Caring, concerned and inquisitive parents intersected with warm and understanding Riverside School students, parents, teachers and staff during Admissions Open House on Thursday.
For visiting parents, make no mistake: This was an emotion-filled day to share and gather information about Riverside, but also to cry one another’s tears, hear about the struggles that parents and students have seemingly been longing to tell to a listening ear and laugh with as much relief as joy.
The takeaway was obvious: All parents want a better future for their child who is struggling with dyslexia or other learning-based language differences. At Riverside, they found a comforting place where everyone, child to adult, is met with a come-as-you-are welcome.
Part of the day featured informational presentations from Hal Waller, Riverside’s Head of School, Debra Mitchell, Riverside’s Associate Head of School, and Suzie Eklund, the Director of Language Fundamentals. They detailed the how and why of Riverside’s one-on-one individualized instruction. They also highlighted school’s unique Orton-Gillingham Approach and the dynamics of language fundamentals in action.
Parents looked on with a feeling of possibility and part-envy while touring a language fundamentals session where a teacher was aiding a young girl in deciphering similarly-sounding words. The feeling among onlookers, especially parents, was apparent: ‘My child needs to be doing that.’
As a whole, a feeling of uncompromised support emanated as parents discussed their child’s challenges as others offered a compassionate presence, an understanding nod, a smile and a repeating chorus of ‘That’s my son / daughter’ as adults shared the details of their child’s efforts, sometimes painstakingly so, to achieve and overcome a learning barrier.
Current Riverside students stood up and discussed how fortunate they are to attend the school. One boy memorably talked about how Riverside has provided ‘a foundation’ for his learning as parents sat on the edge of their seats, their eyes reddening with every word during a powerful question-and-answer session. The kids’ voices may have been soft, but their stories made a permanent impact on the souls of an engaged audience.
And current parents attended to discuss their child’s struggles before finding the right fit at Riverside. A woman remembered hearing from an administrator at her child’s previous school that he had to get the work done or “he was gone.” (Turns out, he did leave—for Riverside). A parent recalled his son bringing home a four-page handwritten document that was nearly indecipherable and unmistakably signaled ‘learning disability.’ He spoke of the emotional changes that accompanied his son’s difficulties, including describing his young one’s penchant for running inside at the bus stop just to avoid going to school before he came to Riverside. He and his wife enrolled their child at Riverside two years ago partly as a result of those experiences and the results, he noted have been ‘life changing.’
“We’re not afraid to talk about dyslexia—what it is and what it is not,” one parent noted. “There is a point where the child thinks, ‘I am going to be OK. There are students dealing with the same issues as me.’ ”
A mom explained reaching, in her words, the ‘breaking point’ as she watched her child work hard while also realizing that he faced an unwinnable race toward high achievement in a time-condensed environment, especially during test time.
Despite parents’ varied stories, a common theme predominated: There was a uniform emphasis that they once sat in the same seats as the visitors and shared the some worries, wondering how to help their child who was falling behind in the school. This sense was followed by another truism: All chose to send their son or daughter to Riverside and the results have been transformative as they consistently relayed unforgettable moments when their child’s potential finally met reality.
They noted the importance of navigating the complexities of dyslexia at a school that empowers kids with specific learning disabilities, a principle at the forefront of Riverside’s founding 40 years ago that is today buoyed by the school’s resources, accommodations and unfailingly dedicated teachers and staff.
“Here, you always know: This is who we are. This is what we’re about. This is how we’re going forward,” Mrs. Mitchell says.
A parent, Ms. Poindexter, recounted visiting with a friend whose child seemed trapped in a numbers game at a school as he dealt with a language processing weakness. Though she knows her 10-year-old son likes his current school, Ms. Poindexter describes his dyslexia as a fourth-grader in a public school setting as ‘trying to cram a square peg into a round hole.’
The Admissions Open House may have been a game-changer as the family notices their son’s self-esteem withering.
“I am ready to do more than ‘kick the tires,’ and get him into a program,” she said while fighting back tears. “It’s now or it’s not going to happen.”
Another parent, Mrs. White, has a young son with a language processing issue; though his problem is identifiable, the solution seems so elusive at times.
“He is working hard, but he learns differently than the other kids,” she said.
Her voice cracking, she offered: “I should’ve done something sooner.”