Inspiring People

Meet the Counselors: Beth Revuelta

Each year, our campers look forward to finding out more about the awesome staff they’ll get to meet over the summer. We now have a full staff of counselors on board and we’re excited to introduce you to our first girls’ counselor: Beth Revuelta! This outgoing, red-haired Scotswoman is excited to share her experiences, enthusiasm and Scottish accent with our campers. Not only is she adventurous, fun-loving and a ceilidh dancer (Scottish dancing), she’s also dyslexic! We know that our campers will be in good hands with Beth, but they’ll also be inspired by her! Beth tells us a little about herself below. Please join us in welcoming Beth to the Camp Spring Creek family!

Beth and her mum, braving the elements!

Beth and her mum, braving the elements!

What made you interested in working at Camp Spring Creek?

Dyslexia is a big part of my identity and has had a huge role in shaping who I am as a person! Working at this camp is the step in the right direction for me. I’m interested in working in this area in the future because I feel dyslexic people have a lot of hidden potential! If we support dyslexic people in discovering and mobilizing all these hidden strengths the world could be a very different place!  

Have you worked at a camp or with kids before? 

Scotland doesn’t have the same summer camp culture as North America–probably because it’s too cold! So I have never worked at camp before but have plenty experience with children! I am a Girl Guide (Scout) leader, I used to be a volunteer leader at a deaf youth club and a disabled children’s play program. I am a Saltire Awards Ambassador, helping young people getting into volunteering and I was a part of the team rolling out our Toddler Festival at my work. 

What were you like as a child? Did you attend camp yourself? 

I did go to some international jamborees with my Girl Guides, one in the Queen’s garden at Windsor Palace-some of the best holidays of my life! 

I was energetic, out-going, and unique or “ploughed my own furrow” as my mum likes to say! I loved making friends and drama/acting (which turned out very important for my future!). I was a late bloomer, the difficulties with my dyslexia were very prominent–I couldn’t read the time till I was 14 and didn’t learn to spell my full name till last year! (Beth Siobhan Revuelta!) But I’ve came into my own in high school and adulthood! 

What do you do during the school year? 

I work at a tourist attraction in Edinburgh called Camera Obscura and World of illusions. It’s a museum of optical illusions. I like to watch people get lost in the mirror maze and zap each other with the plasma balls! The top of the building is a ginormous Victorian Periscope Camera Obscura that is 165 years old. I show people how this works and give them a tour of Edinburgh using it.

What passion of yours are you excited to share with campers? 

I really love acting, improvisation and theater, so hopefully I can play some imrpov games and get some acting workshops going! 

 What’s your favourite group game/activity/sport?

I love ceilidh dancing! It’s a traditional type of Scottish dancing that is usually danced in pairs or groups. It has lots of spinning and fast music!

What do you like to do during your free time? 

I am in a gospel choir. I love going to the theater and acting, often in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival! I enjoy practicing my British Sign Language skills with my deaf friends and doing yoga (mainly for good mental health!).

What advice can you give to campers about being away from home/being successful at camp? 

It’s alright to be scared, upset, or worried about being away! All of us feel that, including us adults. Please come chat with us. We’re here to listen not judge!

 I usually try to focus on the people and environment directly around me and throwing myself into the activities or helping others. That way, my worries will slowly go away.

What do you hope to get out of your summer at camp? 

I hope to pass on some things I have learned being a dyslexic that I wish I had known when I was younger, such as, you are intelligent! I hope to learn a bit more about how to teach dyslexic people and how education and dyslexia interact. I’m excited for doing outside activities and learning some more outdoor skills!


Meet the Tutor: Donna McCourry


Donna McCourry has been teaching in Mitchell County schools for 26 years. Although she has taught at levels from kindergarten to high school, she's currently a sixth-grade language arts teacher at Bowman Middle School in Bakersville. When she heard that Susie was offering a Classroom Educator Orton-Gillingham course, she jumped at the chance to take it. The approach she learned was beneficial not just to her students with learning difficulties, but to all her students. 

Tutoring this summer, she says she has appreciated the opportunity to work one-on-one with students. The individual attention she's able to give students means that she can diagnose their exact difficulties and tailor her instruction to meet those needs. She has been amazed at the progress her students have made. One of her most memorable moments at camp was when one of her students became confident enough with her cursive writing to switch from using a pencil to using a pen. 

Along with Donna, her son Connor (seen below) has accompanied her to camp this summer, taking part in activities such as woodshop and swimming. While Connor doesn't have dyslexia, he says that he's learned a lot about language learning that's helpful to him, too. 


Meet the Tutor: Lynne Huskins


In her forty years teaching in Mitchell County (NC) Schools, Lynne Huskins noticed that “so many kids needed something different than what we offered” in order to be successful readers. Four years ago, when she heard that Susie was offering an Orton-Gillingham Classroom Educator course for local teachers, she thought it might be just what her students did need. It was late in her career, she says, and she wondered if it was too late. But in the end, she decided to do it. “I’ve never been sorry,” she says. After her O-G training, she says, “my students’ test scores skyrocketed.”

Although she began as a resource teacher, has a special ed certification, and taught third grade briefly, Lynne spent most of her time in kindergarten, reaching children just when they were starting out. Even at that young age, she was able to recognize when students were likely to have reading difficulties. With early intervention, she says, students have “a much better chance” of being able to read.

Since being at camp, she has loved the opportunity to work one-on-one with students on their individual needs. There’s “so much growth” over the course of one month, and for the students who are able to stay longer, the extra two weeks “makes all the difference in the world,” she says.

In addition to the gratifying experience of helping students make so much progress, Lynne has enjoyed the opportunity to meet “so many interesting people” from around the world, both the students and staff. “And you can’t beat the view,” she says about the mountain vista outside her tutoring room.

Now that she’s retired, Lynne plans to bring her O-G skills to Gouge Elementary (where she used to teach) as a tutor during the school year. And she plans to come back to camp next year!


Thank You, Tutors, for a Job Well Done!


This past weekend, we said goodbye to two tutors who were with us for the first four-week session. We want to take a moment to appreciate these wonderful educators and the work they did at camp this summer. Here's a little bit more about Jeanine Axelrod (above, left) and Mandy Pennington (above, right). Thanks for a job well done! 

Jeanine Axelrod

Jeanine came to us from Grand Rapids, Michigan, where she has worked in the Forest Hills school district for 15 years, first as a reading consultant, special ed teacher, and gifted teacher, and now in special ed.

As a undergraduate student, Jeanine studied learning disabilities and speech pathology. Through her education, she developed an interest in diagnostics, working in a clinical setting during graduate school. After getting her master’s, Jeanine pursued Orton-Gillingham training on her own. “The brain, learning, and kids” have always been central to career. Working in school settings, Jeanine has been able to put her diagnostic experience to good use.

Jeanine found out about Camp Spring Creek through one of her students, who attended camp this summer. She appreciates the emphasis on teamwork and the high standards at camp. “It’s a community of educators,” she says. There’s a “synergy” here that comes from being away from the distraction of day-to-day life, and that benefits students as well as teachers. Her students, she says, were really hard-working and always tried to challenge themselves each day. Jeanine says she loves how Camp Spring Creek emphasizes not only helping each student not only to read but to become “a well rounded person.”

“It’s an amazing camp,” says Jeanine. “I feel blessed, privileged and honored to be a part of it.”

Mandy Pennington

Mandy joined us this summer from Augusta, Georgia. During the school year, she is an ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorders) teacher.

When her son was six, Mandy realized he was having real trouble with reading. At the time her family was living in Germany and she couldn’t find the help he needed. “I was a special ed teacher, but I couldn’t help my son,” she says. After doing some research, she found an Orton-Gillingham course she could complete online. Upon moving back to the States, she completed trainings in Atlanta and at Camp Spring Creek.

Beyond helping her son, it’s especially important to Mandy to help other children with dyslexia, many of whom are underserved in their schools. She tutors students after school and will continue to do so next school year.

At camp this summer, Mandy appreciated the opportunity in her tutoring to “focus on all the parts of Orton-Gillingham,” from spelling to syllable types. Unlike tutoring during the school year (when students arrive after school hungry, tired, and unable to focus), campers are away from distraction and really able to put their energy into learning. Using “the Susie method,” she says, it’s possible to work on "everything at once and get it all done within an hour." Mandy was impressed with the tremendous progress her students were able to make during the summer. And so were we!

VIP Guests at Camp

If you had (or were) a camper at Camp Spring Creek during the summer of 2014 or 2015, you will remember Jeppe Bjerg Thanning, our counselor from Denmark. For the past few days, Jeppe has returned to camp as a VIP guest, along with his girlfriend Pernille Bavnsgaard Jensen. The two are on an East Coast trip to the US which has also included a stay in Boston. 

Jeppe is a student at Aalborg University, where he studies Political Science and has one year left in school. 

Jeppe's best memories of camp include overnight hiking on the Appalachian Trail and just the wonderful community feeling at camp. One of the highlights, though, came at Christmas after working at camp. "Suddenly, I got 15 Christmas cards!" he says. Jeppe won't claim to have a favorite camper, though. "They all have their own unique charm," he says. 

When we say that camp is a family, we really mean it. We are always happy to have former campers and counselors come visit. Welcome back, Jeppe! 

Jeppe during that awesome overnight hike in 2015!

Jeppe during that awesome overnight hike in 2015!

Meet the Staff: Mark Peters

When we ask campers about their favorite things at camp, they invariably mention woodshop. The woodshop is a place where campers can explore their creative sides, gain new skills and confidence, and express themselves. But one of the biggest reasons it's so popular is the woodshop teacher: Mark Peters. Mark has a way of putting campers at ease and making them comfortable enough to try new things. While he's a talented educator, he's also a highly-regarded ceramic artist in our region. Mark's Pine Root Pottery blends traditional wood-fired techniques and salt glazes with contemporary and Japanese-inspired forms to create a look that's both graceful and dynamic. We asked Mark to tell us a little more about what makes him keep coming back to Camp Spring Creek's woodshop summer after summer. 


How did you first meet the van der Vorsts and start working at camp?

I've known Steve and Susie for about fifteen years. Our kids went to the Spruce Pine Montessori school together. It was a small school and the parents were very involved. At that time Camp Spring Creek was in its infancy. 

I first worked at the camp as an art instructor for two weeks. It was fun, but two weeks didn't seem like enough time to get to know the campers. About five or six years ago, I was visiting the van der Vorst's and Steve floated the idea of me teaching woodshop. It sounded like a good idea. Steve had always taught woodshop, but he thought maybe he should be free to tend to camp business. I thought it would be fun to be more involved and to stay with the campers for all eight weeks. I've been the full-time woodshop teacher since then.

How is your experience in the woodshop different from your work as a potter? 

Woodworking is not my main focus, but I've been around a woodshop all my life. My father taught me the basics and I've picked up a lot on my own. More recently, I've taught at Appalachian State University as a 3D-design instructor, which includes teaching introductory woodshop to college students. 

What do you like most about working at camp? 

The thing I like most about working at Camp Spring Creek is witnessing the joy and sense of accomplishment that the campers have when they have done something that they never knew they could do. I see that not only in the woodshop but in every other part of our camp. I love seeing that and that is why I keep coming back. 

Mark working with campers in woodshop.

Mark working with campers in woodshop.

Below are some the examples of the exquisite work Mark creates through his business Pine Root Pottery. Check out more of it on his business Facebook page


Meet the Counselor: Alexis Fillgraff

Adventurer, world traveler and au pair extrodinaire, Alexis Fillgraff has no shortage of experiences to share with campers this summer. He has taught French and skiing and has volunteered to captain our new motorboat on waterskiing excursions. We are sure that Alexis is going to be a great addition to our summer staff. Read more about him here!


Tell us a little bit about the place where you grew up. 

I grew up in the town of Cagnes-sur-Mer in the South of France, known for its racecourse, but especially in a small part of this city, named Cros de Cagnes, which was an old fishing village.

What do you do during the school year? 

I decided to temporarily stop my undergraduate studies to devote myself to working with children. Last year, I spent a year in Southport, Australia, where I studied English for six months at a school and then stayed six months more as au pair for an Australian family in Sydney. Returning to France, since the beginning of the year, I have worked as a ski instructor at the Auron Departmental Snow School. I also worked with foreign children who wish to learn French.

What were you like when you were a child? 

I asked my father to answer this question. He told me that I was calm, wise, and easy going.

 How would your friends describe your personality? 

My childhood friends say that I am someone serious, especially for my age, always polite, dynamic and sporty, available and open to others, someone you can trust.

What do you like to do in your free time? 

I like to do several sports activities such as swimming, skiing, karate, football, ping-pong, cycling and a regular workout in the gym.

I like hanging out with my friends, going to the movies, bowling, hiking and traveling (apart from Australia, I've been to Spain, Germany, Sardinia, England and Italy).

What’s something campers would be surprised to find out about you? 

That I can drive the boat when they go water skiing.

What’s a game or skill you’re excited about sharing with campers this summer?

I can introduce them to karate or football.

What can campers do to make you smile? What should they avoid doing around you? 

I  think if you are open minded and always have a positive attitude you can easily make me smile. It's best to avoid lying and disrespecting the other campers.

What is your favorite outdoor activity?

My favourite outdoor activity is football because I use to play a lot in my country.

What advice can give to campers to have a great summer away from home? 

My advice is to enjoy every moments at camp,  take advantage of the unique experiences available to them in tutoring and sports, and don’t be afraid to try new things. Always be curious.

What are your hopes for this summer? 

I hope that I can help campers have some unbelievable memories and contribute to them having a great time.




Meet the Tutor: Kylie McKinney

While we have tutors and staff from around the world, we're very fortunate at Camp Spring Creek to draw a lot of talent from our local community. This summer, Western North Carolina native Kylie McKinney will join us as a tutor. A third-grade teacher in McDowell County, Kylie discovered Orton-Gillingham in her quest to find the best way to help struggling students in her classroom. We're thrilled that our campers will have the opportunity to learn from this dedicated educator this summer! Kylie tells us a little more about her journey to working at camp below. 


What made you want to become a teacher? 

For 18 years of my life, I swore that I would never become a teacher. I am not sure what changed, but I am finishing my seventh year teaching. I would say that there are several teachers who influenced my life. Their love for students and dedication to education continues to impact my life today. I chose teaching because I wanted to share the opportunities and support that I received with other children. That's my goal: to give every child my very best effort and my love.  

How did you find out about Orton-Gillingham training? 

I met the Van der Vorsts several years ago at our local gymnastics gym. I didn't know much about Camp Spring Creek, but I did know that they helped children who were dyslexic. Ten years later, I had a few children in my third-grade classroom who had shown little to no growth in reading since starting kindergarten. I desperately wanted these kids to learn how to read before leaving third grade. I began researching how to help children with severe reading disabilities. I was constantly finding research that said I should be using the OG approach, but I had no clue what that meant. I was able to attend a talk hosted by Camp Spring Creek. After hearing Diana and Susie speak, I became even more eager to get OG training. I feel very blessed to have Susie and Camp Spring Creek so close to my home and the school where I teach.  

Can you tell us about some/one of the great results you had (or one memorable story) using OG with students? 

I started training in the Fall of 2017 and I was able to begin using it in my classroom in November and December.  My first great experience was having three kids accurately identify the letters B and D after struggling with this since kindergarten. They would approach administration and staff and say "Will you come to my class and watch me use the B/D drill?" They felt so successful! It was very rewarding to witness this. I would say every kid in third grade benefited from OG training and I have seen tremendous growth overall this year.  

What do you love about working one-on-one with a student rather than in  a classroom? 

I haven't had the opportunity to work one-on-one yet, but I already think I will love it. I am used to balancing the academic progress and needs of many kids and now I can focus one kid at a time.  

What's something campers will be surprised to learn about you? 

My sister and I look very different and are almost complete opposites. We never fought growing up. I think we balanced each other out.  

What  are your hobbies or special interests? 

I love living in Western North Carolina and enjoying the mountains and nature. On pretty days, I want to be outside hiking or in the water if it is warm enough. I also love to be with my family.  My nephew Eli is eight and my niece Emmie is six. I love to spend time with them.  

What are your favorite books for kids? 

Wow, there are so many to choose from. I read aloud to my school kids everyda. I think our favorites are Roald Dahl books. My students become so iinvolved in the story and love to talk about it with me and their peers. It is one of my favorite things about teaching.  

What are your hopes for this summer?

I am so excited to work at camp this summer. I hope that I become a better OG tutor and I´m eager to get to know the campers!


Meet the Counselors: Colin Foley

Below, left is a picture of camper Colin Foley with Olson van der Vorst. On the right is Colin Foley, college student and future Camp Spring Creek counselor. We're excited to welcome Colin back to camp this summer and we know his experience as a former camper will be invaluable. We asked Colin to share a few camp memories and hopes for this summer, below. 

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What are your best memories from your time at camp?

Probably the trips or creek hikes that we went on. Not to say there were bad memories, but those ones are the best! 

What do you remember about the counselors at camp? 

I remember how cool it was to have counselors from all over the world and get to learn from them how they live in other places.

How do you think you'll be the same (or different) from your counselors? 

I will try to always have fun or a good time, but at the same time make sure we follow the rules of what we can and can not do while at camp.

What is something you're excited to share with campers this summer? 

I'm probably most excited to give campers some of the amazing experiences I got to have as a kid that helped make me into who I am today.

What would campers be surprised to learn about you? 

Um...that I drive a really old car: a 1987 BMW, but love this car!

What should camper do to stay on your good side? What should they avoid doing?  

To be on my good side, just always have a good attitude with me and be honest.

What advice can you give campers about having a great summer?  

Just say yes to every opportunity even if it is a little out of your comfort zone. It could be what changes your whole view of things. For me that was the zipline. I hated heights when I got to camp, but now love doing zipline stuff when I get the opportunity.

What are your hopes for this summer?

I hope to have a good time and give campers some amazing memories.

Meet the Counselor: Abby Edwards

This summer, we continue our wonderful tradition of Camp Spring Creek ties with Australia! Along with counselor Luke Kaldas and tutor Renya Seelig, counselor Abby Edwards will be joining us from Down Under! Counseling is a perfect role for Abby, who has a background in social work and friends describe as patient and empathetic. But she's also an avid hiker. We are sure she will fit right in at camp!


Tell us a little bit about the place where you grew up.

I grew up in the Adelaide Hills in South Australia where there is a lot of bushland. As a kid, I grew up on some property with pet cows, chickens, dogs, a goat and some sheep. I spent a lot of my time playing outside with my two older brothers.

What do you do during the school year?

For the past four years during the school year, I had been studying my Bachelor of Social Work, I graduated this last year. This year I have been working as a Person-Centred Support Worker within the disability and mental health sectors.

Have you worked with children before?

Yes, I have worked with children during my studies through work experience and placements. As a teenager, I also did babysitting and grew up taking care of and spending time with my many younger cousins.

What were you like when you were a child?

I asked my family to answer this one for me. They said I was easy going and a bit of a tom boy as I grew up hanging around my brothers and their friends. They also said that they had a very hard time getting me out of bed in the mornings but luckily since then this has changed, and I have turned into an early bird.

How would your friends describe your personality?

I asked my best friend of 18 years to answer this one and she said, “I would say empathetic, compassionate, dry sense of humour, attentive listener, good communicator, creative and artistic, comfortable within yourself, intuitive and physically fit and active and motivated.”

What do you like to do in your free time?

I really enjoy working out, getting artistic: mostly painting with watercolours, reading books, getting out in nature, playing with my dogs, and spending time with my friends and family.

What’s something campers would be surprised to find out about you?

Maybe that I’m a vegetarian and I can do the splits.

What’s a special game or skill you’re excited about sharing with campers this summer?

I’m excited to use my Social Work skills and be active with the kids.

What can campers do to make you smile? What should they avoid doing around you?

If the campers are enjoying themselves and having a good time and I can’t really think of something they should avoid doing around me as I am a patient person.

What is your favourite outdoor activity?

I like hiking and walking outdoors and enjoy doing this in bushland around my house.

What advice can give to campers to have a great summer away from home?

To try and make the most out of camp and to get out of your comfort zone and try new things.

What are your hopes for this summer?

To help the campers make progress and reach their goals and to have a lot of fun.


Meet the Tutor: Susan Nolan


Over 30 years ago, while teaching first grade, Susan Nolan encountered a student whose verbal intelligence was "off the charts," but who struggled with reading. His mother arranged for Susan to tutor him after school for several years, but, she says, she saw frustratingly little progress. When the student was finally tested and diagnosed with dyslexia, the child’s mother offered to help pay for Susan to attend an Orton-Gillingham training during the summer. It was “transformational,” she says. “Not only for him but for me.” She wondered why she had never been taught how to teach this way before. Not long after that, she began coaching each summer for an accredited Orton-Gillingham Training Program offered through the Scottish-Rite Children’s Dyslexia Center and Miami University of Ohio.

 She later pursued her masters in Reading Education and after that, a Ph.D. in Reading and Language Arts from Ohio University, where she is now an Associate Lecturer in Teacher Education. In addition to teaching, Susan works with local school districts on developing professional development opportunities for teachers.

Through the years, as she has continued to pursue higher levels of Orton-Gillingham certification, Susan has regularly attended Academy of Orton-Gillingham Practitioners and Trainers conferences. It was at the annual conference in 2017 that Susan met Susie and tutor Renya Seelig and first learned about Camp Spring Creek.

“I was so intrigued,” says Susan. The international character of the campers and the counselors, the mix of tutoring and enriching activities: “The more Susie talked about it, the more I knew I had to come visit.” Because it was a bit different than the training she received, she was curious about the way O-G was implemented at camp.

Fate intervened, and before even seeing camp for the first time, Susan had agreed to come tutor for the summer. The experience she says “broadened my perspective on how you can implement O-G in different ways and in different settings and still see progress.” The experience of tutoring at camp in the summer of 2017 also supplied her with new strategies to bring back to her university students.

But by far the most rewarding part of the experience, she says, was working with the campers: “There’s a unique bond created in working with the kids day after day,” dining with them and seeing them outside of the tutoring setting. She was impressed with “the degree of confidence” the campers took away from camp. “They have an hour of tutoring and an hour of study hall each day and in between, swimming, woodshop, and day trips that add to their self-edification. They bring that back to their tutoring the next day,” she adds, continually facing new challenges and mastering them. Being engaged in camp life round the clock, says Susan was “the hardest fun I’ve ever had.”

Thankfully, she’s agreed to return this year for another summer and we know there are campers who are looking forward to seeing her again. Outstanding educators like Susan are part of what makes Camp Spring Creek so special! 


Meet the Tutor: Jennifer Baughman


A passion for education is something that runs in Jennifer Baughman's family. Her husband Steve is an educator, too and both of them will be joining us at camp this summer! But along with her serious side, Jennifer has a spirit of adventure. We've got a feeling she'll fit right in at CSC! We asked Jennifer to tell us a little more about herself here: 

Where are you from and what do you do during the school year? 

 I am from Rock Hill, South Carolina. During the school year, I teach high school English at an alternative high school. I teach students who have been removed from their schools for behavior reasons.   

What inspired you to learn the Orton-Gillingham approach? 

My main inspiration has really been my husband, Steve. He has been working with O-G materials for several years now, and his enthusiasm has transferred to me. 

What are some of your most memorable moments as a teacher? 

There have been so many times. Perhaps one of the most rewarding was when South Carolina required an exit exam, and I worked with students who had finished the class requirements but not the exit exam requirement to graduate from high school. Every student that I worked with passed their exit exams. Several students that I worked with had learning disabilities which made the test very difficult. One student, David, worked so hard and struggled so much. He worked full time during the day and worked with me during an evening class time. His original score was very low, but he passed and we were both so happy.     

What made you want to work at camp this summer?                    

I love to see students excited about what they are learning and for them to see and feel success in what they are doing.

What can campers do to make you smile? 

Just going on the journey of learning with each student will bring me joy.    

What is something campers would be surprised to learn about you? 

I am a quiet person, so I think people are surprised at my adventurous side. I have been rappelling and spelunking. I'd love to go skydiving, but haven't been yet.  

What are your hopes for this summer? 

I hope this summer to make a difference for campers and to help them gain the confidence they need to succeed.


Meet the Counselors: Bradley Stitt


Counselor-to-be Bradley Stitt joins us from the banks of the Mersey: Liverpool, home of the Beatles, Liverpool F.C., and so much more! A traveler, adventurer, footballer, and mountain bike enthusiast, we have a feeling Bradley will find plenty to enjoy in Western North Carolina! We asked him to share more about himself here. 

Tell us a little bit about the place where you grew up.

I grew up and still live in Liverpool in the North of England. It's quite a big city with lots of activists to do and see but mostly famous for its two football teams and home of The Beatles!

What do you do during the school year?

I'm still at school! I'm studying for an Engineering masters degree all year round before having the summer off, but I'm due to finish this May before I come to camp.

Have you worked with children before?

I have always been the older cousin to the children in my family and always have had great fun looking after them! Other than that, I have had one job working at a space-themed activity center where I would run activities for children and school groups. This was great fun and I can only imagine the experience will be better on camp.

What were you like when you were a child?

Surprisingly, I was always a goody two-shoes as a child! I would always follow the rules and well behaved. However that didn't stop me from being adventurous and getting stuck in when it come to meeting other children and play parks!

How would your friends describe your personality?

I always seem to make my friends laugh, I am the wise one in my friendship group who everyone comes to for advice! Especially when it comes to rounding everyone up for an adventure!

What do you like to do in your free time?

In my free time, I love to just relax and take my mind off work and my studying. Going out with friends either to somewhere like the cinema or outdoors like mountain biking is always a good idea in my book!

What’s something campers would be surprised to find out about you?

For a short while, I was part of the British military, but this means I have a few unique camping skills that I hope to teach!

What’s a special game or skill you’re excited about sharing with campers this summer?

It has to be football (soccer). It's a game that can be shared regardless of ability or age. There are lots of different games and activists I can do with the campers involving a football that I use to love as a child and I can't wait!

What can campers do to make you smile? What should they avoid doing around you?

You'll defiantly get on my good side if you involve everyone in the actives and have a buzz of happiness about you! Avoid any bullying or nastiness and I'm sure I'll get along just fine with all of the campers!

What is your favorite outdoor activity?

Defiantly mountain biking, I love the technical ability and speed that I am able to generate when I am riding!

What advice can give to campers to have a great summer away from home?

Like me, just get stuck in and enjoy yourself! It's going to be an amazing summer so try everything and meet new people!

What are your hopes for this summer?

My hopes are to just have a once in a lifetime summer at Camp Spring Creek! Meet new people and try stuff I never thought I would! I'm prepared for an amazing summer!

Teacher Brings O-G Training To Her Students at McDowell Tech

Bridget Burnette had no idea what she was getting into when her supervisor at McDowell 2015062795174248-1Technical Community College told her he had signed her up for Orton Gillingham Associate Level training with Susie van der Vorst. As she began looking through the training materials that had been forwarded her way, the English Language Learner teacher, who had recently been asked to take on GED classes as well, felt clearer. “When I took a look at the notebook we’d be working from, I was overwhelmed,” Bridget says. “Once we got started, though, I realized every teacher and every student should have this understanding of language.”

A new light flipped on for Bridget as she learned syllable division, spelling patterns and the breakdown of letter sounds. “Growing up,” she says, I could spell because I was good at memorization, not because I understood how words were spelled.

Part of what she has learned, too, is how to recognize learning differences, which she believes will allow her to meet individual student needs better. “Some of my students left school when they were young and started working. I have some students who read at only a fourth grade level. I believe having an understanding of things such as why words are spelled the way they are will be particularly helpful to my students as they learn new words and continue their education.”

An unexpected gift was the development of new empathy for her dyslexic brother as she watched her dyslexic training partner struggle through some of the lessons. “I watched him struggle growing up. At school, he was put in a slower learning group. So many people mistreated him because they thought he was dumb.”

Bridget knows nothing could be further from the truth. “He’s very intelligent, artistic and loves to see how things work.  I told him what I’m doing and he was interested in learning more, which is exciting to me.”

Since finishing the class, Bridget feels better equipped to teach. “I’m currently teaching phonics to my ESL students who are new to the English language. I want them to learn the correct way and help them understand the why’s behind our language. I also plan to use Orton-Gillingham with my other classes, whether dyslexia is the issue or not. I believe this multisensory approach is a great way to learn.”

She also believes it’s a good tool for her own future studies. “I want to take the GRE to go to grad school and I’m certain this training will help me have a better understanding when it comes to the vocabulary words I’ll encounter. I’m excited about the possibilities.”


Teacher Uses O-G to Reach New Heights with Students

profile picScott Fisher’s enthusiasm is contagious. "The thing I love most about teaching is that moment of discovery, when children make connections and their little brains explode," says Scott, who teaches kindergarten at Asheville’s Isaac Dixon Elementary. "You can see it in their faces.  It's priceless." Scott also believes the Orton-Gillingham (O-G) training he recently went through is priceless. "O-G training has had a huge impact on my understanding of both the English language and developmentally appropriate teaching practices for reading and writing."

On one hand, Scott uses it in the classroom in his small group work. "I’ve also been incorporating O-G principles and activities into my whole-class Fundations curriculum, which covers phonics and language development. I’ve got a much stronger grasp on the spelling patterns of our language, which makes me better prepared to answer students’ questions. O-G supplements make my lessons much more enjoyable for students."

He’s seen the O-G approach impact non-dyslexic students as well. "So far, the O-G additions I’ve made have really hit home with my high flyers who were sometimes bored with whole-class phonics instruction. I simply slip slightly more advanced rules and patterns to those students who are ready, while reinforcing basic phonetic instruction for the entire class."

All students seem to appreciate Scott’s daily warmup. "In our Fundations curriculum, we warm up daily with drill sounds, repeating the letter name and keyword and sound of many letters (it sounds like "K, kite, /k/!"),” he says. "Because O-G is a multisensory approach, our trainer and O-G Fellow Susie van der Vorst recommended I added a tactile element to the drill.  Now my children are all repeating the drills while simultaneously using two fingers to trace the letter on the carpet.  They are engaging their visual, auditory and kinesthetic/tactile senses, strengthening the pathway to the brain."

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Incorporating the O-G approach in the primary grades is critical according to Scott. “Everything about a student’s career hinges on those first few years."

Scott is thankful to OpenDoors of Asheville for inviting him to participate in O-G training. "For people like me, with a huge curiosity and thirst for understanding, it’s been a very rewarding experience. In my mind, every teacher should be given the option to learn the O-G approach."



OpenDoors Uses O-G Approach as Tool to Help Children Rise Above Poverty

Jen_3 Jen Ramming had no idea that volunteering in a third grade classroom would change her life. “The dynamics fascinated me,” she recalls. “I asked the teacher what I could do to help. One day, she asked me to take three boys, who were disruptive, out of the classroom. We went to the library for books and curled up in the hallway where we took turns reading. Although I realized they were clearly bright and capable, not a single one of these young boys, whose lives had been touched by multi-generational poverty, knew more than five words by sight. One knew the alphabet, but not the sounds. They were learning to read while other kids were reading to learn.”

Before long, Jen had taken one of the boys under her wing, signing him up to play soccer on her son’s team. Knowing his family’s precarious situation, she made sure Jamer always had enough to eat, and went out of her way to pick him up for games. “The soccer team embraced this young man and his family, offering rides, taking him on family outings and even vacations. Essentially, we became extended family.

Other children followed suit. “Suddenly, there were nine boys and girls, each from a family dealing with the challenges of multi-generational poverty. We were opening doors and the kids were walking through. I felt like we had something going that was replicable for other children.”

From that germ of an idea, Jen helped create a board of directors with a group of concerned parents and professionals from varied fields. Together, they founded OpenDoors of Asheville  to help local children reach their potential through individualized networks of support and a images[1]host of educational and enrichment opportunities. These opportunities, which range from tutoring to summer camp, are designed to help children begin to invest in themselves and ultimately break the cycle of multi-generational poverty. Jen is proud to serve as the organization’s executive director.

Having spent time observing Jamer, Jen’s friend Dr. Marcy Sirkin, who owns Arden Reading Clinic North, had a gut feeling he was dyslexic. She then asked colleague Dr. Deirdre Christy to evaluate him. As suspected, Dr. Christy confirmed he was bright and profoundly dyslexic.

With that knowledge in hand, Jen began learning about Individualized Education Plans (IEP) and how to navigate the system and advocate for him. “It didn’t take me long to realize how overlooked and underserved this child had been.”

With Jamer already so far behind in reading, Jen knew a remediation plan had to be put in place. Based on research and conversations with Dr. Sirkin, she believed the most effective solution would be to access an experienced Orton-Gillingham (O-G) tutor.

Jen likes to say she became an O-G groupie when she saw Jamer’s progress. “In one year, he jumped two full grade levels in reading. By the time he was in 8th grade, and being exclusively homeschooled in Orton, he was getting the equivalent of A’s and B’s. If you give children the tools, they become readers who want to learn.”

Jamer’s progress clearly illustrated the benefits of O-G’s multi-sensory approach to teaching reading and writing. Knowing O-G would help OpenDoors children achieve significant gains, the organization began laying the groundwork to fund teacher training within the Asheville City School District that served her young clients.

Drawing on general operating funds, OpenDoors hired O-G Fellow and Camp Spring Creek Co-Founder Susie van der Vorst to train a hand-picked group of Asheville City Schools’ teachers, Since then, OpenDoors has shared the training expenses with Asheville City Schools in addition to securing grants such as the Community Foundation of Western North Carolina “People in Need” grant.

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Asheville City Schools Teacher Scott Fisher is grateful to OpenDoors for helping him open a door of his own. “O-G training has had a huge impact on my understanding of the English language, and on developmentally appropriate practices for reading and writing. I now have a much stronger grasp on the spelling patterns of our language, and can accommodate more student inquiries than I was able to in the past. I am more capable of keeping my entire class engaged in our learning because I can slip slightly more advanced rules and patterns to those students who are ready, while still reinforcing basic phonetic instruction for the entire class.”

OpenDoors prioritizes training for kindergarten, first and second grade teachers. “Early intervention is critical, especially for children living in poverty,” Jen says. “Research has shown that teaching reading to children from multi-generational poverty is often like teaching them a second language because they’ve not had as many language enriched experiences as a child whose family has ample resources. They grasp so much more when the words are broken down using a multi-sensory approach.”

While OpenDoors is working to determine the best methods for capturing data to detail student and teachers success, of this they are certain – since incorporating O-G, there is a clear rise in reading levels, self-esteem, improved behavior and attendance among OpenDoors students.

“If you take away the financial barriers, parents throughout the country choose the O-G approach to help their children who struggle to read,” Jen says. “It’s one of the only research based  methods proven to meet children where they are and give them the tools they need to become confident readers and writers. It’s not just what children with financial means need; it’s what all children need.”

According to literacy experts like Dr. Sally Shaywitz, all children can learn to read. “We understand that 95% of our nation’s children can learn to read on grade level, and the other 5% can learn to be functionally literate with appropriate support,” Jen notes. “It’s important to set the bar at 100% literacy using proven strategies for teaching because illiteracy is akin to a life sentence.”


Yancey County Principal Believes Orton Gillingham Training Played Critical Role In School Turnaround

045Sherry Robinson realized Bald Creek Elementary had some serious gaps in their literacy program. The Exceptional Children’s (EC) population was the highest in the county. Math scores were unacceptably low. The recently hired principal had been told the school was identified for needing improvement given poor test scores. The question she found herself asking  - what was the problem and more importantly, how could she address the challenges? Although she recognized the path toward academic success was going to be an arduous one, she was still shocked when her newest hire, 4th grade reading teacher Lori McCourry, stepped into her office and told her 13 of her 27 students were reading at only a first grade level.

Prior to joining Bald Creek full-time, Lori let Sherry know she had committed to taking the Academy of Orton-Gillingham Practitioners and Educators Associate Level training with Susie van der Vorst. “I’d never heard of the organization or the training,” Sherry remembers. “Lori began explaining the Orton Gillingham (O-G) approach to me and let me know she was willing to pay for the training program herself given the expense.  I knew if she was willing to pay for it herself, it must be really good, but I could never have guessed the positive impact it would have on our school at that point. I let her know we weren’t going to let money keep us from having what our students needed.”

“At first, parents weren’t willing to admit something was wrong,” Lori says. “I was the new teacher, shaking things up.”

A little shaking up was exactly what the school needed. Lori began incorporating what she’d learned into her daily routine. “You can’t teach what you don’t know,” Lori says. “With the Orton-Gillingham training, I acquired greater knowledge of words and an understanding of how the brain has to work in order to read. I began breaking words into sounds and doing a lot of phonics with students. I found that I was much better at seeing where students struggled and had a greater knowledge of how to fix problems through targeted instruction.”

Having seen the immediate difference O-G made in Lori’s teaching, Sherry realized the school needed to have its kindergarten, 1st and 2nd grade teachers trained as well. “In kindergarten, 1st and 2nd, you’re learning to read,” she says.  “In 3rd, 4th and 5th, you’re reading to learn.  Our 3rd, 4th and 5th graders, for example, take math tests that contain only word problems. Students have to be able to comprehend what they’re reading in order to pass, which is why those first few years are so critical.”


Sherry is grateful to 1st grade teacher Laura Davis who also jumped on board, became O-G trained, and took on the task of aligning O-G principles with the school’s newly implemented Letterland program. “It gave us a powerful phonics program.”  Over the years, each teacher who’s gone through the training has incorporated elements of the multisensory approach as they suit their classroom needs. “My goal is to have all Bald Creek teachers O-G trained," Sherry says.


Fast forward eight years. The majority of Bald Creek’s teachers have been O-G trained. Now that students are getting what they need, the school’s EC numbers are no longer the county’s highest. In fact, they have been cut in half. Lori, who’s now teaching 3rd grade reading, says only one student of 31 is reading slightly below third grade level.  The school was honored in 2014/15 and 2015/16 as a Title 1 National Distinguished School Nominee.  They received $100,000 NC Title 1 Grant for sustaining the highest performance of school achievement over a number of years.


Sherry believes O-G training played a critical role in the turnaround. “Our teachers continually tell us they had no idea how much they didn’t know until they went through Susie’s training. The more they know; the better they teach and the better our students do. Today, the entire school takes great pride in being able to say we are an Orton school.”






Interview: Artist Rebecca Kamen

RK 2jpgToday’s interview features inspiring individual Rebecca Kamen, whose artwork we first read about in this article via PBS. Continuing our conversation with artists who are dyslexic, we’d like to introduce you to her work and share the following interview. “Rebecca Kamen’s work explores the nexus of art and science informed by wide ranging research into cosmology, history, philosophy, and various scientific fields…Ms. Kamen has exhibited and lectured in China, Chile, Korea, Egypt, and Spain. She has been the recipient of a Virginia Museum of Fine Arts Professional Fellowship, a Pollack Krasner Foundation Fellowship, two Strauss Fellowships, and more.” She is currently a professor emeritus of art at Northern Virginia Community College. Camp Spring Creek: “Divining Nature: An Elemental Garden” is awe-inspiring! So many of us stared at that Periodic Table of Elements for hours on end in high school. Not nearly as many went on to actually understand what it was all about, or how to apply that knowledge in applicable ways. Can you tell us about what sparked this art installation? 

Rebecca Kamen: This idea for the project came to me when I returned home from a lecture trip to Santiago, Chile. I literally walked through my front door and had a vision that I needed to create something inspired by the Periodic Table. I had no idea why that struck me at that point, but the research took me to the Chemical Heritage Foundation (CHF) in Philadelphia to research the beginning of chemistry, which was alchemy. I didn’t know what form the installation would take at that stage. I was just researching.

In the library there, the alchemy manuscripts I looked at were breathtaking. I happened to be on sabbatical that year and decided to travel to the Himalyas in Bhutan. I had seen a print of mandala inspired by that place and wanted to see it in person. Standing there in the mountains, I realized that the Periodic Table was Western cosmology in the same way that the mandala I had seen represented Eastern cosmology. If you study the Periodic Table, you know that all the letters and numbers represent things in the world above us, below, and everything in between. I knew I needed to create something beautiful and compelling enough that people would want to learn more. The concept of using a garden inspired by the orbital patterns of the 83 naturally occurring elements in the Periodic Table seemed like a natural leap, because gardens are beautiful and inviting spaces and I knew people would be able to engage with that. As it turned out, the orbital patterns also looked like flowers, so things started to click into place from there.

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One of the bridges between art and science is math, which creates a universal language between both fields. When I was creating Divining Nature, I knew I wanted a sound component. I found Susan Alexjander in Portland, Oregon who was investigating the Period Table like I was, but with sound. She and I have now worked on three or four projects—the latest is called “Portal” at the National Academy of Sciences—and it is inspired by gravitational wave physics and black holes. I think it’s important to remember this connection of music, too, because it can really enhance our understanding of something. Sound is simply another way knowing. [View the video of "Portal" here.]

CSC: What is your dyslexia discovery story?

RK: I grew up before the word “dyslexia, was part of the vocabulary. ” I was bright and loved science but did poorly in math, reading comprehension, and on my SATs. I knew I wanted to teach and go to college. My parents knew this as well, but no college would accept me. My parents went to the principal who wrote a letter of recommendation for me, and Penn State eventually said they’d accept me on probation. If I didn’t make it through the first semester, I was out. I looked at the catalog and found that art education was the only major that didn’t require math and that was the route I was going to go. Working with my hands, I was able to excel. I graduated and later received a full fellowship for a master’s degree, finished that, and then received another full fellowship for an additional master’s degree in the arts. My parents’ advocacy really held a light for me to do what I wanted to do.

I didn’t learn that I was dyslexic until I became a college professor. I was visiting an acquaintance at the beach and she happened to be head of the Special Education program at University of Maryland. Through conversation about my path and my career, she realized I was dyslexic and told me. It was a revelation, but even without knowing that for most of my educational years, I think on a subconscious level I had already intuited I learned differently than others and figured out strategies to get through. Reading long pages of text still causes fatigue and some anxiety, but give me a book with images and I can tell you so much about them and how they relate to other things.

CSC: We’re especially interested in your projects that deal with rare books or scientific documents. Your interest in this material seems both ironic and intriguing. What’s the lure?

RK: The lures for me are the beautiful diagrams and visuals that express complex scientific thoughts and theories. At the American Philosophical Society Library in Philadelphia, I was invited to examine the notebooks of Lewis and Clark. They had text, but they were also beautiful objects that contained drawings of Lewis and Clark’s observations. I also saw Robert Hooke’s book called Micrographia at the Chemical Heritage Foundation and it includes engravings that he created. He was the first to develop the compound microscope. Hooke also created the word “cell” that we use to describe the cells in our bodies. He was looking at a piece of cork under magnification and he observed forms that reminded him of monastery cells. To me, that’s such a fascinating story. Narrative is what connects me to science and expands my mind.

Another epiphany I had as I went through many incredible books is that, before the advent of the camera, scientists also had to be artists. It was the only way they could record their observations. Before the 19th Century, the books have beautiful drawings not done by artists, but by the scientists themselves. I was invited to research inMadrid in archives that included a painting that Nobel Laureate and neuro-anatomist Santiago Ramón y Cajal did when he was just 8 years old. Observing the way that Cajal saw at a young age, I could understand how his ability to see and record details planted seeds for his discovery of neurons.

Manuscript as Muse

As an artist looking at this specific scientific collection, I realized the significance of Cajal spending hours drawing his observations directly from the microscope. Looking through a microscope at one of his slide, it occurred to me that the process of drawing enables scientists a unique understanding that, compared to today’s world of the digital image, is more comprehensive on a certain level.  I think drawing enabled scientists at the time to really process and become more intimate with their material. This lead to a kind of understanding that can only be achieved when someone really takes the time to slowly investigate.

I was also able to explore special collections at the National Library of Medicine, which has an amazing selection of the Vesalius books. Vesalius was an anatomist from the 16th Century and he’s also considered the founder of modern human anatomy. Several copies of his book De humani corporis fabrica (“On the Fabric of the Human Body”) are there, hand printed, each with different nuances and notes from previous owners. The images are breathtaking. Dissection had been illegal for a long time, but when these books were printed, it was one of the first times that human dissection was documented.

CSC: We read that you believe artists and scientists have similar missions to search for meaningful patterns. Do you “see” your finished piece in your mind’s eye, then make it? Give us a little window into that moment of making when immaterial meets material.

RK:  My ideas come to me as visions, a lot of times when I wake in the morning, a word or an idea will come into my consciousness. When that happens, I know I need to research and then use my findings to create work giving the ideas tangible form. The work becomes a vehicle for my own understanding, and a way to share these insights with other people. Much of my work is collaborative in nature, so communicating with others is a big part of the process as well.

For example, I am currently working on a collaborative project with a British poet.  We’re exploring the relationship of art and neuroscience. Writing has always been a challenge for me, but for some reason I’ve been able to experience “flow” with my words around science and art because of this collaboration. The poet I’m working with interprets my ideas and thoughts into his medium and what he creates then further helps me understand my own original vision. I struggle a great deal with sitting down and actually writing, so this has been a revelation for me—it feels like magic. For the sculptural or installation component, I am starting to envision some ideas that might include words literally “coming off the page” so that viewers can experience his poetry in three-dimensional form. I get sparks of seeing how that might be possible and will keep exploring until our work is complete.

In order to understand just about anything, I have to be able to understand it in relation to something else. That enables me to make connections that others may not have made before. When I work with scientists, they get excited because I can show them things through a new lens. For years, I thought this was the way that everyone in the world thought! It’s validating to find this appreciation from others, and of course I grow and benefit from the learning experience as well.

Interview: Artist David Chatt

  "If She Knew You Were Coming" (work in progress) (c) David Chatt, 2015.

Today’s interview continues our conversation with artists who also have dyslexia, and we’re proud to be featuring inspiring individual David Chatt. David has spent the second half of his life stitching tiny bits of glass one to the next, laboring to express himself in a medium that is tedious and time-consuming beyond reason. For his efforts, he has been called a “Visionary,” a “Lunatic,” and a “Beadwork Subversive.” His career was honored with a one-person show at the Bellevue Art Museum in Seattle, Washington, which was commemorated in an accompanying catalog. More recently, he received a North Carolina Artist Fellowship, one of the highest grant awards given by the state and supported by the NEA. View astonishing slideshows of his work here.

Camp Spring Creek: Can you tell us a little about you and your family’s relationship with dyslImage 1exia over the years? How has this shaped your experience of the world?

David Chatt: I am number five of six children, two girls and four boys. My father and all of the boys had dyslexia, but not to the same degree. Mine was less debilitating comparatively, but it did influence how I grew up. We were none of us very good at sports, and English classes were an exercise in humiliation. We all had similar experiences in school and not being good at these things in an odd way bound us together. Also, I think because we were not those kinds of people, we shared other interests. We built things and made things with our hands. We played games where imagination was more important than coordination.

CSC: The physical process of stitching beads together requires a sophisticated understanding of spatial relationships so that the beaded “skin” fits perfectly over the object you are working with. Superior spatial thinking is a common skill found in people with varying degrees of dyslexia. What can you tell us about your decision-making process as you set out to start stitching these skins?

DC: The technique I employ is a way of building on a three dimensional grid. A loop of four beads can be thought of as a square, one square shares a side with its neighbors and a grid forms. If one can make squares, then one can make cubes…this is how my mind works. I tend to imagine shapes broken down into squares, triangles, pentagons or trapeziums. I have always been good with numbers and math-y kinds of things…spelling no…math yes.  

CSC: How does your work as an artist and your family experiences with dyslexia influence your style as a teacher?

DC: I understand that everyone learns differently. I hope and believe that schools are better at dealing with different learning styles but I have certainly been made to feel “less-than” by overworked and under-inspired teachers who wanted nothing more than for this square peg to fit into their dang round hole. As a teacher, I make it a point to let my students know that I understand learning differences and that I count on them to let me know if we need to revisit some instruction with a different approach. Some need to hear the technique described, others need to see directions written out, others need to watch my hands and others still need to have guidance while their hands make the work. I also make it ok to ask me to repeat things because repetition is one of the ways we learn. Being a non-traditional learner has made me a better teacher, and it has also made me understand some of the frustrations my teachers had with me.

"Bedside Table" (c) 2011, David Chatt.

CSC: Your more recent work explores the power of everyday objects in their domestic setting, with an emphasis on narrative, memory, and emotion. In some pieces, you’re effectively taking objects people ignore (for example, we don’t pay attention to our eyeglasses unless a lens pops out) and re-invigorating them with story and a sense of the three-dimensional through your beads and stitching. That’s quite unusual, yet immediately resonate. What’s the lure for you?

DC: Most artists are a wee bit narcissistic. I am always trying to tell my story through the images I choose to engage. My best work finds the place where my personal story touches on something more universal, something that allows my audience to participate. Most of us remember someone who had those glasses. I grew up at a time when women of a certain age wore cat-eye glasses, a strand of pearls and a sweater set. Even if you have only seen that look in old movies, most of us have an association with these items. I seek iconic objects that trigger memory. By covering an object with countless tiny glass beads and meticulous needle-work, I encourage my audience to see these items in a different way. It becomes less that object and more like the place where the object once was, like a memory.

Finding a way to tell your own story is a universal human pursuit. I sometimes wonder if being a kid who was embarrassed about my penmanship and spelling made visual art more of a lure for me. With the advent of the personal computer and spellcheck, I have gradually become less intimidated, and even attracted to the process of writing. This is a surprise to me given my early experiences. In the end, I think it is important to understand that things that are labeled as “disabilities” are often just differences. I am good at this while someone else is good at that. Part of being a creative person is being able to figure out the less obvious ways to get around obstacles. What I have learned from my differences has certainly been more of an advantage than a hinderance.

Interview: Artist Melisa Cadell

100_4386lowres Today's interview features inspiring individual Melisa Cadel. Melisa has an MFA from East Tennessee State University, with an emphasis on Sculpture and Studio Art, as well as a BFA in Drawing and Painting from University of North Texas. She serves as an adjunct professor at Appalachian State University and leads workshops at craft centers across the United States. She did not realize she was dyslexic until her son Ben was diagnosed in 4th grade. Similar to artist Courtney Dodd's insights about art, perception, and making, Melisa shared a story with us that is moving, compassionate, and vulnerable. Please join us in celebrating her accomplishments and aspirations for the future!

Camp Spring Creek: When did you first suspect that you had dyslexia and how did that realization affect you?

Melisa Cadell: I always tested poorly when it came to standardized tests. I could not spell and reading comprehension was non-existent. I always compensated by listening to what people said about things. I hung out with the intelligent people and soaked up their discussions. I made good marks but was always doing more work than the others to make up for my difficulties. When I applied to colleges there was no problem until they received my horrible SATs and ACTs. I had to be interviewed at the college institution that offered me a basketball scholarship because the scores were so low; I think they just wanted to see if I had an IQ at all. I always thought it was some type of test anxiety or something. I could do just about anything if I had enough time and studied harder than the others. I never dreamed that I was dyslexic.In college, I took classes that were more hands on, after I clomped through remedial English twice, and developed really great study skills. I enjoyed my Literature classes because the instructor I had (for both sections) walked us through each passage. I took copious notes and made great scores on the long essay tests. If someone explained the texts to me I could read multiple meanings into passages. It was like a playground. I graduated with honors in my BFA and a K-12 teaching certification in Art Ed. It took me 6 years. Art was the first thing I did not struggle with. It was a field where there wasn’t a right or wrong as long as you found a non-cliché way to do it. It was about problem solving so the more problems you had the more possibilities existed.

I did not put a label on my inability to be a functional reader until after I completed my MFA with a 4.0. Again I struggled more than my peers but I accomplished what I wanted to. Ben, my oldest child, was diagnosed in the middle of his 4th grade year. Now, I know we are both dyslexic. Why didn’t someone figure this out before Ben’s fourth grade year? Was it because of me? He had all the same struggles. He gets words confused. He has to read things very slowly, more than once. He has difficulty copying things down from the board. Spelling is problematic. He forgets words in the middle of a sentence. He is confused about social interaction. He is terribly forgetful and his organization is very poor. He thinks backwards, like me.

The knowledge of my own disability is wrapped up with the diagnosis of my son and his difficulties. It is not easy for me; it will not be easy for him. I am pleased Ben received his diagnosis and is getting help from an Orton Gillingham tutor. I worry though; at least I was not pegged with low scores and a stigma until I was older. I was not kept from the things I loved because of the struggles. I was always placed in class with my peers and allowed to study any subject I wanted. I just want Ben to hold onto his desire to learn about this amazing world. I am pleased with the ability to see things this way, but it puts me on the outside. Sometimes, that is a lonely place to be. It is because of this solitude that I found myself through art. It communicates all the things I have never been able to voice in any other way. It is only my art that makes me feel like I might have a small understanding of what it means to be a part of this amazing world.

CSC: You're an artist, working primarily in sculptural ceramics. Many studies have shown that people with dyslexia have strong spatial thinking skills and can also "think outside the box." In what ways do you see that dyslexic advantage manifest in your work as an artist?

MC: I think that because it takes me so long to process things, I spend more time thinking. I work at it. I try to see a human side of events. I pay attention to struggles. In a way, I think my artwork is about my effort to comprehend how others see things. As an artist, I use my perception to turn something it on its ear. I do not see struggles in black and white, rather; I see in grey, in a light that is not easily understood.I think much of society is spoiled by the perceived apparent. It seems that people want a right way and a wrong way…but this leaves out the complexity. Complexity is rich and colorful, it is messy, it is beautiful and it is haunting. My work honors something in us all; it is about who we are as humans, that which is good and that which is not. I have not figured it out and do not expect to…and because I learn differently, I have learned to embrace the struggle, as well as, the fact that it does not make sense.

CSC: How has realizing your own dyslexia shaped your relationship with your son, who also has dyslexia?

MC: We are still working through it. It is difficult. I feel very upset about how he has to struggle through things while others do not. In the end, I know it will be a benefit. If he can learn to embrace it for what it can show him, difficult as it may be, he will become a success in whatever it is he wants to do. It is sometimes heartbreaking and I just have to have faith in him that he will find his way. Because of dyslexia, I think he will become a more compassionate person.

I push my son to do his personal best because I know how bright and compassionate he is. I am sympathetic and it makes me a passionate advocate, but that can complicate matters if I don’t step back and problem solve first. Teachers that do not understand the hours it takes to do what others do in a matter of minutes frustrate me, but they do not know what we (dyslexics) know and experience. I have begun to piece together ideas for parents and for teachers. My goal is to make a roadmap that benefits the student. I have built a real relationship with Ben’s teachers this year and believe we are all making progress to make the path easier for those to come.

CSC: Did you have any teachers or relatives throughout your upbringing who you felt most keenly understood your strengths and challenges? Tell us about that individual, and how they made an impression on you.

MC: My parents were always there to let me know that if I wanted it I had the power to achieve it…I know they had to work hard, and it was an encouragement to me. I believe that my mother is dyslexic; it seems she has been crippled by her inability to read and write well. She is a brilliant thinker. Yet her self-confidence was terribly damaged in her youth and she has spent her entire adult life building, it tearing it down, and building it again. I think she often lives through the accomplishments of the ones she has supported. She has felt inferior to those who finished college and made careers for themselves. She is so creatively intelligent and I just wish I could sit within her mind and look at the wonder of it all. I have a feeling that Ben’s diagnosis is helping her see there was a reason she had it so difficult. Knowing why something is the way it is, sometimes, is the first part of healing and the first step to believing.