Articles & Recs

Susie's Back-to-School Tips for Parents

Back-to-school can be a stressful time for student with dyslexia, but it doesn’t have to be. Remember that you are your child’s best advocate. Beyond that, your child is his or her own best advocate. Here are some tips for a successful start to the school year.

  • Do you have a psycho-educational evaluation for your child? If he or she is in public school, the school is required to provide it. If there’s too long a waiting period to see the school or district psychologist, you can provide an outside evaluation at your own expense. Contact me for recommendations. You should expect a 15-20 page-report specific to your child, and the psychologist should sit down and go over the report with you. I recommend that you take a friend with you to take notes as this can be at times an emotional meeting. It is best to share highlighted portions of the report with your child’s teacher. The teacher may be overwhelmed to read the report in its entirety, and if you highlight the key points that would help.

 

  • Put in the time in the beginning of the school year to introduce yourself to the teachers, specialists and psychologists who will be working with your child. Find out the best way to stay in touch with the teacher about your child: phone, email, in person?

 

  • Be assertive about your child’s needs, but also respectful of the teacher’s time and ask how you can be of assistance.

 

  • Advocate for multisensory education in your child’s classroom, additional time to complete tasks, and limited-timed tasks and projects broken down into chunks. Provide your child’s teacher with resources if he or she doesn’t know about multisensory education.

 

  • Remind your child to advocate for him/herself. By speaking up and getting needed help, other students in the class can benefit, too.

 

  • If you’re homeschooling, reach out to other homeschooling parents of kids with dyslexia to build a community of support.

 

  • Encourage your child to keep engaged in one activity that bolsters his or her confidence throughout the year. Do not overwhelm your child with too many activities but allow him/her to develop natural talents and interests

 

  • Continue to read aloud with your child every day! Alternate which of you reads aloud. If your child stumbles on a word, just provide the word with out ridicule or embarrassment.

 

  • Don’t hesitate to reach out to me with questions or for advice during the school year. 

For the Children by Rob Langston

$_35Today's book rec comes from Susie, who suggests that the beginning of the school year is always a great time to review your goals to work as a team with you child's teachers, school administrators, or IEP team members. There can be many barriers, but there can also be many successes. Clear communication, goals, and expectataions along with a positive outlook are keys to success. After all, everyone has the same goal: to get your child the best educational opportunities possible. To that end Rob Langston's For the Children: Redefining Success in School and Success in Life is worth taking a look at. With so many messages from schools, from home, from media, and from research, and from society in general, sometimes it's hard to know "how to be." The author's Amazon page notes, "In this book I tell you about my struggles and accomplishments as a child and an adult with Dyslexia, with the hope that it will give you the strength and encouragement to help yourself or a loved one. I strongly urge you to read this book and apply it to your life. Don't ever give up on your dreams and always believe in yourself." Read more here.

Two Books, Three Authors, Many Activities

Today we'd like to recommend two books that Susie finds helpful and often shares with others during her training prog51v+zpHZyuL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_rams. First, Creating Robust Vocabulary: Frequently Asked Questions & Extended Examples by Isabel L. Beck PhD, Margaret G. McKeown Phd, and Linda Kucan. Second, Bringing Words to Life, Second Edition: Robust Vocabulary Instruction by the same authors. Lead author Isabel Beck's bio reads impressively: "Isabel Beck, Ph.D., is a Professor of Education and Senior Scientist at the University of Pittsburgh, where she teaches reading education courses and conducts reading research. She has engaged in extensive research on decoding, vocabulary, and comprehension, and has published her work in over 100 articles and chapters as well as in several books. She is a recipient of the Oscar S. Causey Award for Outstanding research from the National Reading Conference and the International Reading Association’s William S. Gray Award for lifetime contributions to the field. She is also a recipient of the contributing researcher award from the American Federation of Teachers for "bridging the gap between research and practice.”

Beck is also the author of Text Talk, a multi-approach text-to-talk learning program for three different levels, sponsored by Scholastic. Enjoy these resources!

Sharon Hewitt's Success Story

The following is excerpted from this article in The Guardian. We love success stories! Sharon Hewitt, 50, left school with the words of a teacher “that if I worked really hard I might be able to get a job as a shop assistant” ringing in her ears. She was lucky, she says, to get a receptionist job in an estate agency and soon became a top-performing estate agent. Despite starting with little confidence, she realized that her ability to talk and listen, empathize with clients’ aims and discover what they really wanted from their house move gave her an edge. “It was the time when there were secretaries,” she says. “I could dictate all my letters, and delegate the things that were difficult.” So how has her dyslexia affected the way she runs the business? “I get people to speak to people, not focus on email,” she says. “Because I’m so concerned that my grammar and writing are poor l write really curt emails, so instead I always pick up the phone.”

For a company whose purpose is to grasp the holistic needs of its clients and their families, this focus on listening and understanding has been integral to its success. Hewitt was headhunted by Nationwide at a senior level, and by the end of her twenties was being employed specifically for her strategic and communication skills. On her return from maternity leave, she decided to go it alone. Her award-winning company, Chiltern Relocation, offers a bespoke employee relocation and home-finding service.

When the School Says No, How to Get the Yes! by Vaughn K Lauer

41gM4toigwL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_We're so excited about this new book rec find! From the Amazon book page: "When planning a child's Individualized Education Program (IEP), it is vital that parents and educators are involved in collaborative decision making. This book offers parents of children with autism and other disabilities a unique way of approaching and tackling the problems that can arise relating to the provision of special education services. Taking a structured, cooperative approach to IEPs, the easily applicable six question process enables parents to determine the needs of their child and obtain the services required by asking key questions during IEP meetings. Explaining the approach through real life scenarios and issues, this book demonstrates how to achieve effective collaboration with school personnel, ensuring the child receives the appropriate and necessary educational program and services. Providing a practical, structured approach to IEP planning for parents and offering insight into the parental perspective for educators, this book is an invaluable resource for anyone involved in IEP meetings."

Recipe for Reading by Nina Traub

UnknownNow in it's third edition, Nina Traub's Recipe for Reading is touted as a go-to, must-have guidebook for those interested in using sequential, multisensory teaching methods with early readers. It has been praised by adminstartors, homeschool parents, public and private school teachers, and more. And if the philosphy really strikes you, additional "workbooks" and guidebooks can be ordered to accompany the lessons suggested in the book itself. Happy reading!

"Teaching Children to Read" by Ted Hirsch

We recently came across the text for “Teaching Kids to Read” by Ted Hirsch and were moved to share an excerpt with our readers. In depth, passionate, and precise, this essay offers the former principal of South Shore Charter School’s insights after many years as a teacher, administrator, and advocate for all kinds of learning in Massachusetts. Diagnosed with dyslexia, Hirsh appears to have had a particular interest in formulating a curriculum at his school that worked for children of all learning styles and abilities. Here’s an excerpt from Hirsch’s chapter called “Benchmarks,” which we found unique and specific:

There are well-documented statistics showing huge discrepancies in the amount of time students spend reading. The publicly stated goal of having every child be an independent reader by the end of third grade is any elementary school’s most important job. Without this independence, children will not read enough to acquire the vocabulary necessary for sophisticated discourse. Listed below are a set of benchmarks children need to meet to attain reading independence by the end of third grade.

Kindergarten

To be able to auditorily blend and segment three-sound words and nonsense syllables. To know the sound/symbol correspondences for the five short vowels.

To know the sound/symbol correspondences for all single letter consonants except for “q” and “y.”

First Grade

To be able to auditorily blend and segment two- and three-syllable words and nonsense syllables.

To correctly hear and transcribe all of the basic code.

To know the sound/symbol correspondences for all digraphs.

To know the sound/symbol correspondences for e-controlled vowels. To correctly form all twenty-six letters.

To be able to read books of the level of the Little Bear series.

Second Grade

To be able to auditorily blend and segment a seven-word sentence.

To be able to distinguish all the phonemes of English and make correct transcriptions. To take dictation of any material from the basic code and punctuate it accurately.

To know the rules for the soft “c” and soft “g.”

To know the rule of doubling the consonant after the short vowels when adding suffixes. To spell regular past tense verbs.

To read aloud fluently and for understanding, making pauses and voice modulations which demonstrate the understanding of punctuation.

To be able to sub-vocalize when reading.

To be able to read books at the level of Tales That Julia Tells.

Third Grade

To understand and use the combinational and generative nature of words (root words, prefixes, suffixes).

To take dictation of seven-word sentences (with words from the truly English layer of the language, thus excluding words of Latin and Greek or other foreign language derivation that do not take on typical English endings).

To be able to read books like Stuart Little by E. B. White or Ramona by Beverly Cleary. To read text orally, with the rhythm of speech.

The Dyslexia Caucus

This press release was originally published on January 22, 2015. WASHINGTON, D.C. – The House Dyslexia Caucus today announced its 114th Congress leadership with Congresswoman Julia Brownley (D-Calif.) and Congressman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) serving as bipartisan co-chairs.

“I am delighted to welcome Congressman Smith, who has been a leader in Congress on this important issue, as Caucus co-chair,” said Brownley. “As the mother of a daughter with dyslexia, I understand all too well the challenges that these uniquely talented and gifted individuals face. By bringing together individuals with dyslexia, community advocates, scientists, educators, and policymakers, the Caucus can play an important role in raising awareness about dyslexia, which affects millions of Americans. I hope the Caucus can help ensure that dyslexia is better understood and earlier identified, so that students are provided the necessary resources and accommodations to reach their full potential.”

“I am pleased to lead this important caucus with my colleague, Congresswoman Brownley,” said Smith. “As a member of this caucus and chairman of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, I have realized the importance of continued dyslexia research as well as the need for early detection and intervention in our schools. My hope is that this caucus will continue to play a key role in educating our colleagues in Congress and the public about dyslexia. Changing the way we approach dyslexia – as possibility rather than disability – can enhance opportunities and brighten futures for millions.”

Dyslexia is the most common learning disability in the United States, impacting Americans from all walks of life at all ages, including Members of Congress, their families, and thousands of their constituents. As many as one in five Americans struggle with dyslexia or other learning disorders. According to a November 2011 Government Accountability Office report (GAO-12-40), many students with learning and other disabilities, including dyslexia, are not receiving accommodations, such as extended testing time, required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) when they take high stakes examinations such as the SAT, GRE, LSAT, or US Medical Licensing Examinations and others.

The Dyslexia Caucus was founded as a bipartisan task force dedicated to increasing public awareness about dyslexia and ensuring equal educational opportunities to students with the disorder.

Straight Talk About Reading by Moats & Hall

UnknownToday's book rec comes from Susie, whom you all know is a big believer in early intervention. While this book isn't designed specifically for children with dyslexia, it does detail accessible, easy-to-implement tips for basic reading and spelling skills that can compliment what your child experiences in school...and in some cases, may even help you identify early signs of dyslexia in your own child. From Amazon's book page"Today's parents are increasingly concerned about the reading and spelling skills taught in schools and are taking charge of their children's education. Full of ideas and suggestions­­--from innovative preschool exercises to techniques that older children can use to increase reading speed and comprehension--­­Straight Talk About Reading will instantly help any parent lay a solid foundation for their child's formative educational years."

And from a thoughtful reviewer: "In today's world, reading is an essential component in a very competitive, highly technological society. More and more parents should be making efforts to advocate for quality reading programs in their schools. This book by Hall and Moats is a comprehensive guide for parents about current researched based practices in teaching reading. Susan Hall has traveled the road as a parent of a child who had difficulty learning to read. Louis Moats, Ed.D has extensive experience in the field of reading as an educator, researcher, consultant and writer. The book has been divided into three parts: 1. Background Information - all the information you need to make informed judgments and decisions about your child's reading instruction, whole language vs. phonics. 2. What Parents Can Do To Help Their Child - numerous explicit activities and games to support you child's progress in reading. 3. When Reading is Difficult - discussion about disabilities vs. poor instruction; learning disabilities and dyslexia."

Different Learners by Jane M. Healy

timthumb.phpPart reference book, part testimonial, camp co-director Susie recommends the book Different Learners as a go-to guide for parents navigating the waters of a child's struggles in school. Whether social, classroom, or emotional differences arise, chances are good that author Jane M. Healy addresses them in her book. From the Amazon book page: "Today’s fast-paced, stressed-out culture is hazardous to growing minds, says Healy, and a growing 'epidemic' of children’s disorders is the result. Different Learners offers a complete program not only for treating the child, but also for making more beneficial lifestyle choices at home and improving teaching techniques at school. It shows parents and caregivers how to prevent some learning difficulties from ever happening in the first place. It explains how to have your child evaluated if necessary, and, if a problem is found, how to evaluate various treatments. Different Learners explains how medications for attention and learning work in the brain and why they should not be the first step in most treatment programs. It shows how schools can actually worsen a child’s learning difficulties and how to make sure this doesn’t happen to your child. It even offers a program for 'brain-cleaning' that will help any child perform better in school."

My Dyslexia by Philip Schultz

UnknownWe're especially excited about this book featuring dyslexia because it's written by a Pulitzer Prize winning poet. While all the parenting and teaching books we recommend are great resources, My Dyslexia is a memoir. In other words: sit back, relax, and enjoy this powerful, well-written story of one man's life with dyslexia and how, when his son was diagnosed, everything changed. From the Amazon author page: "Despite winning the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 2008, Philip Schultz could never shake the feeling of being exiled to the 'dummy class' in school, where he was largely ignored by his teachers and peers and not expected to succeed. Not until many years later, when his oldest son was diagnosed with dyslexia, did Schultz realize that he suffered from the same condition. In his moving memoir, Schultz traces his difficult childhood and his new understanding of his early years. In doing so, he shows how a boy who did not learn to read until he was eleven went on to become a prize-winning poet by sheer force of determination. His balancing act—life as a member of a family with not one but two dyslexics, countered by his intellectual and creative successes as a writer—reveals an inspiring story of the strengths of the human mind."

Thinking Differently: An Inspiring Guide for Parents of Children with LD

51Y67H4ZsZL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_We recently became aware of Thinking Differently: An Inspiring Guide for parents of Children with Learning Differences written by David Flink. David is both dyslexic and has ADHD, and tells a humorous, informative story in this Dyslexic Advantage video. He wants to change the message about learning differences so that people come to believe that the problem isn't "in" the child or adult who learns differently...rather, the child or adult holds a gift within. "Disability, or this ability," David often says. We're on board! From the Amazon summary page for David's book: "In Thinking Differently, David Flink, the leader of Eye to Eye—a national mentoring program for students with learning and attention issues—enlarges our understanding of the learning process and offers powerful, innovative strategies for parenting, teaching, and supporting the 20 percent of students with learning disabilities. An outstanding fighter who has helped thousands of children adapt to their specific learning issues, Flink understands the needs and experiences of these children first hand. He, too, has dyslexia and ADHD. Focusing on how to arm students who think and learn differently with essential skills, including meta-cognition and self-advocacy, Flink offers real, hard advice, providing the tools to address specific problems they face—from building self-esteem and reconstructing the learning environment, to getting proper diagnoses and discovering their inner gifts. With his easy, hands-on “Step-by-Step Launchpad to Empowerment,” parents can take immediate steps to improve their children’s lives. Thinking Differently is a brilliant, compassionate work, packed with essential insights and real-world applications indispensable for parents, educators, and other professional involved with children with learning disabilities."

Spatial Learning in the Elementary Years

This excerpt is copyrighted by American Educator and the full article and author info is linked at the bottom of the post. We found this points so helpful, we wanted to include them in summary on our blog: In the elementary school years, teachers need to supplement the kinds of activities appropriate for preschoolers with more focused instruction in spatial thinking. Playful learning of the sort that occurs in preschool can continue to some extent in elementary school; activities such as block building, gesturing, reading spatially challenging books, etc., continue to develop spatial skills in older children too. But as children get older, they can also benefit from more focused lessons. Mathematics is a central subject in which spatial thinking is needed, because space provides a concrete grounding for number ideas, as when we use a number line, use base-10 blocks, or represent multiplication as area. Here are some specific ideas for children in kindergarten through fifth grade:

  • Highlight spatial elements in mathematics lessons. Mea- surement, for example, can be difficult for children to master, especially when the object to be measured is not aligned with the end of a ruler. Children often make mis- takes such as counting hash marks beginning with 1, thus getting an answer that is one unit too many. When teach- ing measurement in the early grades, teachers can con- sider using a technique in which the unit between hash marks on a ruler is highlighted as the unit of measurement. As shown in the illustration below, children can work with small unit markers coordinated with larger pieces to highlight how to determine units.

ElementarySpatial

  • Add mapping skills, when possible, to geography lessons in the upper elementary grades. Some ideas can be found in Phil Gersmehl’s book, Teaching Geography, which is based in part on cognitive science.
  • Use well-crafted analogies so that comparisons will highlight essential similarities and differences. For example, students can compare diagrams of animal and plant cells to see similarities and differences.
  • Ask children in upper elementary and middle school to make sketches to elaborate on their understanding of topics such as states of matter, or force and motion. For example, they can be asked to draw water molecules in the form of ice, liquid, or vapor.
  • Suggest beneficial recreational activities, such as photography lessons (to develop a sense of shifting viewpoints and changes in scale), origami (to deepen their knowledge and skill in combining shapes) and JavaGami (software for creating polyhedra), and video games like Tetris.

(Nora S. Newcombe, published in American Educato, copyright 2010) Full article: http://www.aft.org//sites/default/files/periodicals/Newcombe_1.pdf

Spatial Learning for Preschoolers & Home Learning

This content is copyrighted to American Educator and is an excerpt from a longer work written by Nora S. Newcombe. We found it so compelling, we wanted to share, along with one more post on this theme to be released in a few days: Ways to fit spatial learning into the preschool or home learning environment:

  • Select spatially challenging books for young children. For example, Zoom is a book in which attention continually zooms in to finer and finer levels of detail. Verbal and gestural support for children in dealing with the book’s conceptual and graphic challenges is correlated with children’s scores on spatial tests.
  • Use odd-looking as well as standard examples when teaching the names of geometric shapes such as circle, square, and triangle (e.g., a tipped, skinny, scalene triangle as well as an equilateral triangle pointing up). Showing these kinds of shapes supports learning that triangles are any closed figure formed by three intersecting straight lines.
  • Encourage young children to gesture. Research has found that when children are asked whether two shapes can be fit together to make another shape, they do significantly better when encouraged to move their hands to indicate the movements that would be made in pushing the shapes together. Some children do this spontaneously, but children who do not will perform better when asked to gesture.
  • Ask children to imagine where things will go in simple “experiments.” For example, preschoolers are prone to think that droppedPresSchoolSpatial objects will appear directly below where they were released, even when they are dropped into a twisting tube with an exit point far away. But, when asked to visualize the path before responding, they do much better. Simply being asked to wait before answering does not help—visualization is key.
  • Do jigsaw puzzles with children; they have been found to predict good spatial thinking, especially when coupled with spatial language (e.g., Can you find all the pieces with a flat edge?). Similarly, play with blocks is a great activity in itself, and it increases use of spatial language.
  • Use maps and models of the world with children as young as 3.
  • Develop analogies to help young children learn scientific ideas, such as the principle of how a brace supports a building. Consider the two photos below. In the one on top, comparing the two structures is relatively easy because the only difference is whether the braces diagonal or horizontal, but on the bottom the comparison is more difficult because the two structures differ in several ways. When children shake these structures to see how much they wiggle, they are much more likely to conclude that a diagonal piece increases stability when interacting with the display on top.

 

 

New Study: Spatial Talent

Source: www.visualspatial.org A new study by Harrison Kell, David Lubinski, Camilla Benbow, and James Steiger published in Psychological Science has made the connection between early spatial talent and creativity in adult life even stronger. Here's an excerpt from the article in the New York Times:

"The researchers, from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, said their findings make a strong case for rewriting standardized tests like the SAT and ACT to focus more on spatial ability, to help identify children who excel in this area and foster their talents. 'Evidence has been mounting over several decades that spatial ability gives us something that we don’t capture with traditional measures used in educational selection,' said David Lubinski, the lead author of the study and a psychologist at Vanderbilt. 'We could be losing some modern-day Edisons and Fords.' Following up on a study from the 1970s, Dr. Lubinski and his colleagues tracked the professional progress of 563 students who had scored in the top 0.5 percent on the SAT 30 years ago, when they were 13. At the time, the students had also taken the Differential Aptitude Test. Years later, the children who had scored exceptionally high on the SAT also tended to be high achievers — not surprisingly — measured in terms of the scholarly papers they had published and patents that they held. But there was an even higher correlation with success among those who had also scored highest on the spatial relations test, which the researchers judged to be a critical diagnostic for achievement in technology, engineering, math and science."

Read the article in full here.

Deeper Learning: How 8 Innovative Public Schools Are Transforming Education in the 21st Century

41XdqWyJFLL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_We're pretty excited about a book published this spring by The New Press, called Deeper Learning and thought we'd offer the basic info here. From their website: "In Deeper Learning, education strategist Monica R. Martinez and sociologist Dennis McGrath take us inside eight schools that have set out to transform the experience of learning. In these schools, we meet teachers and students who show us just what 'Deeper Learning' looks like. The examples from these pages—from high school kids developing energy-saving solutions alongside engineers to young people discovering the complexities of sustainability on an oral history expedition to Appalachia—offer an inspiring and expanded vision of what’s possible in schools today. An accessibly written showcase of schools and practices designed to empower educators and students alike, here is a book for all who are concerned with the dual need for American schools to be genuinely innovative and to embrace what works. Deeper Learning demonstrates how students in their teen years can become passionate learners and global citizens ready to take on a world increasingly defined by new technologies, economic shifts, and profound social challenges."

For example, as the book states: "A particularly vivid example of putting students in the driver’s seat of their own education is the way they handle what traditional schools refer to as parent-teacher conferences. At these time-honored encounters, it’s not uncommon for students to stay home while the adults discuss their progress or lack thereof. At schools built on Deeper Learning principles, the meetings are often turned into student-led conferences, with students presenting their schoolwork, while their teachers, having helped them prepare, sit across the table, or even off to the side. The triad then sits together to review and discuss the work and the student’s progress. The message, once again, is that the students are responsible for their own success."

Back to School Book Recs (for parents)

Screen Shot 2014-07-21 at 4.27.52 PMMore than any other book about your rights, the rights of your child, and the roles of teachers and schools--this book, Tests & Assessments published by Wrightslaw--will get you through the ins and outs of the school year logistics. Susie recommends it highly. The founder of Wrightslaw, Pete Wright, even spent some time with us on the phone last year so that we could publish an interview with him on this blog. Learn more about his story from personal experience to Supreme Court by clicking the links. Pete's grandson also happened to go to camp this summer! View additional book recs and research articles here.

Jen on Summer Slide

Jen Ramming Today, we'd like to continue our discussion on summer slide. In addition to advice from Susie, we spoke with Jen Ramming, Director of OpenDoors of Asheville whom we partner with for trainings and scholarships. Jen had this to say about summer slide:

OpenDoors of Asheville works primarily with students from multigenerational poverty, but our support families and their children also struggle to avoid summer slide. Many parents, regardless of their tax bracket, have to work during summer while school is out, so they search for high quality enrichment programs that make the students' summer fun and memorable, while helping them use their hard-earned skills from the previous year and not fall behind.

Unfortunately, summer achievement loss is particularly evident in reading ability. While many students show some loss in reading skills over the summer months, low-income students, who often do not have access to books in the home, experience an average loss in reading achievement that outpaces their time spent out of school (Cooper, 1996). This is especially critical for rising third graders, as their window for learning to read proficiently is quickly closing. We find one antidote to this slide is for parents and mentors to find quiet time to read to children or listen to books on smart phones and other mobile devices.

We also find it imperative to provide camp opportunities where healthy peer relationships can flourish and academics are quietly woven into the day in a way that helps struggling learners find new reference points for their knowledge.

Most students also lose about two months of grade level equivalency in mathematical computation skills over the summer months, but more than half of the reading and math achievement gap between lower- and higher-income youth can be explained by unequal access to summer learning opportunities. As a result, low-income youth are less likely to graduate from high school or enter college (Alexander, et al, 2007). OpenDoors endeavors to find summer camps and enrichment activities for every child in order to allow kids to bloom all summer long, and come back to school in the fall ahead of where they left off.

Doesn't this continued investment in children, year round, make sense to all of us?

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.

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.