You’re So Smart

“She’s so smart. I told her that every day,” said our daughter’s tutor when I asked her how our daughter had progressed so quickly after six weeks of Orton-Gillingham tutoring. Our daughter is smart. Most kids with reading and learning differences are smart. Have we told them enough that they are smart? What if every parent, teacher, and tutor told each of these kids every single day that they are smart? Would it make a difference? According to groups like Eye to Eye, dedicated to mentoring and changing lives of kids with dyslexia, and other experts who touch on what is commonly referred to as social and emotional learning (SEL), the resounding answer is yes.

An elementary school girl at a microphone presenting to a parent audience.
You’re so smart!

International Dyslexia Association Annual Conference

It’s a unique experience to attend a conference in a dual role. First, as a mom on a singular and often lonely quest to decipher the world of reading differences from every angle, and second as a blogger with a new organization determined to make a difference in this area that requires all-hands-on-deck. I’m just back from The International Dyslexia Association’s 17th annual conference. I attended the Family Conference that is essentially the last two days of the full conference with several sessions more specifically tailored to parents.

Over the course of my career, I have been to countless conventions—first as an editor for large educational publishers and eventually as a vendor—but the experience was never personal. The theme of the International Dyslexia Association convention was “until everyone can read.” Those of us whose lives have been upended on that simple quest understand the power of that short-phrase. It may sound light, but it’s not—it’s very personal.

Between the exhibit hall and the fantastic, information-packed sessions, my head was genuinely spinning as I tried to wrap my thoughts around all of the information and how it might quickly translate into improved content, better services, and better quality of life for all of the people struggling each day to read. What models and best practices could we jump on and implement in our communities to start making change? To focus, I thought of our daughter, what she needs, what her teachers need, and what I, as a parent, could do to make the right decisions as we continue on our journey. What struck me, is that there are so many promising ideas, but initiating the solutions remains a head-scratcher. What can we do now, today, immediately, that will make a difference, make it better? Time is of the essence.


Our kids are smart. Kids with LDs are smart. Tell them every day “You’re smart.” Until more bills are signed, we need to tell them they are smart. This affirmation will change their day. Meanwhile, perhaps we can create a better educational environment for our kids without creating more bills. For example, a Ridgewood, New Jersey school trains their general education K-2 teachers in 30 hours of multi-sensory reading through The Institute for Multi-Sensory Education and also serves as a test site where their teachers can become multi-sensory teacher certified. Pennsylvania is piloting an early intervention program throughout the state for screening kids at an early age. In the Capital Region, A Different Way in Reading offers services for free or at nominal cost to kids who would otherwise not receive a structured literacy program. Let’s replicate these best practices and start getting more kids the services they need. In the meantime, tell them they are smart. “You’re so smart.” It’s the most significant change we can make today.


Stolz (correspondent) District Boasts Above-Average Dyslexia Detection and Response Program (July 1, 2017) Retrieved on November 19, 2017 from

Pennsylania Department of Education (2017). Dyslexia Screening and Early Literacy Intervention Pilot Program. Retrieved on November 19, 2017 from

Reading Progress & the Launch of Teach My Kid to Read

Progress, progress, progress. The overall impression from the tutor and some of the administrators is that our daughter progressed at Camp Dunnabeck. Mostly we hear that she is making incredible progress, but we simply need to hear the word “progress” to be relieved. It has been years since the word progress has been used relative to reading skills without the terms gradually or inconsistently preceding it. Progress. She is improving. She can get better. She can strive. We can hope. She is not just artistic, creative and athletic. She is smart-period. We never had doubt.

Bella flying
Isabella at age two is flying over the ocean.

It’s time to go home. It’s time to figure out school for next year. It’s been six weeks of commuting and staying in rental properties in remote areas with mixed WiFi and cell service. For these past few days, we are in a studio, basement apartment two miles from the camp. It is Hudson River School of American Landscape painters breathtaking, but so secluded. I’ve had a fever each night along with aches and pains in my neck and shoulders. I’m ready to go home. I miss Tiana. I miss our cats. School starts in less than a month, and we haven’t figured out what we are doing. It’s time to make a decision. A decision doesn’t mean we can’t change paths, but we need to make a decision.

millerton view
The view from our studio apartment near Camp Dunnabeck.

Back to our Montessori School. Isabella loves her school. We are fortunate in that with all of her learning challenges relative to reading; her confidence is still intact. At her darkest, she shouts out that she is dumb, but most of the time she is OK. When I ask her where she wants to go to school this fall she says she wants to go back to her current Montessori school. It is familiar, and she feels safe there. They make great efforts to teach her, but it is not a school for language differences, nor do they have multi-sensory reading services delivered with fidelity. It is just a good place with lots of committed teachers that do their best to encourage each child’s strengths. Our daughter needs more than that. She needs specialized services so that she can grow up to be independent and have the necessary life skills to follow her dreams.

Multi-sensory services with fidelity should be offered in every school. Most schools are not set up to deliver those services, so the solutions and costs fall to the parents to figure out, or not.

Solutions and advocacy. I have spent my career creating content for different learners. Some of my time has been devoted to creating content for non-traditional students, but most of my time has been focused on traditional or what some call neuro-typical learners. Creating so-called traditional content is not where I belong right now. I’m tired of just talking and listening. I need to be part of a plan or the action. It’s cheesy, but being up here surrounded by all this natural beauty has given me the strength and courage to share our story.

Teach My Kid to Read. I hope to grow Teach My Kid to Read into an organization. While that is being figured out I will continue to share our story and stories of other families. Continue to follow us to see how services work out this fall, and to learn about other topics related to reading and learning differences. If you would like to get involved with Teach My Kid to Read contact me at:


What about school for next year? We had an awesome day at Kildonan. What’s not to like? The curriculum is structured around intense Orton-Gillingham tutoring, they have a state-of-the art assistive technology lab, strong academics, wonderful arts options, a great sports program, and the kids seem to be thriving. All of the teachers are trained to teach kids with reading and learning differences. Matter of fact, all kids with intense reading differences who need more than multi-sensory tutoring should have access to a school like this; an end goal of solving one of the major issues of reading differences as it makes all the difference and can be a lifesaver-really!


So why isn’t Kildonan our definite choice at this point? It simply comes down to the fact that it’s not around the corner and it’s not free. We have never given up hope that there must be a way to make it work for us here, and as it turned out, we had the infamous IEP (individualized education program) meeting shortly after our visit to Kildonan. The IEP meetings are when you set goals for the following school year and learn what services your kid can receive through the school district. There are blogs, webinars, and workshops on preparing for IEP meetings and those of us in this complicated world know that IEP meetings are usually the pinnacle of our many stressors. These are the meetings that when we’re through, we go home, have a drink or two, or in my case go for a run, and then have a drink. Fortunately, our IEP meeting went really well because the district surprised us with an option of a reading program called Read 180 at the public middle school and then bussing our daughter back to her regular Montessori school for the rest of her day. This is definitely the most comfortable or least disruptive route for us, but is there one-on-one self-paced tutoring? Probably not. Do we think she will succeed or progress with this type of program with a sprinkling of tutoring? Sigh. I want to be optimistic. I really do.

Let’s just figure out what to do this summer. We were on information overload. Our options for the school year seemed so overwhelming, but then there was the summer. What if we tried Camp Dunnabeck at The Kildonan School for the summer? Previously, when we had researched sending our daughter there it seemed scary expensive, but after looking at private school tuitions it no longer phased us. Besides, this was a way to test the waters and see if Kildonan’s approach was a fit for her.

• What would it be like for our daughter being around other kids with similar learning profiles?
• Would she finally progress with intense, one-on-one Orton-Gillingham tutoring?
• Could she finally have a real summer instead of an occasional camp workshop scheduled around reading services?

We’re going to Camp Dunnabeck. We completed the paperwork, received the acceptance letter with a small grant to boot, and off we went to the where the states of New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts meet. Someone asked me if I was going to camp too. The short answer is no, but I was there, which gave me a taste of what life would be like if it were just my daughter, dog and I living by ourselves in a rural area where she could get an education that fits her learning style, but where we would otherwise be separated as a family.

Our daughter is off to Camp Dunnabeck where we have high hopes for her academic and emotional growth. Stay tuned to see how she likes camp, and how the parents, notably me, survived six weeks in a lonely paradise.

the barn in Hillsdale, New York
The restored barn down the road from our rental house in Hillsdale, New York.