In Dyslexia Blog

What future awaits us on the Kildonan horizon? Three words, all starting with the short e: expansion, eminence, and engagement.

By “expansion” I mean not just the creation of Kildonan centers soon to open in Stamford, Connecticut, and New York City. I mean also expanding our mission of empowerment and strengths-illumination to age groups and socio-economic backgrounds not currently served at our beautiful Amenia campus.

Our centers in more populated areas will conduct early-screening and support to students in Kindergarten and 1st grade. And our staff at those centers will also assist adult professionals in two ways:

(1) tutoring those whose struggles with reading and writing might stand in the way of their professional advancement with certification exams, grad school admissions tests, etc., and

(2) providing professional advice on how to navigate an employment setting and how to secure the ADA-based accommodations that will help an adult dyslexic succeed in any work environment.

The core of the centers’ work will remain Orton-Gillingham tutoring for students in grades 2-12, and those centers will route new students to our Amenia campus. Making us the only institution I know of that empowers dyslexics of almost any age.

We’re growing our partnerships with cutting-edge resources like the Haskins Lab at Yale University/Univ. of California San Francisco. Kildonan is gaining even more eminence than we already possessed through these partnerships. Both local and distant schools and tutoring centers have recently approached us for training and guidance, and you see the effect of our professional networking in what you hear about Kildonan at conferences and academic settings throughout the country.

We have always been a prime, go-to name for answers to the complex questions that the dyslexic mind poses, but now that recognition is spreading and is no longer the best-kept secret in the field. As I toured a family the other day, we could see why:

We checked in on four tutoring sessions, one with a colors-based, tactile exercise reinforcing consonant-blend sounds (Hadas Yatom-Schwartz). The next session featured an auditory drill to improve spelling (Tim Heaton), the next one down the hall used visual-based stimuli to teach the function of adverbs in a sentence (Christine Thompson), and the last wrapped up the period with an oral reading exercise in which the student applied syllable division rules to self-correct on difficult words (Caitlin Welch).

The next stage in the tour was a detailed, two-part conversation with Frank Sorrentino about the balance between Assistive Technology and LT and with Joy Klvana about choosing the right style of college for the given student’s learning profile. Along the way, we saw Stephen Lawrence’s science class, where students were on their feet and learning how electrical circuits worked, a flipped-classroom math class under Sarah Ponkos’s individualized guidance, and another math class in which Kevin Briggs challenged his small group of students, even when it was a struggle but without the hindrance of text, to explain how finding the median between two ranges of numbers can yield the necessary information to plot on a graph.

The tour concluded with a music class in which two student guitarists and their teacher (Dan Ball) accompanied a third student as she played piano and sang. Phenomenal 1:1 language training, hands-on scientific inquiry, personalized math assessments, text-free, intellectually rigorous math analysis, individualized AT training, dyslexia-friendly college-counseling and music instruction: where else on earth would you see such a combination but here? And the tour didn’t even include EDGE, the riding program, or our robotics class. Is it any wonder why other academic organizations travel far to witness it in person and learn from it?

Engagement: Given the school’s bucolic setting, conducive to the riding, soccer, tennis, and mountain biking we host here in the fall, and given the school’s distraction-free location far from a city or suburban center, it’s too easy at Kildonan to forget that the rest of the world and its many problems await outside our charmed Berkshire-Taconic region. The centers we’re establishing to our south, the service learning trips we conduct each year, the professional connections that our IB status blesses us with all connect us to a meaning and purpose beyond our immediate surroundings.

But just as we’re defining “expansion” in multiple ways (as both expansion to new regions and expansion to under-served groups), we similarly now define engagement not just as networks to other regions but as new links to people: the national and international community of Kildonanites who haven’t heard from us in years—alumni, parents of alumni, referring professionals, and kindred-spirit educators whose last knowledge of us dates back ten-to-thirty years. Today’s digital resources and social media options create a fertile opportunity to re-engage fans of the school who can and will play an instrumental role in making our endeavors fully funded and permanent. If even a small fraction of them re-connect to the point that they visit today’s Kildonan and see what I saw on the tour described above, we will have strengthened the unique creation that is Kildonan and made all three e’s identified here a complete reality.

It was bold of Diana King to found a school that runs counter to our education system’s received wisdom about what a student with dyslexia can and can’t do. She was bold to design the school around a core of one-to-one teaching. Our faculty and administrators continue under her example with programming that expands on the idea that your sons and daughters are capable of pursuing any field of interest that inspires them. Let’s boldly make the most of the extraordinary endeavor that is Kildonan by opening it up to a wider audience.


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