How Lumina School Began
A few short years ago, I held my daughter’s small hand in mine, and walked with her into a bright kindergarten classroom. I was proud and nervous; she was excited. We carefully hung up her new purple backpack and put away her stack of school supplies, and she ran confidently up to join the group gathering around the teacher.
I left that day with few worries. I had no reason believe that school for her would be anything but a wonderful, affirming place; as it had been for me. From elementary school through medical college, I had loved the classroom, all the way down to the smell of the erasers and chalk!
My daughter was a bright and happy girl, impressing everyone she met with her smile and huge vocabulary. We lived in a home full of books, and read to our children every day. While she was not interested in trying to read yet, she knew her letters and numbers well.
An unexpected struggle
At first, all was wonderful. My daughter loved to lead class discussions and enjoyed the crafts and coloring pages. She made friends and came home each day laughing. She loved to please her teacher.
Soon, though, the push began for her to read and write. Within a few weeks, her smiles started to fade. She no longer came home chattering about school. “Fifteen minutes worth” of homework worksheets took an hour, and were often accompanied by tears and sometimes broken pencils. Her teacher began to send notes: Could we practice letter formation more at home? Were we reading together for twenty minutes each night?
By the winter break, my daughter had decided she no longer liked school. Usually her complaints were simply, “I just don’t want to do it” and “It’s too hard!”, but one rough night she admitted, “I can’t do it, and I don’t understand why it is so easy for everyone else!”. She'd make some gains with her reading and math facts, but then what she learned seemed to evaporate the next day. Her teacher was concerned and frustrated. Was she getting enough sleep? Could she have an attention problem? Was everything alright at home?
By spring break, my daughter had lost 8 of her 38 pounds. She was a sullen shadow of the girl I’d walked in with that first day of school, and now sometimes in trouble at school for refusing to do her work. Our pediatrician could find no medical problems. Her teacher did what she could to ease her workload, and we waited several anxious weeks for an evaluation with a neuropsycholologist.
dyslexia and an uphill battle
At the end of that rough year, we had our answer. After hours of testing, the neuropsychologist told us our daughter was very intelligent, but also had dyslexia and some mild, related problems with attention. Her mind was a powerful race car, but in a classroom setting she was saddled with square wheels. I was relieved to have an answer, but also frustrated that it had taken so long to figure out. Later, I would learn that many children struggle for years before being diagnosed.
The doctor gently explained the hard work ahead of us. Public schools had an obligation to help, but often did not have staff qualified in the dyslexia-specific programming that would be needed to teach her to read and write well. She probably would not qualify for extra help or accommodations (things like more time to complete work or less handwriting requirements) until she actually failed for one to two years, and perhaps may never qualify because her high intelligence would keep her close enough to grade level. She also wouldn’t qualify for the school's gifted programs that would challenge her and keep her interest, because of her poor reading and writing skills.
Private schools may choose to help, but often had even less resources for special education. We were told to invest in private tutors for reading and writing, fight for accommodations in school, and enroll her in supplemental gifted programs. We did all of these things, all the while also trying to repair her self-esteem and convince her she was not “dumb and worthless” as she now believed.
I spent the next two years reading everything I could about learning differences. We tried homeschooling, special tutors, online learning, and finally found a progressive private school that worked with us as best they could. My daughter rallied and regained her weight, and at least some of her smiles. We struggled hard with the balance of developing grit and pushing hard, while also trying to accommodate her needs. Eventually, we found ourselves unable to afford both the expensive outside dyslexia tutoring she needed plus school tuition. Despite everything we had done, she still often came home frustrated and exhausted.
The Lumina Answer
I knew what she needed – a school with that focused on developing her strengths, while supporting her with explicit, structured, multisensory language arts as part of her school day, as well as assistive technology to allow her to concentrate on the content of courses rather than the mechanics of reading text and taking handwritten notes. If only I could find such a school! I began to hear the same from other parents — I was not the only one looking for a combination of both the right remediation and deep exploration of the areas our kids are good at.
I remembered the years I’d spent in college training to be a teacher before deciding on medical school. I considered how many other seemingly impossible things I've worked for and achieved in my life. One day, I looked into my daughter’s eyes and knew exactly what I needed to do, for her and the other children in her lonely spot. There really is no time to wait.
If you’ve been down a similar path and know your child needs to learn differently, I hope you will join us. Let's take their hands and show them there is light at the end of the tunnel, and it's closer than we think.