This is the story of The Studio School – and how one family’s struggle with dyslexia inspired the launch of Orlando’s arts-immersive, literacy-forward concept, where dyslexic learners are empowered to re-write their own stories.
Juda is a super smart, creative, curious, compassionate, risk-taking, problem-solving, show-stopping, 7-year-old little boy. And I get to be his Mom. To me and my husband, Joel, Juda is all these things and more.
He and his equally awesome older brother light up our world, and one day… I believe they will change it!
From the moment Juda’s learning difference was officially identified, I leapt head first into the land of dyslexia. I quickly learned that Orton-Gillingham is regarded as the gold standard in teaching dyslexic learners to read, write and spell. I mined every online resource, scholarly paper, book, article, and essay I could get my hands on. And connected with as many leaders in the dyslexic community as possible.
Ultimately, I learned what I already knew about my own son…that dyslexic people are smart, compassionate, beautifully quirky, often creative and worthy beyond measure. Figuring out the right way to remediate was the easy part. What I struggled with was the injustice of the American public school system at large, and the lack of understanding on how to help our dyslexic learners succeed in the classroom. The IEP and 504 meetings, the tiered interventions, the missing of recess to complete unfinished work and the unavailability of truly meaningful support for students and parents…all felt so deflating to me. Imagine how our dyslexic kids feel trying to navigate within that system. The tide is slowly turning on some of this (largely due to some pretty fierce advocate warrior moms and educators). But systemic change is slow. And Juda (along with so many other kids) couldn't wait.
All of this said, I still believe that public school can be the right fit for some students, and we send our older son to one we love every day (barring this crazy last year). Despite the wide-ranging challenges thrust upon them, every public school teacher I know cares deeply about their students and does the very best they can within the framework. But dyslexic learners need a direct, explicit, multisensory, structured, sequential, diagnostic and prescriptive approach. They require 14-40 exposures on a concept, when neurotypical learners of similar IQ achieve mastery after far fewer. And on top of all of this, many colleges of education are not teaching the science of reading, let alone the right approach to support dyslexic learners. So the deck is often stacked against our beloved teachers...and against our promising dyslexic learners.
Some families turn to private schools or tutoring. But the expense of private intervention can be financially crippling…or downright unattainable. Plus, tutoring doesn’t come with a tribe. Juda needed both a community and access to the right education.
So I just kept thinking…how can I make quality, appropriate, engaging dyslexic education more accessible in Central Florida?
Not one to wait in the wings, I completed my Orton-Gillingham 60-hr Associate level training under a fellow-level coach at the Academy of Orton-Gillingham Practitioners and Educators (AOGPE). I furthered my education with an additional 30 hours of comprehensive OG training through the Institute for Multisensory Education (IMSE). And I’ve been fortunate enough to work daily with students like Juda – adapting the OG methodology alongside a language I’ve known and studied for years: the arts.
Though my degree from the University of Central Florida is in Film & Digital Media, I was a dancer and choreographer for a good 20 years of my professional life. I trained in Chicago, and performed in international festivals, concerts and commercial trade shows across the country. I’ve taught all over Florida, working as an adjunct professor and guest lecturer at multiple high schools and universities – from Douglas Anderson School for the Arts to Rollins College and the University of Florida. I've witnessed, first-hand, the healing and transformative impact of the arts.
The more I learned about the science of reading, structured literacy, and the Orton-Gillingham approach, the more parallels I drew between the regimen of dance training and the regimen of reading intervention. Even the most seasoned professional dancer, enters the dance studio, and begins rehearsal with the most rudimentary of movements... the “plie,” or “bending of the knee.”
Likewise, emerging readers must begin their training with basic warm-ups. For example, phoneme-grapheme drills, phonemic awareness and syllable type discrimination – all building blocks for literacy. And just like our knees, the human brain can bend and flex…unlocking abilities that open doors to make the world a broader place.
It was out of this observation of shared regimen, combined with my desire for community for my child, my love of the arts, my passion for justice and my core belief that all children deserve an emotionally-sound, joyful, transparent and creative environment to learn…that The Studio School was born.
Incorporating movement and a multitude of artistic mediums – from the simplest to the most obscure – The Studio School delivers an unparalleled, arts-integrated literacy experience. Offering two full, in-person school days per week, our academic focus is on literacy, using the Orton-Gillingham approach and arts-integration. Optional private OG tutoring and place-based education are offered on alternate days.
While you can expect to see science, history and math woven moderately throughout our curriculum, families should think of us primarily as an arts-integrated, literacy program. Students are registered as homeschoolers.
Our leadership and faculty are driven not only by a shared vision for our students' success, but by a commitment to transparency, communication and accountability. Ask us anything. This is the school Juda has needed all his life, and I’m excited to finally open its doors to you.
Classes at The Studio School begin this fall at our permanent Orlando location. Until then, our robust summer camp program, kicking-off in June, will be hosted at Harwood-Watson Dance Studios in Winter Park.
Follow us on social media for enrollment announcements, family interviews, scholarships and programming.
– By Casey Saxon, Executive Director The Studio School Orton-Gillingham Trained (AOGPE, IMSE)