By EMILY BROWN | Photography by Jeremy Smith
The Hannah School started when Melissa Hannah and Shawnda Majors began teaching children to read in a dining room. Before long the enrollment had exceeded physical space, so they moved to a garage. It was named The SCHLARAGE. As the children began to learn to read, the news spread quickly. Next, they moved from the garage to a farmhouse that was generously donated by the Mosley family. They began meeting capacity and were blessed again with more space at the Markham Street Baptist Church.
One in five people have dyslexia which is twenty percent of the population. Dyslexic minds process information differently. They are often gifted and talented but struggle to read, write and spell. Schools are not designed for dyslexic thinking, and most teachers are not trained to teach dyslexic students. Therefore, many students go through life without knowing they are dyslexic. Companies like Microsoft now recognize neurodiversity and value the dyslexic thinker as an advantage. They are recruiting people with dyslexia, because they have the ability to see the big picture and find multiple solutions to equations. Examples of extraordinary people with dyslexia include Albert Einstein, George Washington, Agatha Christie, Walt Disney, Anne Rice, Steve Jobs, and Keira Knightly. It’s vital that we train teachers to understand dyslexia, so teachers can identify students and give them the appropriate tools and proper intervention. Once they learn to read, anything is possible.
Our daughter Millie was diagnosed with dyslexia in the second grade. Millie was attending a private school in Little Rock when we noticed she was struggling to read. We had Millie tested privately outside of her school, and she was immediately diagnosed with dyslexia. Due to three dyslexia laws, public schools are mandated to recognize and remediate dyslexia; but even with the law on the child’s side, it is still a struggle. Private schools are exempt from any of these laws. Any private school that recognizes it does so because they know it is the necessary thing to do for children.
We knew our daughter was incredibly bright as she began to realize that she was learning differently than the way she was being taught. Millie at the young age of six years old asked us to enroll her in a school where she could learn to read. Millie had also begun to develop severe migraines while trying to read. As a family, we went into crisis mode. We then learned through her testing that she had exceptional math skills and excellent social skills, but struggled severely in the area of reading. We immediately enrolled Millie into another private school and hired several private interventionists to teach her to read. After a year of solid intervention, we still did not see any progress in the area of reading. At this point, we became very frustrated. How could this child be so outgoing, verbal, confident, smart and athletic, but unable to learn to read? Out of despair, we decided to relocate her to a school in Texas specifically for children with dyslexia.
I was ready to walk away from my business and commute between Arkansas and Texas along with my husband and son, who was a middle school student in Little Rock. After a lot of prayer and hope, I received a call from a friend. “Emily, have you heard about the Hannah School?” She gave me a contact and I called immediately. Tonya Mosley answered the phone. I began explaining to her how my child is very successful in all areas, but no one could teach her to read. She replied with compassion and said, “Emily, I know exactly how this feels as a mother. Everything is going to be okay.” She then explained that they were renting rooms in a church and had reached maximum capacity, but she might have an opening for the summer program. I immediately signed her up. Millie began summer intervention at the Hannah School four hours a day, five days a week. We explained to Millie that her summer was not going to be the same. There would be less pool time, less travel, less sports. Millie responded. “I don’t care. Please let me go there, because I have to learn to read and I will do anything to make it happen.”
Summer school started at the church with a small group of children. The church had six rooms, one water fountain, a small playground, occasionally no air conditioning, and one restroom. After six weeks, our daughter was learning to read. She made more progress in that church than she had made in her entire life. Millie said she wanted to stay because she was learning to read. I knew the church was small and the waiting list was growing rapidly. Families were showing up on the steps and begging for Melissa and Shawnda to help their children learn to read.
The Hannah School teaches children to read by using the Dubard Method, which is a phonetic, systematic, structured, incremental and cumulative multi-sensory approach for teaching reading. The Hannah School uses this approach in all academic areas. After a successful summer, Millie never left the Hannah School. I knew firsthand how successful this school was going to be for my child and the entire state of Arkansas. We immediately began fundraising to help the Hannah School obtain a “real” building. The waiting list continued to grow and the staff were heartbroken because they had to turn children away. All the parents and staff worked together and began raising enough money to find a home for the Hannah School.
I personally used my social media platforms to spread the word about dyslexia and our state being in a literacy crisis. Almost seventy percent of children in Arkansas are not reading on grade level. I also learned that the national averages are not very different. This indicates specific weaknesses in our core educational curriculum, weaknesses in teacher training, and the brutal cycle of functional illiteracy in our state and nation. We could not accept this as a parent and neither could any other family that had been under the roof of that church on Markham. Small business owners like myself sponsored fundraisers along with the most generous donations from all over the nation. The Hannah School now has an official home in Little Rock where every child will learn to read appropriately.
The Hannah school has come along way from The Schlarage with a long way to go. Thousands of children in our state need this intervention. This school has already made an incredible impact on stopping illiteracy in the Great State of Arkansas. “Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.” Frederick Douglass. For more information please visit hannahschool.org or call 501-940-4373.