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EnCourage Institute for Teaching and Learning helps students with unique learning styles gain skills and confidence to succeed at school and beyond.
A teacher and student work one-on-one

A teacher and student work one-on-one /Community Literacy Initiative

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Mary Rozendal, Founder and Director of EnCourage Institute for Teaching and Learning

Mary Rozendal, Founder and Director of EnCourage Institute for Teaching and Learning /Community Literacy Initiative

When Mary Rozendal considered founding EnCourage Institute for Teaching and Learning, it wasn’t just her passion for working with children or her background in child development, early literacy, special education research, or teaching at both the K-12 and university levels that clinched her decision. It was also her belief that not all children’s needs are being met at school that led her to open the Institute in 2007.

Along with a team of teachers, Rozendal offers a variety of year-round services including evaluations, educational therapy, specialized interventions, and tutoring. They currently serve about 50 students each week.

“I don't feel like I can do the work these kids need in the current political climate of the schools,” says Rozendal, who now acts as an advocate in the schools for the children she serves. “I have tremendous empathy for the challenges that teachers have.”

Until recently, Rozendal was the only educational therapist in Michigan. She remembers teaching in Grand Rapids when our schools began practicing inclusion for the first time.

“To me, the philosophy of ‘just put them back into the general education classroom’ flew in the face of why special education existed. If they were able to function in the general education classroom, why were they in special education to begin with?”

Rozendal’s approach as Director reflects the views held by the Association of Educational Therapists, of which she is a member. She calls it a good fit because they look at brain-based interventions while taking into account the whole child.

“So it's not simply reading, writing, and math,” she says.

She underscores the importance of asking questions from a more holistic viewpoint: “For kids on the autism spectrum, how do we help them develop the ability and the capacity to have relationships? How do different learning disabilities impact not just academics but the rest of life?”

With 16 years of university research to her credit, Rozendal continues to seek out—and contribute to—the most up-to-date studies on brain processing and educational interventions, which she then incorporates into her own work with students.

“They can see that someone who's labeled with dyslexia is actually processing the information differently,” she relays.

She cites York University brain scan research that shows how certain types of developmental interventions are making structural changes in the speech processing areas of the brain, as well as reducing anxiety in the child.

Families who seek assistance at the Institute are likely to have some sort of stress over the child’s learning difficulties.

“There are some kids who are blissfully naïve and don't have a care in the world,” Rozendal says with a smile, “and it's the parents who are stressed.”

But many older students are keenly aware that they are different from their peers. For one of Mary’s regular students, the main question is, “By the time I get to 7th grade, will I be able to read like my friends?”

“She doesn't know why she can't read,” Mary says. “She doesn't know what to do about it. She's past the point at school where teachers know how to intervene.”

The student comes during her lunch hour twice a week for an intensive intervention. Within two or three weeks of working with Rozendal, her test scores had skyrocketed. Even though she has a year and half to two years of the intervention ahead of her, these improvements have given her hope.

“Kids will come when they feel like it's meaningful and helping them in some way,” Rozendal says. But she maintains that “the success stories are when they don't need any of us anymore.”

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