Issue 31 | November 2, 2012 | Featuring the Votry Family

How can an out-going little girl with obvious intelligence and energy struggle mightily with her learning, even though her mind is active and imaginative?  Where is the glitch?  And how can a mother who recognizes the problem, keep her daughter excited about learning regardless of the difficulty encountered?  Read Sienna and Kim Votry's success story under our featured student of the week.


It is not too late to sign up to write a novel this month through the NaNoWriMo program. Because Kim Votry is the one who introduced this unique idea to us, we had her travel to Yakima from Seattle last week to lead a workshop for students interested in getting involved.   

National Novel Writing Month is an annual internet-based creative writing project which challenges participants to write 50,000 words of a new novel between November 1 and 30.  For younger students, the number of words is reduced. The project started in July 1999 with just 21 participants, but by the 2010 event over 200,000 people took part - writing a total of over 2.8 billion words.

Writers wishing to participate first register on the project's website, where they can post profiles and information about their novels, including synopses and excerpts. Word counts are validated on the site, with writers submitting a copy of their novel for automatic counting.  Remember also, that all of this is worth self-designed credit!

FEATURED FAMILY: Kim and Sienna Votry

 Sienna Votry

Sienna Early in life, inspired by the stories that her parents frequently read to her, Sienna would return the favor by entertaining her mother, Kim, with stories told from her imagination.  Some of them were lengthy, some complicated and all of them were a display of the passion this child held for plots full of mystery.  As time went by, the abundance of stories continued, so Kim began sitting at her computer typing out the stories spilling from her daughter's creative imagination; some of these sessions grew quite lengthy.  Eventually the stories matured in content, giving Kim every reason to believe that her daughter's passion may be indicative of a gift.  But sparkle escaped the delights of these moments when it became apparent that Sienna, now old enough, could not read the stories that she dictated to her mother.   

Little by little, all the pieces fell into place developing in Kim the realization that Sienna was struggling with dyslexia.   Many signs emerged including reversals and omitted letters and words, difficulty in reading, disorganization of written work and spelling irregularities.  Kim described it this way:  "Sienna's problems with reading seemed strange because she loved language, loved stories, and she was totally driven, but then had such a problem with the actual reading.    Her curiosity and comprehension levels were high.  She could write her own stories at 3rd grade, but if she went back to them a few days later, she could not read what she had written.  I was a natural speller, so it was challenging for me to have to learn how to teach someone to spell.  But learning to spell was complicated because Sienna would flip her b's and d's."  How is a budding storywriter going to develop if she struggles with reading and writing?

Realizing the challenges that lay before them, Kim went to work using every avenue she could discover to help Sienna grow in her skills and not lose momentum due to discouragement.   Kim, herself a writing instructor and published author, instinctively realized the threat this learning barrier could impose on the health of Sienna's love for learning.  So she found a means to bridge the gap between her skills and her output.  That "means" involved a lot of Kim's time, and it was time well-spent. Kim sharpened Sienna's writing talents by showing her how to add organization in a fun way that got the girl hooked on writing.  She would let Sienna write and then she would edit and make suggestions for improvement. In Sienna's words, "Mom was very encouraging and fun to work with."  Kim's demeanor blocked the avenue toward discouragement and kept the joy alive for her daughter.

Kim Votry

Kim VotryAray of hope for a solution arrived when Kim was told several months ago about a study planned by the University of Washington, called "Computerized Assessment and Instruction for Writing and Reading." The principal investigator is Virginia W. Berninger from the Educational Psychology Department at the University of Washington Learning Disabilities Center. The Center is funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

The first phase of the study required Sienna to be tested to determine if dyslexia is the proper diagnosis.  The results of the five-hour assessment proved she was to be an excellent candidate for the program.   

The location for the next phase shifted to the University of Washington medical center, where Sienna experienced a lengthy brain scan.  Lying down for 3 hours, she was tested on reading, spelling and writing. Scans were taken while she performed tasks to see which neurological pathways lit up in the brain.  Researchers were looking for areas that were not working well together, for those working efficiently, and for those exhibiting atypical function.

Now at the conclusion of the testing phase, Sienna will soon experience 20 sessions of teaching /learning which involve therapy techniques specifically designed to strengthen weaknesses in dyslexic learning patterns.  The hope is that after the 20 sessions, students will show evidence of strengthened neuro-pathways that once were weak, through a second series of brain scans.

As we wait on the results, which may be reported in "Sienna, part 2" a few months from now, you as fellow-home schoolers need to know the most encouraging part of this story.   As you would expect, a number of students exhibiting dyslexic tendencies were admitted to the study.  Most of the students had reached a point in their educational careers where they were defeated by failure and ready to quit trying.  But Sienna was different.  Her undiminished drive was so evident to the researchers, that they have suggested that she might represent the program later as an ambassador.

What made the difference for Sienna's attitude and willing effort?  Sienna cites three sources for her intact academic drive:

She never tried education in a large classroom setting.  If she had, the failure mentality might easily have set in because she cannot learn in that atmosphere.

Sienna did not have much opportunity to compare her learning speed and abilities with other students since she was being home schooled.

Her mom's dedication to work with Sienna confirmed Kim's confidence in Sienna's worth and ability.

After visiting with Sienna and her mom, Kim Votry, I realize how much Kim means to her daughter.  Now into her teens, Sienna has no problem expressing her appreciation for this nurturing, motivating parent, and I know Sienna would be the first to agree with this old saying,

"Anyone who ever gave you confidence, you owe them a lot."