Welcome to Island Educational Services’ new blog. At Island Educational Services we know the term “education” is a mammoth one, but we hope to share a point of view about a variety of topics that impact families and their children. While the main contributor will be me – Lydia Harrison, the owner and director of Island Educational Services – the tutoring staff will also contribute ideas, thoughts, and resources that are important in their work. We hope you will give us feedback and share your insights as well.
Often, families and professionals ask how Island Educational Services (IES) began and why the tutors and I so love working with students who learn differently. IES began twenty years ago as my private practice on Bainbridge Island; the practice was a culmination of my teaching, counseling, and parenting experiences. Through the years I began to add tutors who brought a passion for learning and an eagerness to help children and teens navigate school and its myriad of expectations. I have always felt very fortunate to have the talents of such highly qualified professionals join the practice and five years ago the private practice became Island Educational Services to reflect our growing numbers.
More importantly, I started my practice as I knew how difficult the learning path can be for children who process information differently than the expectations of the educational system. As an individual with disabilities, I know there are so many aspects to learning that are often minimized by adults, yet have a huge impact on the self-esteem and self-confidence of children. When I started my practice, I had a passion for cherishing all kinds of learners and I believe, even more strongly that I did twenty years ago, that children often need guidance in finding their own voices. Each and every child has unique needs and unique strengths so his or her support system needs to reflect abilities, not deficits. Children also need a safe, caring place, in addition to home, to share frustrations, concerns, tears, and victories.
As a child who grew up being “different,” I spent most of my childhood, youth, and young adulthood believing there was something fundamentally wrong with me. Having gone blind at the age of seven, I knew I was “special,” but special simply translated itself into being strange or weird. Eventually the vision returned to one of my eyes, but I struggled to kick a ball at recess, to speak clearly and fluently in front of classmates, or to sit still without swaying or moving. It was not until I was an adult that I discovered I had had a stroke at birth due to head trauma during the birthing process. I went home and cried happy tears as I realized many of my struggles were not related to effort, but rather to how my brain processes information. I share my story often with my students and tell them I think of myself as a learning detective. It is my role to find how a student learns and then to apply this knowledge to tasks that are difficult or frustrating. Growing up, I wish I had had someone who wanted to understand why certain tasks were so challenging or had tried to put the puzzle pieces together. Perhaps a little heartache would have been avoided.
Over the past thirty years, I have never met a child or teen who did not want to be successful. It is not a lack of effort or desire that keeps many children from learning. As adults we need to stop equating outward efforts with expected outcomes. Learning can and should be a joy for every child. And for older children and teens, repeated failure often translates into a sense of worthlessness or an acceptance of lower expectations. I am always heartsick when I read statistics that only 20% of students with learning disabilities are enrolled in college after two years of graduation. With the right support and guidance, every child who dreams of college can find one that meets his or her needs. It is one of the reasons we have expanded our services to include college preparation for students.
The tutors and I have supported many of our students through the middle and high school years, creating individualized plans to help with academic subjects and teaching strategies and tips to develop stronger executive function skills. The majority of our students attend post-secondary schools and each year we receive thank you notes from those who have graduated with degrees. This past week I received a note from a student who recently graduated with degrees in biology and environmental science. He had spent fourth grade sitting in the bathroom since he was so embarrassed about his inability to keep up with the curriculum. In part the note read, “Thank you for all the support you gave me throughout the years. I wouldn’t have been able to succeed at college without you.”
In addition to our support for middle and high school students, several tutors and I love teaching the reading process to struggling or non-readers. Reading was such a comfort to me as child and I found refuge in books and in the library. Just like the character Matilda, I would pull a small wagon to our local library and pile up the books to take home. I want every child to experience the joy of discovering lost treasure, the recognition of the annoying sibling, or the mysterious stranger next door.
Reading is also the foundation to every academic subject in school; a child who struggles to read cannot decipher word problems in math, misreads instructions in science, and struggles to write about Native Americans in social studies. A child who struggles to read often views himself or herself as “dumb” or “stupid.” As a society, we highly regard the ability to read and it is one area where we often allow children to boast about their abilities. The child who can read Harry Potter in third grade is often extolled for his or her intelligence by teachers and parents alike. Yet, the child still reading Toad and Frog is often just as intelligent. We do an injustice to children and their sense of “being” when we compare them to each other.
The reading tutors and I are all fluent on best practices and researched-based reading techniques. We understand that most of our students do not learn sitting behind a desk, so it is fairly common to find us sitting on the floor or jumping around the office. Last week one of my parents shared, “I searched the house looking for my daughter. Eventually I found her sitting in a swing in the backyard with a book in her hand. She was so engrossed in the story she had not heard me calling her name. It is the first time I have seen her read without pressure from me. I cried.” We love to see our students reading (and writing and spelling and completing math problems correctly). Our success stories keep us saying yes, even when our schedules are full, to one more family seeking support.
In the future, I hope this blog will be chocked full of resources, ideas, and strategies to support all learners. The tutors and I are always researching websites, blogs, journals, etc. for resources for families and professionals. We love discovering that one link that makes parenting just a bit easier or creates an “aha” moment for a child. We are looking forward to this new journey with you.