President’s Message

Dear Friends,

When we last sent you our Spring eNewsletter, it turned out to be on the day of the biggest snow storm of the season with over 2 ft. of March snow in some places. Although it has been the coldest May in over 20 years, we hope our “Here Comes Summer!” edition arrives with lots of sunshine!

How fast a school year goes by! We’ve been thinking a lot about what makes for great instruction and how science really translates to practice. Research has shown it is through effective collaborations, which is why we take such pride in our partnerships with school teams.

What is EVIDENCE-based?

Have you noticed how widely the term “evidence- based” is being used in education? Everything from teaching curricula to professional learning claim to be evidence-based, particularly in the area of reading. So what does evidence mean? Usually, it is defined as information that offers some form of proof. My husband is a law professor, a scientific evidence expert. He tells me how important it is to teach law students to distinguish between what evidence is admissible and what is not. Does it pass rigorous standards of science? I liked that and wondered if we had any guidelines for judging what kind of educational evidence is “admissible.”

Everyone knows how important it is to learn to read. Everyone should also know what a research revolution we have experienced over the past thirty years. Neuroscience studies have shown how good readers and poor readers activate different portions of the brain when reading.

Best of all, scientists have described how we can shift brain activity to make good readers out of poor readers through explicit structured literacy interventions.

Those interventions are based on scientific evidence. The alternatives to scientific evidence are often based on tradition, instinct, anecdote, or philosophy. Having been a clinician who valued her instincts, I know how appealing alternatives can be. But I especially find it gratifying when hunches, or what the scientific community calls hypotheses, are validated by proof – the evidence is in.

The discovery of how phonological awareness relates to reading is a good example. When I was a young evaluator, I would see many children for reading problems who could not sequence sounds when they spoke. These were the “pasghetti” kids for me. As a speech language pathologist, I would administer echolalia tasks that asked children to imitate multisyllabic words. Sure enough, I heard “ephelant” for elephant. I knew that a child’s spelling mirrored the way he or she spoke.

How illuminating it was to learn years later that the inability to break spoken language into its smallest parts and then manipulate them was a key feature of dyslexia.

And that structured language, a reading instructional system using speech to print connections, subsequently became the recommended way to teach reading based on admissible scientific evidence.


Mark Seidenberg’s recent book, Language at the Speed of Sight, doesn’t mince words:

“the only responsible way to teach children to read well is to build up their abilities to connect reading with speech and then to amplify these connections through practice…”

So kudos to Orton Gillingham, the granddaddy of structured language since the early twentieth century, and to those who followed with creative integrity like Barbara Wilson of Wilson Reading System®. Structured language sequences that are highly structured, systematic, multisensory, and explicit, teach us how our language works. It is our privilege at the Stern Center to collaborate with so many dedicated educators who want to be evidence-based in their instruction and practice the science of reading. Thanks for a great school year!

Have a wonderful summer!

Blanche Podhajski President and Founder

Blanche Podhajski, Ph.D.

President and Founder


Thanks to YOU!

We greatly appreciate the referral support we receive from community members surrounding the Stern Center. Our top three referral sources are family members and friends, school teams, and physicians. Without their confidence in us to be able to provide high-quality service to students, we would be unable to help as many learners as we do. We thank all the referral sources on the front lines with the dedication to guide students and families to the help they need to succeed. We are constantly looking for ways in which we can help as many students as possible, which is why we are pleased to announce that scholarships and school volume discounts are still available for this fiscal year!

To help us spread the word so that we may spread the love of learning call 802-878-2332!


Castleton Early Childhood Summer Institute

July 24-27, 2017

Want to benefit from a rich variety of early childhood courses taught by state and national authorities this summer?

The Early Childhood Summer Institute being held at Castleton University is a professional development opportunity for birth through grade 3 educators and administrators working in public schools as well as private early childhood and afterschool settings.

Framed by the Vermont Early Learning Standards (VELS), early educators can obtain or renew licenses and endorsements and receive college course credit at a fraction of the typical cost. The Institute is an inspiring collaborative among Vermont’s colleges, universities, and early childhood agencies.

We are thrilled to be a part of this important early learning initiative, where we will be offering:

We are happy to welcome back popular instructor Brenda Buzzell who will be teaching BUILDING BLOCKS and introduce Dr. Ben Williams who will be sharing his extensive knowledge about how we can help young children experiencing the trauma of poverty.


Did You Know Reading Makes You Live Longer?

It’s true! According to a 2016 Yale study, book readers live longer than non-book readers, a finding we could not be more excited about. Don’t believe us? Feel free to explore the study yourself at www.sciencedirect.com. We encourage you to check out our most recent blog, in which Stern Center Special Projects Advisor Ed Wilkens considers the implications these and related findings have on education. For more than 30 years the Stern Center has advocated for access to high-quality structured literacy for all to increase quality of life. Now we are seeing that not only does it improve life, but it may also lengthen it! How wonderful!

Check out Get Your Library Card Now by Ed Wilkens


On the Air with our Experts

Many of our Stern Center staff members have recently been featured on radio and television shows to speak about education and children’s issues. We are proud to have a team of such high-caliber experts in their fields.

Karen Rodgers on “The :30”

Karen Rodgers, a licensed and certified speech language pathologist, instructor, and professional learning provider at the Stern Center, was a guest on WCAX’s “The :30” in April. She discussed the underlying oral-motor issues that can be associated with “picky eating.”

As a specialist providing Comprehensive Oral Sensory-Motor Speech and Feeding Evaluations and feeding therapy at the Stern Center, Karen is not only knowledgeable but also passionate about her work. She enjoys working with children who do not have the underlying sensory-motor skills to handle a variety of food. It is common for these children to have limited diets and nutritional input, which can ultimately lead to behavior challenges such as struggles with self-regulation, appetite regulation, and the ability to sustain attention as a foundation for language, learning, and positive social interactions. Karen is trained to task analyze the underlying sensory-motor skills necessary for safe nutritive feeding and uses an eclectic approach, which includes a variety of developmental, sensory, and behavioral programs. Her ultimate goal in all instances is to ensure safe, effective, and enjoyable nutritive feeding. We are pleased that Karen’s unique skill set serves as a valuable resource.

Karen Rodgers on WCAX’s “The :30” – Watch it here

Peggy Price on “Cardboard Box Adventures”

As professional learning enrollment numbers through our Cynthia K. Hoehl Institute for Excellence continue to reflect the Stern Center’s commitment to high-quality resources for teachers, one offering is really increasing in popularity among educators. The Orton-Gillingham Approach is rapidly changing the way people view multisensory literacy instruction nationwide. Peggy Price, Director of the Orton-Gillingham Institute at the Stern Center, was recently invited to speak along with Boon Philanthropy’s Henry Sinclair Sherrill on Don Winn’s radio show, “Cardboard Box Adventures.”

They discussed the importance of multisensory literacy instruction, BUILDING BLOCKS FOR LITERACY®, and the role the Stern Center plays in advocating for the dissemination of evidenced-based literacy instruction.

Read the full transcript here: Cardboard Box Adventures

Listen to the Podcast – Peggy Price on Cardboard Box Adventures

Ben Williams on WGDR Radio “Gathering Peace”

Stern Center professional learning provider Dr. Ben Williams returned to the Goddard campus where he was the former Director of Teacher Licensure to join Joseph Gainza on the WGDR radio show “Gathering Peace.” Ben and Kim Pierce, a physician’s assistant at Plainfield Health Center, talked about the trauma children experience while living in poverty and what can be done to help them from health and educational perspectives.

This interview aligned very closely with the 36-hour “The Trauma of Poverty” course Ben will be teaching with our social learning expert Julie Erdelyi this summer. This course, which will focus on defining, identifying, and understanding poverty-related stress in childhood development, behavior, and learning, is just the beginning of what we hope expands into a statewide network of support for children.

Through continued collaboration with area organizations such as Spectrum and COTS, we are striving to nurture a culture in Vermont that focuses on developing and generating trauma-informed learning environments and practices, self-care strategies for working with trauma in schools, and stress management strategies.

To learn more about Dr. Williams’ work at the Stern Center, check out The Trauma of Poverty on our course calendar.


Better Hearing & Speech in Times of Strife – Our latest blog post

In celebration of Better Hearing and Speech Month, which came to a close at the end of May, Stern Center Speech Language Pathologist (SLP) Shaun Stephens shares his thoughts on the importance of discourse as a function of communication.

Shaun has been with the Stern Center for four years and has been a certified SLP for 13 years. Shaun provides speech and language services addressing social cognition, fluency (stuttering), motor speech, language, and alternative and augmentative communication (AAC).

He received his Master of Science degree from the University of Vermont and has a special interest in language impairments, AAC and complex communication needs, fluency, and social language.

He looks forward to the summer so he can take on new students because, as he says, his favorite part about being an SLP is that he gets to work with “inspiring, tenacious, hard-working people!”

Read the full blog post on our website: www.sterncenter.org/blog/


The Slippery Slope

When talking with a colleague as we prepared this Summer Newsletter, I mentioned that we should do an article about the Summer Slide. She replied that some people find talking about the slide a real negative for summer. So, I started thinking about what research was out there to support or refute summer sliding.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins did an extensive study tracking students from first grade through age 22. They found that both low- and middle-income students made equivalent reading progress during the school year.

However, during the summer, the poorer children’s reading skills “slipped away.” They concluded that two-thirds of the ninth grade reading achievement gap can be explained by unequal access to summer learning opportunities during elementary school (ASCD, 2012).

Numerous foundations also studied the summer slide and elaborated on concerns including the cost of reteaching lost skills and the impact of early reading gaps on high school graduation rates.

So the slide is real, especially for children who struggle to learn to read regardless of income level.

Where this gets really slippery is that we often tell children to read over the summer months. Without doubt, reading is a joyous way to keep skills strong. IF you know how to read. But if you don’t, being expected to read when you can’t increases frustration.

Fortunately, there are alternatives available to help children maintain or even increase their appreciation for “story” even if they are currently challenged to read for themselves. For example, Learning Ally recommends audio books for struggling readers.

Also, never underestimate that being read to remains a happy way not just to enjoy books and increase vocabulary, but also to bond with a parent or peer.

Best of all, summer is a great time to help close the gap if a child is struggling to learn to read. The brain science is crystal clear: we know how to teach reading. Going back to school with increased enjoyment of books and feeling more confident as a reader is a real positive for summer.


Generosity Propels Summer eLearning!

We are pleased to announce the expansion of eLearning services into our Instruction Program, and are thankful that a gift from an anonymous donor allows us to offer eLearning throughout the summer at a significantly reduced rate!

The staff at the Stern Center recognizes the growing need to meet elementary, middle, high school, and college students in the digital world. Our goal is to support the growing proficiency of students’ customized learning by offering personalized support, intervention, and coaching.

Support from donors and advocates of the Stern Center allow us to make critical steps to enrich our current academic instruction services. Please contact Patty Durham at pdurham@sterncenter.org or (802)878-2332 for more information or to register!


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