Picture a young girl and her desire to read like her siblings. Picture her reaching for books on the shelf, longing to explore new worlds but instead getting lost because of words. Imagine a concerned mother and home school teacher taking her young daughter to a speech language pathologist for evaluation and training. Imagine this mother learning also and collaborating closely on dyslexic-specific learning strategies specially designed for her daughter. Now, picture the daughter as an adult, a university graduate, a Fulbright scholar, an English teaching assistant abroad.
Perhaps it is true when they say dyslexia is a gift, or even a blessing in disguise, because this is indeed the spark that lit a flame. Today this mother and school teacher, Gladys Schaefer, the current President of the Alabama Branch of the International Dyslexia Association, is now leading a new institute in Birmingham named in recognition of the speech language pathologist, Hettie Johnson, who years ago helped transform her daughter’s life and indeed her own.
The Hettie Johnson Institute (HJI), as the outreach arm of Spring Valley School, has an ardent wish. That wish is to bring success to those who struggle in their learning because of a specific difficulty such as dyslexia and to equip teachers to help them the best way they can. By offering the finest in dyslexia and learning disability education, teacher training, as well as parent and student support services, HJI aspires to make a difference to learning and teaching in the state of Alabama. With its community outreach, it will increase awareness of specific learning disabilities by arranging monthly community events, bringing in guest speakers and experts in this field, disseminating information and research, holding dyslexia simulations on-site or in other public forums and developing links with other community organizations. It will also provide teacher training programs that lead toward certification in academic language therapy in conjunction with Neuhaus Education Center in Houston, Texas. Finally, HJI will deliver after-school education and special tutoring services on a small-group or individual basis to both young and adult learners who face reading or learning difficulties.
In Alabama the call is loud for an institute like this, a place that targets the specific learning needs of those who too often fall through the cracks. Working together with the community and those who share its vision, HJI will help students to discover the joy of learning, teach them to have faith in themselves, give them the opportunity to reveal their hidden strengths and talents, and ultimately transform their lives.
After all, by championing learners who struggle, we champion all learners.
This piece was contributed by Matthias Maunsell, member of the Advisory Council for HJI at Spring Valley and a PhD student in Educational Studies in Diverse Populations at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.