The Right Choice for Dyslexic Children to Excel in College
By Kevin Pendergast; Head of School, The Kildonan School
Parents these days get a bad rap. If you are not heavily involved in your child’s life and instead focus more on the career whose salary and benefits are necessary for that child’s well-being and advancement, you are judged a “bad parent” who is psychologically harming your son or daughter (a condemnation that would have surprised and appalled parents only two generations ago, in the case of fathers).
But you can’t win: mothers and fathers who instead closely watch and participate in their kids’ progress in school, sports, and activities too often find themselves labeled “helicopter parents.” While constant texting with one’s child to receive live reports of almost every interaction between that student and school staff does indeed compromise both the school’s work and that student’s development, most parents don’t hover so avidly and indeed grant their children the independence necessary to become self-advocates.
Close monitoring of a child’s growth academically and socially is good parenting, not invasive intervention, and our current economy and job market give parents good reason to worry: less than half of all college students graduate in four years, and less than half of the lucky ones who graduate move immediately on to a degree-related job that makes them financially independent. So, parents shouldn’t be chastised for helping to ensure the quality and success of their kids’ school endeavors.
Imagine, then, the anxiety level in parents of bright dyslexic students, given that such children possess the brains to thrive in college and in meaningful careers, but are very often denied that opportunity through late diagnoses or inadequate schooling. In the case of those poignantly capable, but still struggling students, parents who conduct the relevant research often can obtain the accommodations necessary for the child to muddle through a mainstream curriculum and receive group support in language skills during periods when his or her non-dyslexic peers further their passions in the arts and athletics.
But to what end? Those accommodations do indeed make life in the mainstream a bit easier for dyslexic students, but more access to the wrong kind of education proves a somewhat Pyrrhic victory for families struggling right along with their children in the quest for academic success. What those students need is neither to be pulled away from activities in which they could excel and build self-confidence (art, music, athletics, tech), nor to be pulled away from peers in an embarrassing manner, nor to be excused from competitive testing in an act of well-meaning but ultimately condescending segregation. Rather, those students need remediation in the Orton-Gillingham approach to build language skills along with a differentiated, multi-sensory subject matter curriculum that allows them to learn and show their knowledge without the impediment of written language.
Far too often, parents believe that their choice of intervention for their dyslexic child comes down to two angst-ridden options: push the student through a mainstream curriculum with the help of accommodations and hope that he or she thus more likely succeeds in the college-and-career race, or find an alternate remedial solution that forgoes those ambitions for the future but saves the child from likely psychological harm in the meantime.
We at the Kildonan School have created our program to remove that false choice: here, students gain all the content knowledge and critical thinking skills they need to excel in college and beyond through inquiry-based, small-group subject matter classes while strengthening their skills in reading, writing, and spelling through a daily one-on-one Orton-Gillingham language training tutorial. Students reinforce that new content knowledge and language skill in daily study halls proctored by the same Orton-trained teachers who empower them academically at other times throughout the day. Since every student receives 1:1 O.G. tutoring, no student endures the embarrassment of being pulled from his or her peers, and every student has the opportunity to shine in competitive sports, music classes, and an array of elective courses in painting, drawing, sculpture, photography, film-making, and computer programming.
Tutors and teachers also train all students in the use of assistive technology and prepare them for the SAT and ACT. That combination of skills advancement, confidence-building, talent-enhancement, and college prep translates into a 100 percent college acceptance rate, including at premier universities the world over.
Bright dyslexic students need not relinquish their emotional well-being in exchange for often elusive achievements in college. Their dyslexia-borne talents and the Orton means of removing language’s difficulty can merge to create a more auspicious future while fostering those students’ sense of self-worth. Kildonan is the only arena I know of in which those different essential elements merge so fruitfully.
The Kildonan School empowers students with dyslexia to regain confidence and exercise their strengths. Daily one-to-one language tutorials complement an innovative, challenging curriculum that inspires students to love learning while preparing for college and beyond.