Interview: Henri Brown

Henri's picture

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.