered our classroom. He had a wonderful smile, and you could tell that he was full of fun.

As Susie began to work with Caleb, it became apparent that he really struggled with written language. Decoding words was a real challenge for him. It was hard to watch this young boy struggle, but he never gave up. He kept trying even when the work was very difficult. My heart went out to him as I thought about students in my own classroom who struggle in the same way. Watching Caleb made me more determined than ever to help children who have this special need.

After the lesson, Susie walked Caleb out to the car. When she returned, she told me how upset his mom was that he would not be attending Camp Spring Creek. She knew it would really help Caleb, but they just did not have the money to fund his time there. I immediately knew that I could help. I was so grateful to Caleb for his willingness to come help us with our training, and I had found a way to show my appreciation. I thought of the friends and family members back home who I knew would be touched by Caleb's story. I told Susie that I wanted to help Caleb, and as soon as I got home I created Caleb's Fund as a means to raise the money Caleb needed so badly to attend camp.

As I had expected, the wonderful people I know were very touched by his story, and within about 8 weeks we had raised all the money for Caleb's tuition.

Unfortunately, I was not able to make the trip to Camp Spring Creek that summer, so I did not see Caleb there. However, Susie kept me informed of his progress over the summer. I know that the time Caleb spent at Camp Spring Creek greatly impacted his learning, and I hope that we can continue to send children to the camp through our future fund raising efforts. The happy ending is that Caleb was tested at his school once he returned and they noted that his reading levels progressed by three levels!

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Dispelling the Myths of Dyslexia

This article was originally published in the Mitchell County News Journal.

If you drive out Cane Creek on a summer morning, you can almost hear the laughter of kids playing off in the distance. Camp Spring Creek is a place where children with dyslexia can hammer bottle caps to create a musical instrument, work onGroup Shot Week 7 a paintball shield, inner tube in the pool or down the creek, practice tumbling routines, hike up the mountain, learn about local birds and build a house for them to live in, scavenger hunt, singe songs, roast marshmallows, and sit by the campfire at night listening to stories told by staff members.

Camp Spring Creek is also a place where, every day, these children receive one-on-one tutoring using the Orton-Gillingham approach of teaching the structure of language; spend an hour reading aloud, another studying their newly learned language skills; and yet another developing their writing skills on the computer. Their days are filled from mornign to evenign when they drift off listening to the next chapter of their favorite book.

Co-founder Susie van der Vorst offers, "So many people with dyslexia are misunderstood...they are often mistaken for slow learners or just not trying hard enough. Reality is that dyslexic kids can learn very quickly if they are taught the information using a method they can understand." And the Orton-Gillingham approach is the one Camp Spring Creek uses.

Developed by Samuel Torrey Orton and Anna Gillingham back in the 1920's, the O-G approach, as it is called, teaches kids the structure of language in a way that leads them to see, hear, and write out a concept all at the same time. Each child is treated as a unique learner, each requires and receives the individualized teaching necessary to help that child succeed.

"Because of the dedication of our excellent staff, and the power behind the Orton-Gillingham approach, we often see students make two to three years worth of progress during a six-week session. The kids love it, and they learn." However, Camp Spring Creek is seasonal and there are over 6,500 students, 20 percent of them living with some sort of language challenge, in Mitchell, Yancey, and Avery counties. All reasons for Susie van der Vorst's push to educate more people in the area.

On Thursday, February 16, from 5:30-7pm, Susie will present an explanation with demonstration, entitled, "Dispelling the Myths of Dyslexia" at Mountainside Wine in Spruce Pine. The hour and a half discussion will broaden public knowledge surrounding dyslexia, a hidden disability.

Few know that there are 15 myths about dyslexia, the one out of five people who live with it, and the condition that sometimes hides away in the edges of their day. Come find out what these myths are, how to notice them, and what we can do about them!

Camp Spring Creek will provide appetizers and sweat tea; Mountainside Wine will offer a variety of wines. Call CSC at 828-766-5032 or go to the Facebook page, Camp Spring Creek, for more information.