Occasionally when a parent helps their struggling child learn to read, a dyslexia advocate is born.
Certainly this is the case with Fundamental Learning Center co-founders Gretchen Andeel and Jeanine Phillips, who worked to remediate their own children’s reading, writing and spelling skills before establishing FLC in 2000.
Dana McDowell of St. Joseph, Missouri, has a similar tale, with a flair of drama and fate that gives it the feel of a movie script. At the end of a long journey, she began a private reading instruction business to help St. Joseph kids with reading difficulties.
“It must’ve all been in God’s hands,” McDowell said.
Gabe Growing Up
When Dana’s son, Gabe, was in the second grade, his teacher recommended he get a screening for dyslexia. Dana didn’t know where to go to get assistance with possible dyslexia.
Dana’s cousin, a special education teacher, knew of one person about 20 minutes away in Atchison, Kansas, who tutored students with dyslexia. Dana procured her services to work with Gabe.
That tutor had been trained at Fundamental Learning Center. Right away upon learning about services at FLC, Dana called and made an appointment with Brian Stone, phD, a licensed psychologist.
“Gabe rode down to Wichita (for the evaluation) one kid, and he came back another,” Dana said. “Dr. Stone suggested maybe he should be an airplane mechanic, and that’s eventually exactly what he did.”
Gabe, now 20, recently gained his certification in aviation maintenance, and he is qualified to repair airplanes and other aircrafts. Dana said he probably would not have followed that path without the advice of Dr. Stone.
Gabe had a long road to get where he is. When the family visited FLC during Gabe’s fourth grade year, Dana learned about a tutor in St. Joseph that had also trained at FLC. This woman became Gabe’s tutor all the way through his Orton-Gillingham-based literacy program.
Along the way, Dana said Gabe was blessed with school teachers who might not have understood his dyslexia, but they cared enough to try.
“He is such a lovable guy,” she said. “They saw how hard he was working so they wanted to do whatever it took to accommodate him.”
Mother and Advocate
Meanwhile, Dana started identifying children who possibly had dyslexia just by observing them in play groups and other social environments. She recommended one of her best friends’ sons be screened for dyslexia, and that mother identified another child she knew with dyslexia. Their community grew.
After attending a dyslexia simulation in Kansas City one evening, Dana decided she wanted to do more for the families in the community who had a child with dyslexia.
“I laid in bed, and thought, ‘I have got to do something to bring awareness to our city,’” she said. “I messaged the moms I know and said, ‘I want to start a support group.’”
For years, Dana and her friends ran the support group — meeting regularly, raising funds to host dyslexia simulations and attending Individualized Education Plan (IEP) meetings at school to help parents advocate for kids with dyslexia.
Then, seven years ago, Dana had a life-changing event that changed her perspective entirely. A type 1 diabetic, Dana came down with pneumonia and a septic infection, and she went into a coma. The doctors told her family to prepare for the worst.
“While I was out, I knew there was something in me that was having a battle whether I was going to live my life right … At that time, I had given up on God,” Dana said. “I was given a second chance.”
Over the years, Dana had looked into getting certified to teach kids with dyslexia. Several years after her scare in the hospital, she had another dangerous episode with extremely low blood sugar. Angry, she shouted out at God.
“Driving down highway on my way to work, I heard a voice booming in my heart and in my head,” Dana said. “It said, ‘This is what you’re supposed to do; this is why I saved you.’ I was seeing the Barton (Reading and Spelling) system in front of me. I was hearing God tell me, ‘YOU are supposed to help these kids. Quit complaining no one is here to help. You be the person to help them.’”
Dana finished Barton training and began tutoring private students in January 2017. By May, she was able to quit her full-time job and work solely helping struggling readers learn to read with the Orton-Gillingham-based curriculum.
Often Dana is able to go into schools and replace a student’s reading curriculum with the Barton System. She has gained the trust of parents and educators in St. Joseph.
“They see that these kids are making no progress with reading program they have, and they see me working with kids outside of school,” she said, “and the kids are making progress.”