Time to Reflect...

The other day I was thinking about where Sliding Doors was just a year ago.  At this point last year, SDSquared was only a little bit more than an idea brewing.  I had approached my board and asked them their thoughts and if they would consider leaping aboard this thought train and I spent every spare moment reading articles and doing market research.  It was at this time though that we hit a turning point; one fateful afternoon I asked my daughter’s tutor, Joyce Maryanopolis, what she thought of all this and it was her response that put us on our current path.  You see, Joyce had always wanted to train tutors and both of us realized that this idea would give her the opportunity to do just that and get her method in front of so many more students.  It was then that SDSquared was born.

Since then, it has felt like we have been on the fast track and because of that it is easy for us to sometimes forget that in less than a year we launched a dynamic and innovative program and have already received requests to duplicate it in other locations.  We sometimes have such tunnel vision, focused on the task at hand, that we forget to breathe, to enjoy, and to be truly grateful to all of you who have taken the journey with us and who believed in us from the start.

So, I wanted to take a moment to thank the individual donors, the company sponsors, the volunteers, the parents, and the students who are truly the heart of Sliding Doors.  Your energy, generosity, dedication, and belief in our mission is what makes it possible for our students to receive the help they so desperately need and the boost to their confidence they deserve.  You have been with us since the beginning and because of that, we were able to get off the ground and that is why, only a year later, we have been able to see this vision crystalize into something that will help so many children!

Common Core Reading?

Recently, my daughter came home with a math assignment that she needed a little help with.  My husband and I both flinched as we heard the request come from the living room, “Moooom, Daaaaad, I need some help with my math.” We flinched because we knew what was to follow was a tear-filled hour (and by tears I mean mine) over trying to figure out some new-fangled strategy for doing long-division. You guessed it…we are in the throes of common core math.

Like most parents nowadays, my husband and I are absolutely befuddled by the math assignments that come home, not to mention, frustrated that what started as a methodology to try to access more students has become instead a way to turn off students who are our future leaders in STEM.

Let me explain and I’ll use the most recent homework battle as an example.  Our daughter came home with 10 long division problems with only one direction – use the “sharing method” to do the following problems.  So, I ask her, “What’s the sharing method?” and having just learned it that day my nine year old was unable to explain what it was.  Okay, no problem, I think…I’ll Google it.  Sure enough, there is a ton out there about the sharing method with examples for problems like 12 divided by 3.  Then I look at her first problem – 416 divided by 4….hmmmmm…how does that work?!

After about 20 minutes of me running multiple examples I finally got a grip on it myself, enough to be able to help her.  As I sat there trying to explain to her the multitude of steps that I could intuitively do due to the fact that I excelled in math and have done it for how many more years, I felt my frustration growing, not at her, or the assignment, but rather the absolute insanity of the number of assumptions and estimations that someone with her limited background would have to make in order to do one problem in under 5 minutes.  I watched as she mentally slipped away and her frustration grew only to have her throw up her hands and say, “I am TERRIBLE at math.”  This is a child who scored advanced in math on her SOLs! 

In other words, common core is losing her, a child who would excel in math and has since the age of three said she wants to be an engineer, a child who from that age has been continually complimented for her ability to solve complex problems and for her advanced conceptualization of the world. 

So, If the goal of common core math is to access more students, then why do we penalize students for not knowing EVERY strategy for a given concept?  Why are we not introducing all the strategies and then grading students on using whatever strategy works best for them that shows they know the concept?  Isn’t knowing the concept the standard we need to achieve?

And then I began to think about children with dyslexia and not only about the fact that this way of teaching math is even more confusing for them for a variety of reasons.  Rather, I thought about how we teach reading only ONE way and that got me asking…So when are we going to introduce Common Core Reading with multiple strategies for one concept?

In the meantime, I think I will publish a Common Core Math for Dummies and give it to parents who need to help their kids with their homework!

New Days Resolutions

From all of us at Sliding Doors, Happy New Year!  We hope that your holidays were full of joy, love and fun.

So, new year’s resolutions…we’ve all made them at one time or another and for someone like me who is a big thinker and planner, I revel in sitting with my journal on New Year’s Day, looking at the year ahead and picking my goals and planning just how I will achieve them.  I also take some time to reflect on the goals of the past year and cheer for those I achieved and analyze where I fell short on those I didn’t.  This year it was particularly fun and poignant as I reflected on the establishment of SDSquared and just where I want it to go in the year ahead.

As I have mentioned in a previous post (and as evidenced by my New Year’s tradition), I am a planner.  This did not change with arrival of the chaos of parenthood; in fact, I admittedly struggled with just how impossible it is to stick to a plan for a day, a week, or sometimes even just the next 10 minutes when you have little people calling your name or sticking their little fingers underneath the bathroom door. 

And of course, the impossible became the unfathomable when we began tackling our daughter’s challenges.   All that wonderful planning I did – her schooling, her activities – forget about it!  I was just was happy when we got through the day with a torrent of tears. 

I would be lying if I said that I easily abandoned all of that; truly it felt like I was mourning the loss of something, of some kind of idealized image of what she could become.  I had to let go of it and truly rebaseline my hopes and expectations. Again, as I mentioned previously, I just wanted her to be happy and confident.

To accomplish this, when it comes to my child, I no longer set New Year’s Resolutions; I set New Days Resolutions.  We focus on the immediate goal of getting through the day and achieving minor successes – passing a test, working out an argument with a friend, asking for help despite her fear.  In that vein, this year we are adding a new tradition – we have a jar in the middle of our table and when we achieve those so-called minor victories we write them down and put them in.  That way when we feel like we haven’t achieved anything, we have that visual reminder of all that we have in fact accomplished.  These “small” victories are what lead to ultimately the larger ones but by breaking them down to these chewable pieces we help our children build that confidence and understand that a “thousand mile journey begins with a single step.”

So, please join us and set your New Day’s Resolutions!

But I want to be just like Mom and Dad!

I saw an article this week that reminded me of something I learned through the whole testing process, “Study shows squirming may help some kids with ADHD learn” (https://www.understood.org/en/community-events/blogs/in-the-news/2015/05/28/news-study-suggests-squirming-may-help-some-kids-with-adhd-learn).  As you can imagine, going through the whole testing and evaluation process with our daughter was eye-opening.  We learned a lot about how she learns and what challenges she faces.  We were given tips, strategies and advice on how to help reach her fullest potential.  We even had to face those wonderfully intentioned but misguided opinions from evaluators, teachers, and family and friends. 

However, this process taught and gave us more than that.  For me, and maybe the fact that I am former teacher influenced this, it was a glimpse into our educational system and just how truly opposite it is from what it is expected from adults in the workplace.

On a general level, picture this.  You are assigned a project at work.  After weeks of studying, writing and editing, you go to your boss and you say, “Great news, I finished my project!  And aren’t you proud of me…I sat quietly at my desk and completed the whole project with no input!”  Your boss would look at you like you were crazy and tell you to do it again.  So, why do we expect our students to study independently, complete projects on their own and take tests while sitting quietly at their desks? I know that we have made strides in including group work in curriculums but the vast majority of assessment is done individually.

Now let’s think more specifically about kids with learning challenges.  When our daughter was evaluated, she was diagnosed as having anxiety and mild ADHD.  One of the suggested accommodations was that she could have a “fidget” toy, something she could have in her hands that would give her a focus that would then in turn help her focus on the lesson.  Terrific!  Let’s get that into her assistance plan.

Wait, what?  Let me get this straight…we just spent thousands of dollars and hours putting our child through the emotional wringer to get permission for her to have a “fidget.” Again, let’s put this in context of the work place.  Next time you are in a meeting, take a look at the adults around you.  Are they sitting completely still and focused on the speaker?  Are their hands placed calmly on their lap or in front of them?  No!  They are doodling, flipping through Facebook on their phones or taking a bathroom break.  In other words, we expect more of our children in school than we do of adults in every board room across the country!

This is one of the largest reasons we switched schools.  We are very blessed to have a public school that understands that children need to move and that learning is not a static, isolated activity.  I only hope that more schools will adopt this model so that all students, especially the ones with learning challenges, can thrive!

Riding a Bike

Like most avid readers, I have a stack of books that I keep on my nightstand, some pop culture fiction, some non-fiction, some “work” related books on dyslexia.  Recently, I was chatting with a good friend and she recommended the book, “Fish in a Tree” by Lynda Mullaly Hunt.  I excitedly told her that it was already on my stack; her response was move it to the top.

Because this friend is not one to make such bold assertions often, I heeded the advice and began reading it that evening.  About a 6th grade girl who has struggled her entire life with dyslexia, Fish in a Tree is a stunning account of what these children face every day from their perspective.  As I read this touching, heart wrenching account, I thought about my own child and how, until we got her the help she needed and taught her to own and be proud of who she is, she felt this way EVERY DAY.  I finally understood at a visceral level her heartbreak and frustration. 

The passage that brought me to tears is one where Ally explains how she feels to a friend, “Imagine if every single time you got on your bike, you had to worry that the wheels would come off.  And every time you ride, they do.  But you still have to ride.  Every day. And then you have to watch everyone watch you as the bike goes to pieces underneath you.  With everyone thinking that it’s your fault and you’re the worst bike rider in the world.” Just wow.

To think that this is what so many of our children face, when the rest of us simply get on our bikes and ride away.  To think of the times that I was one of those people who stood by and watched as my daughter’s wheels came off or of all the conferences I had with teachers who also just watched.  It makes me continue to be grateful to all of those teachers and friends who didn’t just stand by but instead helped her up, grabbed a tool and put her bike back together and eventually handed her the tools and taught her how.

It is why I want to unite these same powerful, gifted adults with Sliding Doors so that it is more than just my child who has the tools.  Together we can all move from the sidelines and pick up those pieces so that together we can not only give those children what they need but also give our society a chance to see their brilliance and to benefit from it. 

Please, read this book.  When you do, I hope that you are inspired to pick up a tool and join the fight!

Teaching Kids to Be Happy and Confident

Without question, parents want their kids to be happy and confident.  However, too often we conflate happiness with material success as evidenced by our obsession with the number of activities our kids are in, how well they do on tests, or how many flashcards and workbooks we did with them when they were younger.  In fact, when my first daughter was a toddler, I dreaded telling other moms I was a teacher because inevitably I would get some form of the question, “What flashcards, workbooks, activities, etc. do you use?” My response was always the same, “None.  I let her play.” Often times I was met by stunned silence and in some cases even a sneer but every time it was the end of the conversation.

Don’t get me wrong.  I can also get caught up in those material successes; in fact, I was one of the loudest parents on the pool deck this summer and was thrilled when she came home with those ribbons. However, it was our daughter who continually reminded us of what was truly important and one specific example really stands out.  After her first competitive meet where her dad and I were ecstatic that she came in 2nd and her relay team came in 1st, she came up to us bubbling with excitement (something that is rare) and exclaimed, “Mommy, I made a new friend!”

Through our journey, we have had our share of tough days and heartbreak and on those days you become almost envious of parents whose children are seemingly gliding through their elementary days.  But you know what?  I wouldn’t trade those tough days for anything and here’s why.  Facing these challenges forced us to rebaseline; in other words, we were forced to abandon those type A ambitions for our daughter as we realized that school for her was a struggle neither one of us understood.  As we watched her scratch and claw to just keep up and at the same time watch our once confident girl fade, all we wanted was for her smile to return.  With that, our priority became her happiness, not her academic success.

Our efforts changed from fretting over her homework to teaching her mindfulness techniques, changing her negative outlook to a positive one and making sure she saw even the tiniest of successes every day.  We worried less about test scores and more about personal victories.  We snuggled more, played more and found time to do the things she loved to do.  During one of her toughest periods, she and I even volunteered at a cat shelter because she wanted to help cats find homes.  Just that two hours a week gave her something that was hers and a place where she was succeeding.

Now, I have a kid whose smile has returned and who can find the positive in anything.  We still have our bumps and bad days but what we see now is a kid who confidently tells people she has dyslexia and that she loves who she is.  And, perhaps more importantly, she has given us the greater gift – the reminder of what truly matters in life.

The Best Laid Plans

I have now seen the attached meme circulated on Facebook a number of times and every time I see it I chuckle because of just how accurately it depicts our journey.  To say that I am a planner is a bit of an understatement, so, needless to say that when my daughter began Kindergarten at a small Catholic school, I had hers (and my) path laid out for the next 9 years.  Simple really…she would excel in everything she set out to do and I would gleefully follow.  In fact, shortly into that first year, I took on the part-time job as development director, completely sure that by the time my younger daughter started Kindergarten, I would be full-time and we would blissfully skip through their elementary and middle school years.

It was half way through her 1st grade year that I was humbled and reminded that we are not in control, especially as parents.  It was at that point when homework and reading became an hour long tearful struggle, her behavior in the classroom eroded, and we were watching our once confident daughter disappear.  People who know me will also tell you that I am a problem solver and will stop at nothing until I have found a solution.  Although we were told by the teaching staff that “we are not throwing up any red flags yet,” my husband and I were heartbroken watching our daughter lose her love of learning.  So we went through psycho-educational testing which revealed high levels of anxiety and low working and phonological memory.  With that info, we came up with an action plan that included private tutoring and an assistance plan that included accommodations like seat placement, movement breaks, tests being read to her, extra time and more. 

We prayed this would work because we loved our small school and leaving was unthinkable. The faculty worked so hard to give her what she needed; however, we would soon have to face the reality that it wasn’t enough.  Over 4 heart wrenching months, we researched many options – another private school, homeschooling, public school, staying where we were.  Then, we were handed the answer – we had serendipitously moved to be closer to our school and in doing so landed within the boundary of an amazing public school, the staff of which showed us just what they are capable of when we went through the IEP process.  As much as saying goodbye can be difficult, we knew what we had to do.

We took the leap of faith and moved her to this public school and it paid off!  She thrived in her new environment and was continually supported by a well-trained and large faculty, something that sadly is difficult for a smaller private school to provide. She now reads right on grade level, does her homework without argument and actually reads for pleasure! 

I share this story because I want other parents to know there is hope!  There is hope when you become a bulldog for your child and put whatever plan you had aside and instead figure out and give them what they need.  Over the course of this journey, here’s what we learned:

·       Action is better than inaction.  I don’t care who is telling you to wait or that things aren’t so bad or that maybe the problem will go away.  YOU KNOW YOUR CHILD BETTER THAN ANYONE!  Follow your gut and do what you have to do.  Fight for the testing, seek extra help, find resources!

·       The only constant in life is change.  I am still a planner.  However, I have learned to take each day as it comes and be acutely aware of what is going on, so that I can pivot and change directions in order to best help my child.  I am in the classroom as often as I can be and when I can’t be, I ask the teacher what’s going.  We are constantly adjusting and reevaluating and know that her situation may take a downturn. It comes with the territory!

·       You are part of a team!  Your child’s teachers, administration, tutors, therapist and YOU form the team that will make your child succeed!  Each and every member brings something to the table and communication is the key.  Mutual respect is also key; make sure your voice is heard but that you also respect the expertise of those that are with your child every day.  Together you will get there! And if that team isn’t working, find another one.

·       Every Child is Different.  What works for your child will not be what necessarily work for someone else’s.  Find your child’s strengths, challenges, and triggers and find or create the environment that will help he or she thrive. 

·       You are not alone!  So many parents have traveled this road before you, including us.  Seek us out and get the emotional support you need.  It’s not easy and just to hear that others have seen and experienced what you are going through makes a world of difference.  And you have us at SDSquared!  It is a large reason why I began this program so that parents can get the support and resources they need!



And so it begins...

It is with great excitement, anticipation and a small bit of fear that I announce the founding of my new non-profit, Sliding Doors STEM & Dyslexia Learning Center.  For those of you who know our family, you know that our oldest child has spent the last three years facing the challenge of being dyslexic and having anxiety and after a battery of tests, countless hours of tutoring and the dedication of so many amazing educators and loving family members and friends, she is entering 4th grade reading at grade level and more importantly with a huge smile on her face.  Yay!

We know that we will continually have our challenges but we also know that we have the tools, knowledge and means to help her.  Over the course of this journey though we have seen that many children are not so lucky.  So, we are turning our attention, our energy and our knowledge to help those children - hence, the birth of SDSquared!  We are working hard to unite multiple resources and talented and caring people to create a one of a kind program so that ALL children with dyslexia have equal access to the help they need. 

We hope to use this blog as a way to help people help the children they love!  Stay tuned and spread the word!