Kim Hiebert was used to hearing people say her daughter Ava, 5, was “behind” — until the family found hope at Fundamental Learning Center.
Ava’s infectious smile and outgoing spirit charm people she encounters. Her charisma has never coincided with her delayed development in other areas, so those who meet her might never suspect she is anything but a typically developing child.
But Ava was born 10 weeks early, and, as a result, since birth she has faced challenges many full-term babies do not. She stayed in the hospital for 49 days.
Kim knew in her heart Ava was a fighter. She remembers Ava’s neonatologist pointing out how Ava, so tiny she was quarantined to her isolette in the hospital to maintain her body weight, batted her arm at him.
“It didn’t mean as much to me as it did to him,” Kim said. “He looked right at me and said, ‘She’s going to be fine, Mom; kids that have that kind of drive and determination are going to be all right.’”
When she was discharged, “everything was slow,” Kim said, but Ava’s parents were determined to give her every chance at success. Ava experienced delays in areas like speech, letter recognition and other learning milestones.
When Ava hadn’t begun saying words at 18 months old, she started working with a speech pathologist. She has worked with speech and occupational therapy professionals since then.
As Ava approached kindergarten age, her parents had planned to send her to their neighborhood public school. But doubts crept into their minds.
“We just couldn’t picture that,” Kim said.
Ava’s parents scheduled an appointment for a dyslexia screening at Fundamental Learning Center the spring before she was to enter kindergarten. The screener recommended Ava enter FLC’s summer literacy program to gain valuable pre-reading skills.
“We just really appreciated the honesty,” Kim said. “We wanted her to have the opportunity to be successful.”
Kim watched Ava blossom at FLC’s summer program.
“She was flitting around like she’d been (at FLC) her whole life,” Kim said.
The couple decided to apply to admit Ava to FLC’s Rolph Literacy Academy, a private intervention school for children with dyslexia and other reading difficulties. That is when Kim started seeing Ava achieve successes.
“As a parent, this whole place has been like a sigh of relief,” Kim said. “My 11-year-old walked around the school, and said, ‘This place doesn’t even look like a school.’ Ava will come home and say, ‘I had dance and I had drama.’ Everything is fun and interesting.”
During the 2017-2018 academic year, Ava received daily instruction in The Sound Case ™, an original curriculum for emerging readers written by FLC Co-Founder and Executive Director Jeanine Phillips. The reading instruction was given for at least one hour per day in a small group of four students.
Kim began to notice Ava making strides in the areas of phonics and writing.
“She can do letter sounds,” Kim said. “Seeing some of the stuff she comes home with, you can recognize her name when she writes it. It’s impressive.”
At the end of the year, Kim received the news that Ava’s phonological awareness testing score, which indicates how well she maps letter sounds to letter shape, grew from a 6 percent to a 52 percent over the course of the school year.
Combined with Ava’s work ethic, Fundamental Learning Center has been the key to Ava’s budding literacy.
“She is the hardest worker; she’s worked her bottom off at every stage, but her personality is so happy. I am very grateful for that,” Kim said. “(FLC) is a place where that could be cultivated and thrive instead of her blending in and starting to feel like she’s not as good as everyone else.”