2005: Carroll Starts the Beginning Readers Program

Carroll Connection, 2021-22

By Sarah Wilkins, Beginning Readers Teacher 2005-2018


Carroll’s first early intervention program “made school fun again” for our youngest learners.

Studies show that kids who have difficulties in 3rd grade often could have been identified as far back as kindergarten, and spared many of the negative side effects of struggling to learn to read. One of the many benefits of early intervention is to prevent negative self-esteem by increasing a child’s perception of their ability to learn.

With the support of then-interim Head of School, Phil Burling, Steve and I arrived with the belief that early intervention should be an important focus for Carroll—and that’s why we began the Beginning Readers program.

The first few years were not without challenges. First, enrollment was tricky, as many applicants had multiple diagnoses that were not true to dyslexia, and who we could not serve effectively. Alongside the Admissions team, I met with families to help them understand the importance of early intervention and how Carroll would benefit their 1st graders.

Being a student in the first ever Beginning Readers class was memorable. Mrs. Wilkins was a kind and caring teacher. I remember her patiently teaching me how to write in cursive and going down to the Wilkins’ yard to boat in their pond for a break during the day. Thank you Carroll for providing me the opportunities to grow and build my academic confidence. Without Carroll, I would not be who I am today.

Gwei Strong Allen ‘14, Beacon College Sophomore

Second, we had to put together a learning program that met the unique needs of this age group. We started with a schedule that included an Orton-Gillingham tutorial, two language classes (one literature-based and one an O-G group), a math class, and a class called “The World We Live In,” which explored social studies and science.

Through the years, the program evolved to add more social-emotional learning, speech and language, occupational therapy for handwriting, RAVE-O, and the Developmental Cognitive program that helps children understand that challenge is a beneficial part of learning.

Of course, there were many more rewards to leading the BR program over my 14 years at Carroll. With an average class size of 4-6 students, Beginning Readers can easily give each child what they most need through individualized instruction and intervention services such as speech and language, social emotional learning, and 1:1 tutorials.

There is nothing like seeing the light in a child’s eye when they read a word, write a letter, or retell a story, or when they have the confidence to share a personal story during a morning meeting. It’s also rewarding when parents share how their whole family has changed because of Carroll. Making school fun again for kids who had a negative experience in preschool and kindergarten—that was what motivated me to go to work each day.

The BR program at Carroll is similar to building a foundation of a house, you need the right mixture of cement to make it strong. We are building a foundation for learning with the right mixture of tutoring, language, math, cognitive, executive functioning skills, community building, and a lot of learning how to be a student. Sarah Wilkins created this amazing program and, during my transition into this role, she shared so much wisdom with me that helps reassure me that I’m giving each student exactly what they need each day.

Carol Spooner P’11, Beginning Readers Teacher

This article is part of a series from Carroll Connection, A Timeline for Transformation: 2005-2021.  

  • Carroll Connection 2021-22



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