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My Orton-Gillingham Success Story
by Barbara Waterstradt, B.S.Ed. Special Education, C/AOGPE

When first approached to write an article about an OG success story, I thought about all the students that I have taught over the last ten years at Trident Academy, an accredited Academy of Orton-Gillingham Practitioners and Educators school dedicated to serving children with language-based learning differences in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. I teach a multi-grade class consisting of kindergarten through second grade students.  I am a certified member of the Academy and practice the OG principles daily throughout all subject areas. There have been so many special children that I have had the pleasure to teach, but one child in particular kept coming to the forefront of my mind.  With that, I would like to share my story about Jayden.

Jayden had been in and out of foster care, and as a result had severe separation anxiety.  At age three, he moved in with a family who adopted him two years later. In the words of his mother, Julie, “He was my son the day he came to live with me.” When he began school, he had a thick southern accent along with articulation problems.  Jayden’s family moved from the upstate region of South Carolina to attend Trident Academy to address his learning needs.  Their friends and family thought they were overreacting to go to such extremes for their child.  When he started at Trident Academy, many teachers could not understand Jayden and relied on me to interpret for him.  With the help of speech therapy, Jayden began to speak more clearly.  He also loved to use the word “ain’t.”  That was one of many battles that went on throughout my first year as Jayden’s teacher.

All of the previously mentioned issues that Jayden had to deal with would certainly be enough to cause learning problems for most children.  Now on top of that, he has dyslexia.  Thank goodness Jayden has a family that recognized the need for Orton-Gillingham instruction.  Unfortunately, Jayden did not value that instruction.  He built very tall and thick walls around himself to protect him from outsiders.  No matter how I tried, he did not think my way of teaching (OG) would work.  However, I knew that Jayden was highly intelligent and very competitive. I used that to start breaking down those walls.  He was a nonreader and had to be placed in a reading group all alone. He listened and watched as the other groups read and progressed while he made little progress.  I could tell that this bothered him and finally I asked him to just give my way a try.  He wanted to be able to read words by guessing instead of applying the sound-symbol relationships he knew.  Once he started making the connection between the sound and the symbol, he started to trust that maybe I did know something about this reading thing.

Jayden then began blending sounds to read words, words to read stories, and stories to read books.  It was a beautiful experience to witness.  He once told me that at his old school, he was the only one that could not read.  His mother took him back to his old school where Jayden read a book to his former class.  She told me that his former teacher cried.  It brings tears to my eyes just thinking about it all these years later.  By the end of that first year, Jayden had made great progress in reading.

When Jayden came back to school as a second grader in my class, he was a different child.  He trusted me completely.  I had finally broken down those walls and was able to do some real work with this bright young boy. He had always had strong math skills, but his reading was still well below grade level.  With help from speech therapy, his tutor (daily OG tutorial), and classroom instruction, Jayden began to soar. I truly believe that using OG principles to teach all subject areas contributed to Jayden’s fantastic second grade year.  He was now in the highest reading group in the class, above grade level in math, and excelled in science.  Besides the incredible academic growth, Jayden’s personality went through a great transformation.  With the increase in self-confidence, he became a leader in the classroom as well as a loyal supporter of me.  He showed respect and demanded that the other students follow suit.

By the end of Jayden’s second grade year, I felt strongly that he would be ready for transition back to a public school after one more year.  Oh, by the way, he was no longer saying, “ain’t.” He completed third grade at Trident Academy and was indeed ready to leave.  After a brief stay at a local public school, the family decided they were ready to move back home to the upstate.  Like many of my families, I have kept in touch over the years.  Since leaving Trident Academy, Jayden has achieved great academic success, culminating in induction into the Junior Beta Club.  Beta Club is a national honor club, which recognizes high academic achievement, character, service, and leadership.  He is now in sixth grade, consistently is on the honor roll each quarter, and maintains his membership in the Beta Club.

Jayden’s story is truly a success story in so many ways.  Starting with his adoption by parents, who would sacrifice everything to help him, all the way to achieving academic honors and being a part of the Beta club. Jayden’s mom continues to give our wonderful school credit for laying the foundation for Jayden.  I love it when I receive an email from her, because I know it is going to be more good news about this smart young man.  In a recent email Julie shared, “The impact you have made on his life is one that broke a lifelong cycle. I could easily see how children who go undiagnosed end up in jail or worse due to poor self-esteem. But, you all see the potential in each child and you never give up on them.” Jayden’s story is a true testament that no sacrifice for your child’s education is too great.  His family has been repaid many times over by the hard work of their special son Jayden. This also demonstrates how the right type of teaching can change lives.  While all of the OG principles are important, I find the principle of diagnostic and prescriptive instruction to be the most powerful and the one that I keep in my head every time I write my lesson plans. Even though I am a planner, I know that I have to be flexible and stay true to the individual needs of my students.  I often think of the saying “Life is not a race, but a journey.”  We will all get where we need to be, just by different paths.

Editor’s Note: Are you a parent or teacher with an OG success story? We would love to hear it! Please contact info@ortonacademy.org if you are interested in sharing your story in the newsletter.