The small city of Gainesville, Georgia, is much like other southern towns. They love the outdoors, sports, family and friends. However, students in this town have an opportunity that is not available everywhere - a specialized K-12 school specifically for children who learn differently. It's all thanks to the heart of a former
public school teacher - Ava White
As a special education teacher, White sat through many IEP (Individualized Education Plan) meetings. She was also the first line of contact for parents who were becoming frustrated trying to navigate state and federal education code. When financial or political roadblocks prevented some students from getting the help White felt they needed, she "just got tired of telling people 'no, we can't do this. No, we can't do that.'"
So, she did something radical. She stopped saying no. And started saying yes.
"The idea just kind of evolved. I thought 'wouldn't it be so nice to be able to say yes!' I had no business plan, but I started to tutor students with learning disabilities, and it grew from there." She started small, just helping a few students on the side. As word got around, her tutoring business grew, and she was able to hire additional help. White now had a full fledged tutoring career!
"We did it all - reading, math, science and spelling," says White, and the kids were thriving in almost every subject. However, the smaller class size allowed her to notice a huge key to the mystery of her students' learning patterns - spelling. "They would memorize the words long enough to pass a test, but then those same words were misspelled the next week. I knew I needed a new way of teaching spelling."
Enter Wilson Language Training
While looking over professional development workshops, one caught her eye due to one specific word in the title - spelling. Knowing nothing more than that, she registered for the Wilson Reading and Spelling
"I went just to learn about spelling," says White, "but when I left that workshop, I realized I also didn't know as much as I needed to about teaching reading. Spelling and reading go hand in hand."
The Wilson Reading program, based on the Orton-Gillingham methodology, opened up a whole new world of understanding. She made a decision. "Not only did I want myself certified in this system, but I also wanted all of my other tutors certified in the Wilson system as well!"
And she's noticed a huge difference. "Not all of our students use Wilson because they all have different learning profiles. The ones who do need it, however, really take off in a short amount
of time." Most of her students come to her after years of falling behind. On average, it takes her 2-3 years to close the gap and get them back on grade level in reading. However, she does have a few exceptions. "When it clicks, it really clicks. I have one 3rd grader who came to me in August reading at a kindergarten level. Here it is, mid-November, and he is reading on grade level. It's like he was just waiting for someone to teach him in a way that made sense."
After seeing the success of her tutoring business, White decided to take on a new challenge. In 2007, thanks in part to the new Special Needs Scholarship Program
in Georgia, the Ava White Academy
opened its doors with 4 full-time students. Today (2014), it has grown to serve 29. All have different needs, but the common ground is that each child learns differently.
The best part for White? She now has the knowledge and ability to tell children and parents YES.
Stay tuned for part 2 about how the Ava White Academy fosters a love of reading.
Want to be empowered to make similar changes in your child's academic life?
Join us for Spotlight on Dyslexia
, our online parent conference. One of our presenters is Barbara Wilson
, co-founder and President of Wilson Language Training
, which is the same program used at the Ava White Academy.
We'll also have sessions on IEP meetings, school collaboration, and assistive technology. It all takes place December 5th, and all content is available online for 60 days after.
Register today: www.LearningAlly.org/DyslexiaConference