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.”

scott fisher

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


Photo courtesy of Jethro Waters

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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Scott Fisher believes O-G benefits all students

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.”


Principal Sherry Robinson receiving Bald Creek Elementary School’s certificate for being a Title 1 National Distinguished School Nominee

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.”


Bald Creek Elementary celebrating the receipt of its $100,000 Title 1 Reward School Grant





Camp Helps Young Man Start a New Chapter


2018OpenDoors of Asheville is a remarkable non-profit organization that helps local children reach their potential with individual support and a host of educational and enrichment opportunities.  These opportunities are designed to help the children begin to invest in themselves and ultimately break the cycle of multi-generational poverty.

Since 2012 OpenDoors and Camp Spring Creek have worked as a team, co-funding several summer camp scholarships to help children get the spelling, reading and writing remediation they need. While at camp, the children are immersed in summer activities ranging from kickball to camping with other children and counselors from across the world.

1397Tyion Lucas just finished his 2nd summer at Camp Spring Creek. OpenDoors Board Member and Team Leader Denise Turner remembers hearing about Tyion’s fears concerning his participation in an upcoming spelunking adventure. Initially, he insisted he wasn’t going to repel into a dark cave, let alone jump into an underground lake. After discovering one of the staff members, who was also afraid, was going to participate, he decided to open himself to the possibilities. He believes his courage paid off. In addition to this adventure, Tyion tried other new things like whitewater rafting, Asheville’s Color Run 5K and glass blowing.

“Tyion learned a lot about himself during his eight weeks at camp,” Denise says. “At Camp Spring Creek, Tyion not only made academic gains, but also discovered the extent of his determination and perseverance.  He learned he was strong, confident and good at working with people. This year he was chosen to help younger kids with swimming.  That was a huge confidence boost for him as he was told he would be a good camp counselor someday.

Until recently, Tyion admitted he didn’t enjoy reading, believing it to be difficult. “I was so proud when he told me he read ten books over the course of the summer.  What impressed me most was that in listening to him talk about these books, and listening to him share analogies gleaned from his readings, I knew he drew meaning from the content, too.”

In a letter he wrote at the end of camp, he said, “I’m like the three little pigs, but I’m the one in the brick house. No one is going to blow my house down. I’m strong and confident. I’m going to keep going and do something. I’ll be back next year.  I want to be better.”

Denise and Tyion’s mother Sheila enjoys watching Tyion’s growth. “Tyion2795 continues to make progress and his confidence is growing,” Denise says.  “He’s got a great sense of humor and isn’t afraid to use it. At his school, he was asked to join the football team and is experiencing great success. A page is clearly being turned for Tyion. I can’t wait to see the next chapter.”

Camper Continues to Blossom Beyond Camp

Kelby FreshmanLike many parents, Laurie Clothier wasn’t quite sure what to do. Her daughter Kelby had been diagnosed with dyslexia. Laurie had secured a private tutor, but realized the tutor was only helping her keep up with her current workload; Kelby wasn’t making the progress she imagined.  The bright 7th grader was reading at a first grade level.

“Dyslexia turned our family around,” Laurie says. “I worked full-time, got home, and then spent another three or four hours with Kelby, trying to help her keep up with homework. I literally read her books with her.”

A Google search to find a summer program in Texas, where the family lived, was unsuccessful. Laurie widened her search, looking for programs where other family members lived. Camp Spring Creek, it turned out, was a two-hour drive from her father.

“After speaking with co-founder Susie van der Vorst, we made a leap of faith, and signed her up for the whole summer. It was scary, particularly because Kelby had never been away from home for more than a week.”

They saw huge improvements over the course of that first summer. A month slipped by, and Laurie opened Kelby’s weekly letter home. “I started crying,” she says. “It was the first letter where I could read every word, where every sentence was coherent.”

The transformation overjoys Laurie. “There was a time when Kelby lied about who she was. Camp Spring Creek helped her realize she’s not alone. This year, she has a new set of friends who accept her as she is.  She realizes she’s not stupid, and in fact, has been getting straight A’s. Although she still struggles somewhat with reading, she does most of her homework on her own now. She’s gained so much more confidence.

Beyond learning to read and write in a manner that corresponds to how she sees things, Laurie has seen other gifts emerge from Kelby’s time at camp. “Kelby was so excited to learn in a traditional summer camp setting where she got to play hard, too. Thanks to some of the camp’s program’s she becoming a budding photographer.”nikon 023

There are those who have wondered why Laurie has invested so much in a summer camp. Laurie is clear. “The way I look at it, I’m paying her college tuition now because without Camp Spring Creek, there’d be no way Kelby could be going to college. I was clear we needed to get her to read now. I’d pay it all again without the slightest hesitation. In fact, she’s going back to camp for one more season. She’s a completely different girl. Camp Spring Creek opened a whole new world for Kelby.  I’m eternally grateful.”

“Confessions of a So-Called Middle Child” Author Shares Her Dyslexia Experiences

Ah, the joy of serendipity!  A few weeks back, we posted an image on Facebook of one our campers reading,maria lennon something we often do. Here’s where the gift of serendipity comes in. The book Olivia was reading, Confessions of a So-Called Middle Child, was written by Maria Lennon, a friend of Tutor Susan Rutter Santaniello. Long story short, Susan shared the post with Maria, who just so happens to be dyslexic. Maria was happy to share her experiences as a child who struggled with dyslexia and as a mother of a dyslexic child.

Cover[1]Camp: Did you go to a private school or work with someone who helped you, or did you just struggle it out?

Maria: At first, I struggled. This was the 70s and not too many people were really aware of what dyslexia was. I went to a private K-12 school outside of Los Angeles called Chadwick and they were not prepared for someone like me or my two brothers. We all had learning difficulties and we were all bright and well aware of what the kids were saying about us. I heard “stupid” a lot. When I grew so frustrated I broke my pencil or tore my essay into shreds, I heard, “freak.” My brothers heard worse because they acted out more. Like most girls, I went inward and hated myself while my brothers tended to blast out the world.

Camp: What was the greatest challenge you faced as a child with dyslexia?

Maria: Shame. Thinking something was wrong with me. Stupid. Here’s the thing. Before people know you have learning differences, and REALLY can’t spell CAT, they think you’re being lazy or can’t be bothered to study or you don’t think it’s important. I know I felt that way about my son when he was in kindergarten and first grade. After an hour of going over the word group of CAT, HAT and MAT, I literally cried because he would spell HAT, HOT or HIT. Once I understood he REALLY couldn’t spell it because he couldn’t hear it, I was fine. I stopped being mad. I got help for him.

Camp Spring Creek: Did other kids make fun of you?

Maria:  Oh, yeah. By the time I was in third grade, things were really bad. I knew with certainty that I was the dumbest kid in my entire class. It’s funny, my son who is dyslexic and diagnosed with ADD also had the roughest time in third grade. I still remember the terror that spread through me when the teacher made eye contact. I would look away as fast as I could, close my eyes, and plead, “Oh God, no, please let her not call on me.”

It’s amazing the collateral damage of these so-called language-based learning difficulties. You don’t get picked on for sports teams for some reason. You don’t have tons of friends. You don’t have a lot of confidence. You, in many ways, learn to stand back and become an observer of life rather than a participant.

But then something amazing happened. My teacher, my amazing teacher SAW ME. Her name was Jean Wehrmeister and she was the first person who said to me, “JUST BECAUSE YOU SEE THE WORLD DIFFERENTLY DOESN’T MEAN YOU ARE STUPID.”

When the kids persisted in their calls of stupid and retard, she did an exercise in class and had everyone hold up a mirror on their paper and write what they saw. She told them this was the way dyslexics saw words and asked them to imagine how frustrating it must be. She was so ahead of her time.

Camp: What were some of the tricks you learned to help yourself?

Maria: I was extremely fortunate because my mother understood what was going on and took me and my brothers to educational therapists after school. I learned a number of tricks at the center I went to. My big area was dysgraphia so writing things from the board and onto my paper caused me great anxiety. My tutor, Jeanette Kowell, would teach me little tricks to double check my copying, like using my voice, saying things out loud so I could hear the words and remember that way as well. Looking back now, I realize that many of the so-called tricks she was teaching me really revolved around two basic concepts:

  • be patient with yourself
  • be kind to yourself

I believe these two very basic concepts helped me most.

Camp: Do you think you’ve discovered any benefits of being dyslexic?

Maria Lennon: Oh, God, yes. Everything I am most proud of about myself stems from being dyslexic. I am so determined. I am such a hard worker. I am used to putting in double the amount of time my friends put in to achieve the same results. And that’s okay. I am compassionate because I know what it feels like to struggle.  I am resourceful because I had to be all my life. I am an observer. I stand back and see things about people maybe others don’t see. All of these qualities have made me a better person, better mother and better writer.

Camp Spring Creek: You became a writer, something that’s so difficult for children with dyslexia – do you have any advice for them?

Maria Lennon:  One of my favorite things is to talk to kids about how hard writing is. It’s really hard. BUT, it seems like most kids with learning differences lean toward the creative. They have great ideas. They have compassion, which gives them insight into human nature. They are curious about others. That’s about 90% of being a writer. The rest is getting it onto paper and that can be taught. It just may take them longer than most. But who cares when what they see is so much brighter?

Camp: Any thoughts as a parent of a child with dyslexia?

Maria: My third child has dyslexia and ADD. He repeated kindergarten. In first grade, he couldn’t spell CAT and in second grade, he pretty much pulled his hoodie over his head and gave up. He was aware that he did not know the answer to anything. In his mind, he was the stupidest kid in the class and thought it was a secret he could hold onto if he could just hide in his sweatshirt. By third grade, he was hitting his head on the walls, hiding under his desk, in closets, running out of school. That’s when we did the first IEP with his school. When they couldn’t test for dyslexia or ADD, I called UCLA and we did outside testing.

He is now in fifth grade and this had been his best year so far. He says that doing the testing and being identified was the best that that happened to him. He learned he was not stupid and was, in fact, very smart, but saw things differently. Now he sees an educational therapist and is using the iPad for typing, which is great. The information he gets is broken down into smaller chunks. He is learning to ask for help. Kids might call him stupid, but he comes right back at them with ‘I’m not stupid; I have dyslexia.’ That shuts them up pretty quickly. I am so proud of him it makes me cry.

Camp: Most of us look back with nostalgia on our childhoods.  Any thoughts you’d like to share?

Maria:  When I published my first book in the Confessions of a So-Called Middle Child series, I got a message on Facebook. It started with ‘you probably don’t remember me, but I was your third grade teacher Mrs. Wehrmeister. I always knew you would do something special. I almost died. I wrote her back immediately and told her that not only did I remember her, I talked about her all the time. Every time I went to a school and talked to kids, I mentioned her name. It is the power of one person, my teacher, believing in me that made all the difference in my life.

Jean told me that she thought my next project should be for kids who struggle with reading. And guess what? That’s what we’re doing – an entire series of short, fun, adventure books for the kids who really have a hard time making the leap from graphic novels (think Wimpy Kid) to straight novels (think Harry Potter).  Never more than 180 pages, a single plot line and lightly illustrated. I am also building an interactive reading APP to help them read it on their tablets.

Don’t Miss Out on Dyslexia Awareness Month Activities with Diana Hanbury King

unnamed[1] (4)Next week is rapidly approaching and we’re looking forward to our weeklong visit with Diana Hanbury King. If you look at the attached flyer, you’ll see we’ve got some amazing options for teachers who are becoming O-G certified, teachers who want to learn more about what O-G looks like in the classroom, community members who want to learn more about dyslexia and its impact, and homeschool parents who want to be able to better assist their children who struggle with reading and writing.

A few spaces remain for the Certified Level Training on October 5th and 6th at Camp Spring Creek. This will be a rare opportunity to work with the renowned Ms. King who has transformed the lives of countless young people with dyslexia.

Please contact the office with any questions or for more information at info@campspringcreek.org or 828-766-5032.

We look forward to seeing you next week!


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