Today’s interview is with inspiring individual Wendy Welshans. Wendy has been a teacher at the Forman School for students with dyslexia and learning differences for 22 years. She is the director of the Outdoor Leadership Program and the Rain Forest Project. She teaches biology, anatomy and physiology, and the Tropical Ecology Seminar. Wendy is head of the Forman Boat Works, Forman's own wooden boat building program. She coaches the whitewater slalom team and leads weekend backpacking trips. The highlight of many students’ experience is the scientific research expedition to Costa Rica that Wendy leads each year. Wendy is also a Registered Maine Guide and a Wilderness First Responder. She and her daughter, Jorie, live in an alternative energy home in Sharon with their dog, Max, and 18 chickens.
Camp Spring Creek: From what I understand, The Rainforest Project that you founded at Forman School is open to students from area Connecticut public high schools as well as Forman School students. How do you find this blending aspect of the program and in what ways do the students surprise themselves when they work with others of different backgrounds, strengths, and weaknesses?
Wendy Welshans: That’s an interesting question. Many times it is the public school kids who learn and change attitudes—they have a completely different view of learning differences than is the reality. Many times you hear them say things like, “You guys are so smart” or “You’re so creative” or “How did you come up with that idea?” For our Forman students with learning differences, sometimes they feel inadequate initially, then after they get to know the public school kids they see how they themselves shine and how everyone’s strengths help the team.
CSC: At the end of the day, when all the testing, measuring, tagging, sorting, and hypothesizing are done, even the most gifted, fortunate, or enthusiastic science student needs to be able to articulate his or her findings in writing so that others can understand. Likewise, truly innovative research offers something new, implying that students must be well-read in their particular area of research in order to come up with a new finding. Do you encounter resistance to in-depth reading and writing from your students and, if so, how do you approach this?
WW: Good question. Because the students pick one of our 4 or 5 research projects to focus on, there is a sense of ownership from the beginning. It also helps that, for the most part each year’s Rainforest Project team is chosen by the previous team, as people that could take their research to the next level and start where they left off. Students on the team feel that sense of ownership and want to have that, too. We try and pair them in research teams where everyone has a certain affinity. Say Jon doesn’t like to write and Sam loves to write, but doesn’t like to read. They know that the key to scientific breakthroughs is knowing when you are witnessing one, and you can’t witness one if you don’t have background knowledge on your species.
CSC: Among many other accomplishments, The Rainforest Project and its working, learning, students and staff members have earned two patents. One is shown in Journey Into Dyslexia: the extraction method you use to extract spider silk from the Golden Orb Weaver for commercial use. How did you take your students through the patent process and, in particular for those students struggling with writing or reading, how did you find their experiences of these final steps?
WW: So…getting our patents on spider silk is quite a story unto itself. These webs are strong! In the mid 1990’s, we would play with these spiders after coming back to base camp from hiking to where we were collecting specimens. We would feed them in their webs and have contests between spiders on the speed it took them to capture their prey.
The more we read about the spider in the field, the more curious we became as to why the webs were so strong. We made funnel traps which were 4’ high to capture the insects drawn into the area of the web. This was to see if particular insects were giving the spiders the ability to produce strong silk. One day, a student of mine was holding one of these golden orb weavers and said, “Look!” As he let the spider fall, he spun a Coke bottle to collect the silk. It seemed to never run out of that silk. Since then, each year we would try and collect it in a more efficient manner. Because this method had not been tried in the field before, the patents were applied for as a protection for the people and the species not to be exploited. We obviously knew this could and will go somewhere.
The students and I wrote our scientific methodology for our extraction technique and a few years later another group of students and I wrote up the methodology of the spider farms. For the students, doing the illustrations or labeling the illustrations was just as much a gas as seeing our science paper turned into legalese!
The motivation for what is legit rivals most. Our kids want their creative juices to flow and for a reason. Seeing their names published or, better yet, hearing a professor ask their opinions on a subject they have immersed themselves in is quite a motivator. For some, it is the first expert advice they have ever given. The students like that feeling of knowing and understand that they have earned that knowing through their prior research. The hope is, they take that feeling, that success, to college with them and they immerse themselves into each class as they did studying spider silk at Forman. They have seen where immersion can go.
CSC: What was your own path of discovery like with dyslexia? How did you feel at first, where had you struggled most, and—following diagnosis—where did you find the most relief?
WW: I knew I was a little different from my friends, who walked through the academics like eating a bowl of cereal…effortless. I struggled with reading and writing and sitting in one place. I was diagnosed with ADHD when I was 12; after college, my testing showed dyslexia. My parents were very supportive and gave me a vast array of projects on our property. I have had a creative, scientific mind since the age of 3. My folks were so disappointed when I failed Biology and struggled with Ecology, which seemed to be what I had a propensity for. My teachers, though supportive at public school, had no faith in my ability to go to college, especially SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry at Syracuse University. I attended Erie Community College and took every science course they had to offer. It was very hands-on and challenging. I received an Associate Degree in Applied Sciences and the Science Award at graduation and I matriculated to SUNY-ESF at Syracuse. I found college to be amazing because I was immersed in heavy science curriculum that was hands-on and rigorous.
Always, my relief or maybe my break from my LD has been building things, usually out of wood. Usually, I build something out of my head. When I was a child, it was small boats or game boards. Now, it is not much different. I teach wooden boatbuilding at Forman and am immersed in the Rainforest Project and in the species of that tropical forest just as I was as a child in our forest at home. I have always lost myself in the forest, exploring with a backpack of field guides.
Got 60 seconds? Use this Orton-Gillingham approach activity for a multi-sensory learning experience that improves sequencing!
Today's inspiring individual is John R. “Jack” Horner, an esteemed paleontologist who was once a senior technical advisor (and part character inspiration) for the Jurassic Park films. Jack's story of struggle and triumph is especially powerful, as he moved from undergrad drop-out to the recipient of a MacArthur "Genius" Fellowship. Jack was born and raised in Shelby, Montana and attended the University of Montana for seven years majoring in geology and zoology. Although never completing a formal degree, the University of Montana awarded him an honorary Doctorate of Science in 1986. Jack and his students excavate and study dinosaurs, particularly their growth and behavior. Jack has published more than 180 professional papers, 9 popular books, and more than 100 popular articles. Jack is Regent’s Professor of Paleontology in the Department of Earth Sciences, and Curator of Paleontology at the Museum of the Rockies, Montana State University in Bozeman, Montana. He is also a Senior Adjunct Scientist at the Smithsonian Institution. Jack lectures on dinosaurs, evolution and dyslexia. He lives in Bozeman. Camp Spring Creek: In addition to your accomplishments in paleontology, you’re also an author. Which aspects of writing come naturally to you and which do you find you have to make accommodations for? Many writers are often told to “write the kind of book you’d love to read yourself.” Several of your books are for children. What were reading and writing like for you as a young child?
Jack Horner: Reading is the hardest thing I do in my life, so with regard to reading, nothing comes easy and I have to make accommodations for every part of it. Writing is also difficult, but I learned two things early in my life that have helped a great deal. One was learning how to type. My mother was a typist and spent much time teaching me how to type, and I also spent a great deal of time learning how to make letters so that I could write well enough that I could read what I wrote, even though I read one letter at a time. As a child and young person, K – 12, I didn’t read much of anything, but I loved to look at the pictures in books and did my best to read the captions. I didn’t write much either, but always liked the idea of writing.
CSC: It’s long been accepted that one thing people with dyslexia naturally excel at is thinking outside of the box. In your field in particular, you have to manage so many eons of historical information, manage teams of people on a dig, organize your thoughts for academic research, as well as constantly push for the “next big thing.” Are there ways in which you’ve noticed your own abilities to “think outside the box” in your line of work? Please tell us about one or two by way of example.
JH: I have no idea what or where this box is or what it's like to be in it! Managing eons of data, together with numerous teams of people on digs, in labs, or any place else, and thinking and writing about new ideas that come from many different sources is what I do best. It only requires spatial thinking.
CSC: Speaking of thinking outside the box, what’s this we read about a genetically created dinosaur chicken? (We had to ask…)
JH: It’s a long story, but basically I have a team of geneticists working on retro-engineering a bird back to a dinosaur, or at least some of their characteristics by modifying genes that have been dormant for many generations.
CSC: You spent seven years studying as an undergrad and did not earn your bachelor’s degree. Years later, all of that was moot, but there must have been moments when you considered giving up or feared the worst. What would you share with a student in a similar position right now? What could you tell that eager, smart learner to help him or her stick with it?
JH: Giving up never entered my mind, but there was always the chance that my dreams would have to be modified, and for some period of time they were. My profession is also my hobby so there is no way it can be taken from me or that I could not do it. For a few years I worked for my father in his gravel business, and on the weekends or my time off, I worked on my hobby. I was always striving to get a job in paleontology, but I always knew the chances were slim. But, what was the worst that could happen? Work as I was, and do my hobby on my own time? Not so bad! When you have nothing to lose, even the smallest of accomplishment is success!
We'd like to bring our readers' attentions to a very inspiring, informative, enjoyable feature-length documentary, The Big Picture: Rethinking Dyslexia. Chock-full of everything you'd expect from a dyslexia documentary, what makes this film stand out are the visual graphics, animations, and revealing backgrounds that help your average viewer see, if only for a moment, what the world might literally look like through the eyes of someone with dyslexia. The artwork alone is reason enough to watch this film, but the information and inspiring stories will likewise not soon be forgotten. According to the synopsis on their website, this film "provides personal and uplifting accounts of the dyslexic experience from children, experts and iconic leaders, such as Sir Richard Branson and financier Charles Schwab. Directed by James Redford, the film not only clears up the misconceptions about the condition, but also paints a picture of hope for all who struggle with it. Shining a spotlight on the latest scientific and psychological research, the film also highlights the work of Drs. Sally and Bennett Shaywitz, co-founders and co-directors of the Yale Center of Dyslexia and Creativity to illuminate the hidden origins and implications of dyslexia. Proving that dyslexia is a neurological issue and not a character flaw, The Big Picture beautifully illustrates that while the condition is an obstacle, it also carries some unique advantages, and ultimately can be overcome." Here's the trailer, and if you're local you can come by our office and borrow a copy, or order one online for your own collection:
Today’s interview is with inspiring individual Dr. William Keeney. Bill is the English Department Chair and has taught English at Delaware Valley Friends School for over a decade. Bill has a strong interest in educational research and pedagogy and was featured in the HBO documentary, Journey Into Dyslexia. He has published poetry, plays, and scholarly articles in American Literature, and presents on reading at national conferences such as the IDA. He was awarded the West Chester Public Library's Literacy Hero Award in 2007. Bill earned his B.A. at Columbia University and his M.A. and Ph.D. at Boston University, where he studied with Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott. Camp Spring Creek: We were so moved by your classroom demeanor and educational philosophy in the HBO documentary, Journey Into Dyslexia. For our readers who have not seen the video, would you mind summarizing your points?
Bill Kenney: Not being able to read is not your fault. One in five people have trouble learning to read if they are not taught well. This is because of a specific part of your brain that is different from the “norm” but is NOT the same as a difference in intelligence. You can have superior intelligence and still not be able to read without effort. If you didn’t get taught well, that is the fault of the educational system that didn’t get you the help you need and deserve. (If you are at Camp Spring Creek, count your blessings because they will be able to teach you to read the right way.) Even if you were taught to read, reading still might be a struggle because of how your brain processes writing into oral language. Because our current society is so dependent on text, you do have to read well enough to get by. Fortunately, there are some pretty good technological aids that you can use that will help you get through, such as audio books (particularly Learning Ally, especially for schoolwork) and text-to-speech tools. However, even if reading remains a struggle for you, you can still live a productive, successful, and happy life using your other gifts and talents.
CSC: We understand that, despite stereotypes, many children with dyslexia come to love reading and stories. When teaching required texts in a mandatory education setting, we’re curious about what you see on “the front lines” and how you address that. As an English teacher at a school specializing in dynamic learning experiences for students with learning differences, some might think that you have “the hardest subject” to teach. What kinds of resistance do you face in the classroom and how do you work with that?
BK: The key to getting “buy-in” is hope. It begins by “de-mystifying” the problem by explaining its origin in scientific terms and re-assuring the students that reading and intelligence are two very different things, and the fact that they might be struggling to learn to read is not their fault. However, I also emphasize that learning to read is a very core skill, and that with effort and skilled instruction, they can learn to read better and with less effort. I am honest that it will take time and hard work, and that they may never become readers who “enjoy” reading, but they can become readers for whom the value of reading and what reading brings into their lives can be a reality. Finally, I provide audio (with variable speed playback so that they can listen along faster, if they can process it) so that they can have access to books that are at grade level even if their reading is not there yet.
CSC: As a lover of literature and writer yourself, can you tell us about a peak learning experience you had growing up—something that involved realizing how much you loved stories or how you discovered the power of literature? Feel free to share some of your favorite book titles with us from childhood to present day!
BK: I was blessed with the ability to read easily from a young age, so I began reading everything from a young age, so I don’t know if my story is going to resonate with people who struggle to read, but I am glad to share it. I remember the first time I “fell through a book.” I was sitting in an armchair and suddenly was just effortlessly reading. My memory is that the book was called Ab the Caveman, although I have looked for it since and have never been able to locate a copy. In my youth, I devoured comic books, sports stories, science fiction, horror, etc.
Then, in my senior year of high school, I read Robert Penn Warren’s novel, All the King’s Men. I remember thinking: This is a book that was not written for me, it is not about a world I know anything about, but it is absolutely compelling, rich, and insightful—this is what literature is all about. In college I began to enjoy poetry such as Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, WB Yeats, TS Eliot, and Wallace Stevens.
Some of the things I have read most recently that I love to recommend are: Paul Harding’s Tinkers, Annie Proulx’s short stories, and Charles Frazer’s Cold Mountain. However, I don’t think what I read is necessarily what someone decades younger than I should read! For young adults, I think The Hunger Games is the best of these kind of series, I always recommend To Kill a Mockingbird and Catcher in the Rye for high school students, and many students in my school love The Alchemist and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian.
But my final word would be: Find your own book recommenders. Read what your friends have read and liked. Read several books by the same author or in the same genre. Your teachers will probably introduce you to “classics” like The Great Gatsby, but on your own, explore. Read widely. It doesn’t matter nearly so much what you read as whether you read!
CSC: Camp Spring Creek feels strongly that the Orton-Gillingham approach can be beneficial to all types of learners, not just children with dyslexia or other learning differences. We also stand behind the belief that this approach can be integrated successfully into the public school and home learning environments, with proper training and information. For our parents or teachers with children at home, can you share a basic technique or skill that you teach in your English literature classroom? Perhaps something that could easily transfer into the home or public school learning environments such as a word game, a reading challenge, or some other exercise…whatever comes to mind.
BK: You are correct that good, systematic teaching is beneficial to everyone, particularly when it comes to the basic skill of reading. Research shows that there is only one pathway in the brain to efficient reading, and that everyone who learns to read builds those same neural networks—some just build them faster and with less effort, but the process is exactly the same. So, if we all teach all students in explicit, multi-sensory, structured and systematic ways, everyone will learn to read as quickly and as well as they possibly could! My motto is, this isn’t special education, it’s education by specialists—“It’s just good teaching.”
Since I teach in a high school and primarily with literature, I have two basic pieces of advice: If you still have difficulty reading, use audio as a support to help your speed, accuracy, fluency, and comprehension; and, for comprehension, re-read. This is what all readers do to improve their comprehension; it is just that “natural” or skilled readers can do this quickly and efficiently (as well as having the freed-up space in their minds to monitor their comprehension because the reading process has faded into automatic).
Check out this instructional video with clips from our most recent Classroom Educator Course. This includes sample Orton-Gillingham exercises teachers or parents can easily incorporate into their classrooms or home study plans:
Today's blog post is a tribute written by Helene Dubrow about Anna Gillingham. Helene trained under Samuel Orton, Anna Gilingham, and Bessie Stillman and went on to found Camp Mansfield, the first camp for children with dyslexia, among other programs. Her grandson Van Westervelt was recently featured on our blog and assists us with staff training each summer. Thanks, Van, for sharing this very special document with us.
I first met Anna Gillingham when she came to Verona, New Jersey in October 1936 to give a series of three lectures to teachers. The first pertained to reading, the second to spelling, and the third topic was not announced. As we later found out, the final meeting related to handwriting and difficulties students experienced with written expression. All three meetings were stimulating and increased my interest in understanding specific language-learning difficulties.
For the previous three years I had been training individual elementary school children with some degree of S.L.D. under the direction of Dr. and Mrs. Samuel T. Orton. As a result of this experience, I was eager to learn more about programs to assist older students at junior and senior high school levels. Accordingly, I approached A. G. after the final session and asked where one could get additional training and knowledge about remediation for older dyslexic students. She was quick to respond, saying “Why don’t you come and work with me?” Anna was then a psychologist at Ethical Culture, Fieldstone School, New York City. By November 1936 arrangements were complete, and I traveled five days a week from Montclair, New Jersey to Fieldstone School, where I was scheduled to instruct individual students under A. G.’s supervision. This program was continued until June 1937 when Bessie Stillman and A. G. went to Punohu School, Honolulu.
My experience at Fieldstone was particularly important, for as a teacher A. G. was thorough and demanding. She was explicit in giving directions and took time to explain procedures as they related to individual students' needs. One cannot forget her ability to understand the learning problems and present a program for remediation. As almost no materials were available at that time, 1936-1937, Anna made her own drill cards, books, and word lists for reading and spelling. Before the Manual was developed, Florence Aiken’s book Word Mastery was of prime importance.
It was Anna who helped me to understand the specific handicaps related to dysgraphia. She increased my interest in handwriting and how it handicaps academic achievement. For some children who have serious difficulty with fine-motor functioning, she believed time spent trying to develop legible hand-writing was a waste of time. For those students she recommended learning to type. Under her direction, I taught typing to fourth and fifth grade students. Anna devised a clever scheme to teach the touch system. A frame was built over the keyboard. A bib was fastened about the child’s neck and attached to the frame. With this arrangement, children could not watch their fingers, and the system seemed preferable to covering the keys. With the latter there was a tendency to look at the hands but with the bib, this was eliminated. I believe this unique idea has not been put in practice.
During the year at Fieldstone School, I had frequent sessions with Bessie Stillman. These conferences at her apartment were scheduled after school hours and related to spelling. Such meetings with A. G. and Bessie Stillman were particularly helpful, for they were directed to the needs of older students.
At the end of the school year Anna and Bessie left for Punohu School, Honolulu. Upon their return they learned of the death of my husband August 1937. As Anna was acquainted with my family she showed special interest in our welfare and was most helpful with suggestions and frequent conferences. She followed my programs at public and independent schools with interest. She was most supportive and made trips to schools and centers to give talks to faculties. In this way she spread the word and improved understanding of specific language disability.
While I was on the staff at Phillips Academy, Andover, Massachusetts, Anna lectured there to members of the English Department. During this period 1943-1947, I learned about her programs for early identification of children with some degree of S. L. D. This interested me particularly, for I had spent over ten years trying to retrain bright, able students whose early language-learning programs were inappropriate and ineffective. Accordingly, when I accepted a position at Sidwell Friends School, Washington, D. C., 1948, it was with the understanding that a program for early identification of S. L. D. students supervised by A. G. would be initiated. It was agreed that Kindergarten children would be examined and those indicating the need for Orton-Gillingham approach would be selected and have special training in grade I through grade IV. During those years, Anna came six times each year to review data and train teachers to use phonetic-alphabetic approach for learning to read, spell and write. When Anna came to Washington she lived with me and visited the school each day. At night she reviewed the children’s folders which contained results of tests and teacher’s observations. This information she discussed in detail with me. From the data collected and consultations with teachers, decisions were made about appropriate methods to be used with individual children in grade I. The small number of students chosen for special training was mainstreamed. The classroom teacher was prepared to present phonetic alphabetic approach for learning to read, spell, and write. Similar programs were continued through the first four grades. The results surpassed our expectations and proved A. G.’s theory important. This was an experimental pioneering project which demonstrated A. G.’s belief that characteristics of S. L. D. could be identified at kindergarten level, and if taught using appropriate methods, frustrations and discouragement would be reduced. I was happy to participate in the experiment at Sidwell Friends School and the experience strengthened my interest in programs for early identification and prevention of severe consequences related to dyslexia. My enthusiasm for early identification of language-learning difficulties has never diminished.
When I joined Dr. Roswell Gallagher, 1953, at the Adolescent Unit, Children’s Medical Center, Boston, and trained tutors to instruct S. L. D. students, A. G. came frequently to lecture and confer with professional people interested in the “Cause.” She gave willingly of her time and energy. Though her sight was failing she continued and was steadfast in her desire to spread her message. This she did well.
A.G. was always interested in my Camp Mansfield project. This camp was established as a result of Dr. Samuel T. Orton’s urging. He sensed the need for summer programs to train children diagnosed S. L. D. and was eager to provide individual remedial instruction along with recreational activities. This plan was developed in a rural setting among the hills and mountains of Vermont. A. G. followed our program at Camp Mansfield. She visited on several occasions and loved to walk about the fields near the streams talking with campers and staff members. With her experience and knowledge she had much to offer. She gave freely of her time which benefitted all.
It was the occasion of her last summer when I visited her at the Methodist Home in Mt. Vernon, New York, that she mentioned while others were going off on vacation she had no place to go. It was then that I, along with a few Boston friends, arranged for a vacation at Camp Mansfield, Vermont. At that time Anna was without sight, but she was eager and happy to make the airplane trip to Burlington. There I met her and completed the journey to Camp. Because she was familiar with the setting and remembered how we were situated, she was delighted to find her way about and enjoy the country atmosphere. Campers and staff members were quick to assist and guide her when necessary. She attended staff meetings and made wise comments. Teachers were grateful for the opportunity to share her thoughts and wisdom. A. G. was pleased and thoroughly enjoyed her visit. When the time came for departure and return to New York, I found her fully dressed lying on the bed. As I entered, she spoke firmly and said. “Don’t think I’m tired, but when you can’t see, you have lots of time to think.” With this characteristic remark, we bade farewell. Her spirit and desire to assist children never dimmed. She labored unceasingly to promote the “Cause” in which she was so completely dedicated.
We who worked with her can never forget.
Today's interview is with inspiring individual Steve Walker. We're not even going to introduce you to him. We're just going to let him speak for himself. Read on...you'll see why... Camp Spring Creek: We enjoyed your interview on HBO’s Journey Into Dyslexia. Your story is very moving. For our readers who have not seen the documentary, could you briefly tell us about the positive learning experience you had working in the machine shop in high school?
Steve Walker: It was the only thing as a young adult that I could get a result from that was positive and also created something that had immediate, tangible purpose. I had one teacher, Joe Pasenka, and he saw me checking out from life in general and I think it was a really honorable thing he did by letting me play in that machine shop. The school was shutting the machine shop down, so you weren’t technically supposed to be there. He really let me do my thing which, as it turns out, is the correct way to think. He knew I pushed back against traditional learning, so he didn’t push instructions at me. He let me work until I came across a problem and then I’d ask a question. If you think about it, a person is much more motivated to learn when they have a need to understand.
SW: I went on an educational tour of my own recently, because I wanted to understand education. I was a little horrified by how everything was going. I felt shameful about what had happened to me as a child--being made to feel stupid, being so misunderstood--and I felt despair about how little people know about learning. There are places where great things are happening, of course, but the general system is really antiquated and needs spiffing up. So I went on this tour...I talked to some teachers who were threatened with getting fired if they used the word “dyslexia.” It was quite an eye-opener and frustrating enough that I’ve joined a number of university boards and have met with leaders of schools or superintendents and tried to have exchanges about about how we can make changes in the system.
On my end of things, I hire a lot of engineers and so I've been talking to engineering schools about what they teach. Teachers are teaching math...but you don’t do math in engineering. Computers do the math. It’s creative thinking that needs to be taught and that’s what employers like me look for. I’m trying to tell people that if you back off on the math a little, which is so automated, the engineers don’t need it and they will be fine. I don’t discourage people from learning math, of course. But we need to look at the content that we’re teaching as well as the way we teach it. It's great if you can spell correctly. But some things have pretty limited applications to a job and I’m having conversations with people, especially in engineering schools, about this. These conversations are powerful; sometimes people are blown away by my perspective. After thinking about it, they’re usually quite open. Look at the TED Talk on self-teaching. It’s about a global initiative to examine how we teach and it’s a little extreme, but it’s also very enjoyable and funny. I just like to try and challenge people’s minds a little. I don’t know all the solutions but I do know that a lot of what we’re doing right now doesn’t make sense.
CSC: You built a successful, multi-million dollar business by solving a simple problem: Certain wood stoves being sold in the United States required wood pellets for fuel. At the time, the pellets were only available overseas. From scratch, you built the machines and designed the company—starting in your own basement—that is now New England Wood Pellet, the largest manufacturer and distributor of clean, renewable wood pellet fuel in the Northeastern United States. What is it about the “dyslexic brain,” as they say, that enables you to think outside the box more effectively than others?
SW: I think there are two things. First, if you’ve had to struggle a little or if you’re dealt some challenges or if you’re not “normal," especially when you're younger, then you automatically get a different perspective and I think that perspective is extremely helpful. What seems daunting and impossible as a kid going through school, possibly turns out to be the best lesson you’re going to get.
Second, there's neurology and the physics of the brain. Dyslexics do think differently and in my own experience and research, the dyslexic mind in general is lacking in reading. Not always, but often. Some of society’s most pressing issues have been solved by dyslexic brains. There are some true, honest to goodness, neurological differences that make us better at certain things than the majority of other people. Of course, running or starting a business requires you to be the ultimate multi-tasker and synthesizer. We can do that. We have very cluttered files in our brains, which makes it very difficult to organize, but that can work out okay in the end. Think about solving crimes: It’s all these little things that seem completely irrelevant and we’re used to that. We can work with that. We’re constantly being bombarded by things that seem irrelevant so, eventually, we find things we weren’t even looking for…and solve the crime. The military is especially looking for dyslexics for this exact reason.
I know I’m a little jaded because I had such a profoundly tough time in school, so I understand that. I’m only now linking a lot of challenges in my life back to those challenges in school. Dyslexia was not commonly identified then. It was not a familiar term. Kids today aren’t alone, at least. This is where I see that places like Camp Spring Creek are just great. You can get these kids together and they all feel it, it’s a good thing. Everyone’s got their head around it and they’re working together. What you’re doing at camp is probably an exception to the rule, because so many people still get lost in the system and don’t get help. Let’s keep the pressure on people and say that our work isn’t done yet. We need more of this, we need people who really do get it.
CSC: Can you tell us your personal story of embracing dyslexia?
SW: Four or five years ago, if you had asked me if I was dyslexic I wouldn’t have gone there. It reminded me of school and I was done with that. I wasn’t going down that route and I wasn't talking about it. Later on, what changed is that there was an in-depth study by the Kauffman Foundation done on entrepreneurs. They found there was an earth-shattering number of dyslexics who succeeded as entrepreneurs. Then, they wanted to find more people to study from around the world and all kinds of professions. The Kauffman Foundation called and said, “We heard you’re dyslexic,” and I had to stop. The call had to do with my brother, who has a dyslexic child. The Kauffman Foundation was studying my nephew and they got to talking. I met the profile and they placed the call.
I agreed to the study and I got over the shame because they’d already “found me out” anyway. Besides, it was the Kauffman Foundation, which has an incredible reputation. As it turns out, it was life-altering. It led to the HBO documentary Journey Into Dyslexia and numerous speaking events. You name it. It was all very good...but quite frankly, it’d probably be more fun to hang out with you guys at Camp Spring Creek for a week.
Once I learned how screwed up our education system was, there was a lot of anger that came out of that. Anger is a great motivator, unfortunately, but steered in the right way it can do great things. I came out, I talked about it, I told the world. I realized that it was important for kids and other adults to see that and I got fan letters from both. Appropriately, there’s a huge emphasis on kids, but I also think that our whole society would do well knowing that this is in your DNA. It is what it is. You are who you are. It doesn’t go away for adults and so many of them need to hear that, too. People don’t like talking about it. It’s very, very hard. I’ve had to learn to be gentle when I’m talking to people I don’t know very well because you have to treat these things delicately.
At the end of the day, once we get our education system figured out, I don’t think the word “dyslexia” will even be necessary. It’s about recreating how people learn, but ultimately it’s no different than remembering that we’re all physically different. We’re tall, we’re short, we’re fit, we’re not. Our brains are different from one to the next to the next, too. The beauty of all of this is that there’s just so, so, so much that can be done and that’s inspiring. Places like Camp Spring Creek are what need to happen now, until someday in the future we can just make education work for everybody.
We recently came across two helpful links regarding the Americans with Disabilities Act and the changes your child needs to know about when moving on to post-secondary school: First, check out this fact sheet from the Pacer Center, champions for children with disabilities across the spectrum: “It is crucial that students and their advocates become knowledgeable about their rights and responsibilities in post-secondary education because, although protections exist, the student has considerably more responsibility to request and design their own accommodations. And this responsibility is ongoing. For many students with disabilities, good self-advocacy skills will be key to success, and knowing your rights is one essential element of effective self-advocacy.” Read more and get empowered!
Second, please check out Wrights Law, founded by Peter Wright. Peter is dyslexic and, years ago, was actually tutored by Diana King. This summer, his grandson will be attending Camp Spring Creek. Look for an exclusive interview with Peter right here on this blog in the coming weeks. Meantime, check out the resources on his site.
We are delighted to announce that today’s inspiring individual interview features educator and advocate Sara Hines. Sara grew up in Washington DC and earned a PhD in Special Education from the University of Maryland. She has taught at public and private schools in the DC area, was a professor at Hunter College in Manhattan, and currently serves as the Lower School Head at the McLean School of Maryland. Many students at McLean have learning differences, ADHD, or had school anxiety when they entered. Read more: Camp Spring Creek: As Head of Lower School at McLean School, we’ve read that your personal motto is “Children first!” You’ve been described as “vibrant” and “driven.” What is it about your work on behalf of children with learning differences that fills you up with such inspiration?
Sara Hines: I find students with learning differences incredibly interesting and filled with potential. I think that allowing any student to reach their full potential is a very rewarding and important aspiration. Each child, in my opinion, is unique, and educators are responsible for investigating those unique gifts and qualities to design accessible instruction. Teachers must be creative and flexible in designing instruction.
CSC: Tell us more about the importance of early intervention for children with learning differences. For instance, for the parent who is reticent to have his/her child “singled out,” what advice might be good to keep in mind?
SH: The older the child, the harder it is to remediate in academic as well as social areas. A child with LD in a regular classroom often develops self-esteem issues that are hard to reverse. Also, to compensate for, or pretend that they do not have academic issues, children develop maladaptive approaches that are hard to unlearn. At our school, parents usually tell us that their child “is a different person” after entering McLean.
CSC: What were your own classroom experiences like as a child? Did you struggle in a traditional setting, were you nurtured above and beyond by a particularly gifted teacher, did you cruise right on through, or struggle daily? We’re curious how whatever you experienced as a youth informs the work you do today.
SH: I was a strong student but I usually earned “fair” in effort. I day-dreamed all day and only paid attention when I needed to respond. I never was engaged or motivated in school until I earned my PhD. I believe that I had several learning differences that were undiagnosed because I was able to do well enough in a very traditional, language driven curricula. There were 36 students in my class in Elementary School, so I was able to stay under the radar. It is only through my studies in LD that I realized my very uneven learning profile.
This week Susie is in Florida working with mentor and friend Susan Russell for an in-service training with the teachers at The Little Place and The Little Place Too, both private, academic-based preschools. Susan was Susie's second boss, so the two go way back. This press release was published via local media outlets in Wellington, FL and shares more about their relationship and the goals of Susie's trip. Free Dyslexia Info Session for Parents & Educators
Wellington, Florida – February 25, 2014 – Esteemed educator and dyslexia advocate Susie van der Vorst offers free info session for parents, educators, and administrators interested in early intervention, teaching methodologies, and other issues facing children with learning differences.
The Little Place Too, an academic-based private preschool in Wellington, will host an info session on dyslexia featuring Susie van der Vorst, well-known education advocate and co-founder of Camp Spring Creek. Susan Russell, owner of The Little Place Too, invited van der Vorst to the region after sending one of her school’s teachers to Camp Spring Creek’s 70-hour Associate Level Orton-Gillingham training at the camp in North Carolina.
“We’re just getting into the Orton-Gillingham approach at The Little Place,” says Russell. “I can already see a positive difference. It helps all of us understand how to help our children in the best ways possible.” The OG approach, as it is commonly called, is one of the most highly effective methods for teaching the structure of language using multisensory techniques. Trained tutors, such as Ms. Shay at The Little Place Too, engage students in learning activities that ask students to see, hear, and write a concept. Processing a single concept in many different ways allows all children, and especially children with learning differences such as dyslexia, to grasp skills they cannot learn using traditional methods.
At the info session, van der Vorst will touch on early intervention techniques that help parents and teachers determine whether or not their child has a learning difference as early as age four. She will also answer common questions, dispel myths about dyslexia, and discuss resources available nationwide. “Dyslexia doesn’t necessarily mean you read backwards, as people often think,” says 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 lead lives of accomplishment. This has been proven with recent brain research, in the classroom, and also at Camp Spring Creek, one of only three residential camps in the United States accredited by the Association of Orton-Gillingham Practitioners and Educators. “We often see students make two to three years worth of progress during a six to eight week session at camp,” says van der Vorst, who has nearly 30 years of teaching and tutoring experience. “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.”
Susan Russell and Susie van der Vorst have a history stretching back to 1987, when The Little Place Too first opened its doors. “I told Susie that she could start a kindergarten classroom at my school and do anything she wanted, as long as she could explain why,” recalls Russell. “She was just out of school, young, and very excited about teaching. I didn’t want to stifle that. She presented her plans to the parents and they could feel her enthusiasm, too. That’s exactly why she’s been so successful.” For van der Vorst’s part, the primary motivator in spreading the word about dyslexia is that she believes the right to read is a civic right. No child should be excluded because traditional teaching methods don’t teach some kids the ways they need to be taught.
The info session is free and open to the public. It will be held Tuesday, February 25 from 6:30-7:30pm at The Little Place Too, 2995 Greenbrier Boulevard in Wellington. For more information please call 561-790-0808.
We're in need of several Certified and Associate Level Orton-Gillingham tutors for the Camp Spring Creek 2014 season. We only have a few openings left, but if qualified applicants are interested in working at camp from June 10 to August 10, please send your resume to our general email inbox: firstname.lastname@example.org. Applicants may also contact us at the office by calling 828-766-5032. OG Training with us in advance of employment is sometimes an option, so don't hesitate to inquire. We also have a few tutor positions for half the summer. Applicants to these positions that are not returning staff will need to attend staff training at the start of the summer. In general, we prefer individuals that have already been through training via the Academy of Orton-Gillingham Pracitioners & Educators, but we can provide practicum observations. For example, if an applicant is hired and works the entire 8 weeks, he or she can use up to 5 observations for their practicum. Please be in touch!
This week, we're very excited to feature Henri Brown in our Inspiring People interview series. Henri Brown is the Director of the Augustine Literary Project/WS, a literacy project that trains and pairs volunteer tutors with low-income children and teens who struggle with literacy skills. She graduated from UVA undergrad and got her Master's from WFU. She lives in Winston-Salem with her husband, Royall Brown, and has two children. Read more about why she thinks "dyslexia" isn't the best word-label for our children, who she views more as "da Vinci Kids."
Camp Spring Creek: Please tell us briefly how you become involved with Augustine Project and what your role is there.
Henri Brown: Like many folks who get interested in Orton education, I had a child who had reading issues. As a family, we were fortunate to be able to afford a private tutor. As we gratefully paid our tutor, week after week, I kept thinking about those moms who loved their children as much as I did, but who could not afford a tutor. About that time, the Augustine Project in Winston-Salem held their first training. I signed on for their second training in 2002, and I've been here ever since. I started as a volunteer and founding Board member, served as Board Chair in 2006, and became Director of the Winston-Salem project in 2008.
CSC: Currently, Austine Project is serving 124 schools or after school programs. This must work out to be thousands of children! In what ways does Augustine Project serve those children: Through individual tutoring? In-class assistance? Group lessons? Help us "see" things in action from afar:
HB: In Winston-Salem, we serve over 100 children in over thirty schools and after school locations. Our tutors work one-to-one, and each tutor agrees to tutor twice weekly for approximately 45 minutes to an hour. As our tutors are volunteers, most take just one student, although several of our over 100 tutors have 2 or more students. Usually, our tutors go to school, remove the child from class, tutor, and then return the student to class. The schools have great confidence in our tutors. This is why the schools are willing to let us remove a child from class for tutoring twice weekly.
We are also seeding tutors in some after school locations. These are usually homework or feeding ministries. It is extremely valuable to have trained volunteers in these locations.When they encounter a child with a reading problem in one of their programs, hopefully someone there will know how to help.
CSC: If you could help dispel one myth or stereotype about children with dyslexia, what would it be and how would you address it?
HB: First, I'd change the word dyslexia. We've got to get rid of the 'dys' label for children with reading and/or language problems. Take any meaning of 'dys' you like--ill, bad, abnormal, diseased, faulty-- these children don't qualify. Personally, I'd rather call them "da Vinci Kids." This reflects much more of who they really are.
CSC: Please share an "ah-hah" moment that you have experienced as an educator or advocate in your years working with children with learning differences. HB: In the Augustine Project, we get lots and lots of "ah-ha" moments. As a tutor, I loved the recent moment when my teenage student wrote a list and then turned it into a good, solid paragraph--and she knew it. As Director, I love knowing the profound difference that our tutors make in the lives of the children they serve. Recently, our tutor Deb went to meet with the principal at the new school that her student was attending. Out of the school bus window she heard, "Ms. Deb, Ms. Deb, You found me! You found me!" Another student--one who used to say reading was his enemy--is now reading poetry and learning about birds. Another tutor is moving to his 3rd school this year, as he follows his student with unstable housing. I could go on and on.
CSC: What is one thing that you often hear parents say they "wish they had known" as they discover their child has dyslexia or a learning difference? How can other parents be more aware of this in their own children?
HB: I think most parents who discover they have a 'DaVinci Child'--and I was one of them--wish they had figured it out earlier. I knew my child was extraordinarily frustrated in school. I just didn't know why. To that end, the WS Augustine Project has just published a piece on early warning signs for reading difficulties in both English and Spanish. This piece, supported by the Women's Fund of Winston-Salem, focuses on early identification of reading problems in girls.
This 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.
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=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MonH1kJeoMI&w=560&h=315]
Camp 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.
This 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 www.campspringcreek.org.
Note: We're holding a contest on our Facebook page this holiday weekend. Visit our page and post a photo of yourself or another adult reading with a child. Once you post the photo (and like our page so we can contact you if you win), you'll be entered to win a Camp Spring Creek mug! We're fortunate to have a few more very important people and organizations that we'd like to thank. We honored them in our Fall 2013 Newsletter, and would like to honor them on our blog as well:
We are profoundly grateful to our many dedicated and steadfast supporters, including the Rotary Club of Avery County. Thanks to everyone's efforts, we were able to award scholarships to eleven of our forty-three campers. We have always felt that reading is a civil right and that we need to offer our camp experience to children regardless of financial circumstances. With a continually growing network of supporters, we will be able to reach even more children next summer.
Our Bakersville Dollar General has always provided us with a generous discount for our binders and this year they supplied all the binders at no cost to us. Several of our own teaching staff made in-kind donations of books and teaching materials. Liz Hall, education advocate and avid supporter of Camp Spring Creek, is making hand-sewn slipcovers, curtains, and valances to enhance the interior of camp. Thank you to everyone, who helps us complete our mission.
We are also grateful to the Pelham Foundation for awarding us a technology grant. Funding from the grant and private donations allowed us to replace all the old computers with new iMacs and install Microsoft Office and iWorks software. We were also able to purchase a color laser printer, several Kindle Fires for reading hour, and iPads for our math program.
Additional thanks and recognition goes to the People in Need Grant, Mitchell County Community Foundation, and the Community Foundation of WNC who support our outreach mission by helping us provide multi-sensory instruction to local children attending our public schools. We are impressed with the caliber of dedication from the many teachers we have trained; they still seek our guidance by way of mentoring and further training. We are dedicated to continue to expand and solidify multi-sensory teaching strategies in our local schools. We are also assisting OpenDoors of Asheville in training teachers who work with their clients in the Buncombe County schools.
Thank you all for being a part of our community and letting us be a part of yours!