In 1950, Kildonan co-founder and visionary Diana Hanbury King came to this country from England. She began teaching at Sidwell Friends School in Washington, DC. At the time, this was one of only a few schools that had a program for dyslexic students under the aegis of Anna Gillingham. The program was directed by Helene Durbrow, who had been trained by Dr. Samuel Orton.
With encouragement from Dr. Orton, Helene Durbrow had opened Camp Mansfield, a summer program for dyslexic students in Vermont. Mrs. King, after being personally trained by Anna Gillingham herself, spent several summers teaching there and in due course was inspired to found her own camp, named Dunnabeck, in Western Pennsylvania. After running the camp for 14 years, she met Kurt Goldman, a father of a Dunnabeck camper. So impressed and motivated by his son’s progress, he encouraged Mrs. King to open a school for dyslexic students and offered to provide the necessary funding.
In 1969, The Kildonan School opened in Bucks County on a rented campus in Solebury, PA. The first year 12 students enrolled, but the school flourished and eventually outgrew the facility. Under the leadership of Leisket Mills, then Board of Trustees Chair, a search began to find a new campus. In 1980, Kildonan moved to its present home in Amenia, NY, in the foothills of the Berkshires. The 460 acre campus had been the site of Barlow School, and had several dormitories, a schoolhouse, a library, and an art building. In 1983 the summer program, Camp Dunnabeck, moved from Pennsylvania and became a part of The Kildonan School. Over time, with the support of the trustees, Kildonan was able to add a large boys’ dormitory, a girls’ dormitory, and an elementary building to house day students in grades 1 through 6.
Orton-Gillingham instruction remains at the forefront of Kildonan’s curriculum, and continues to set our school apart from all others. Horseback riding, skiing, and a strong art program, all of which were a part of the original plan in Pennsylvania, have also continued to play an important role in the extra-curricular program. Throughout our long history, our curriculum and campus continues to evolve and grow, yet the school philosophy and objectives remain unchanged. Kildonan continues its mission to meet the needs of the dyslexic population by strengthening language skills, providing stimulating subject matter courses, and building confidence and self-esteem.
In 2003, Kildonan was accredited by the Academy of Orton-Gillingham Practitioners and Educators (AOGPE) both as a training site and as a school providing the appropriate education for dyslexic students. The following year, Camp Dunnabeck was accredited as well.
The Kildonan School Co-Founders
Diana Hanbury King
Diana King with a Kildonan student at the 2016 dedication of the Diana Hanbury King Schoolhouse on campus.