Sliding Doors STEM & Dyslexia Learning Center
Krista K. Gauthier - Founder and Executive Director of Sliding Doors
1. What is your mission and vision?
Mission: Sliding Doors STEM and Dyslexia (or SDSquared) is leading a movement to develop future STEM leaders by building confidence in students with dyslexia and equipping educators to help them learn.
Vision: Lead the Way: We are changing the conversation about dyslexia education. By combining evidence-based language instruction with STEM enrichment, we set the standard for how students with dyslexia should be educated and inspired.
Empower Kids and Parents: We are developing the next generation of scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs, and business leaders. By building confidence in students with dyslexia, we change lives and impact individuals, families, and communities.
Help as Many Kids as Possible: We believe everyone should have access to an appropriate education and the opportunity to realize their full potential. Our methodology is scalable, repeatable, and accessible to anyone who needs it.
2. How does your organization achieve its mission?
We have created a one of a kind after-school program that meets twice a week and provides both specialized tutoring in reading and enrichment in STEM for students in grades 1-5 with dyslexia. Students are paired with a tutor trainee who is learning our method specifically designed to teach students with dyslexia how to read. They spend 45 minutes with their tutor before spending the 2nd 45 min participating in our STEM program.
Our STEM program includes both short and long-term projects and covers a variety of topics including biology, engineering, physics, chemistry, and more. We begin with simple experiments that pique the students’ interests and that allow us to assess what the kids are interested in; from that we develop long-term projects that allow our students to become community science experts that use what they have learned to solve a problem. An example of this would be our pollinator project where students planted a butterfly garden, raised monarchs, and studied migration patterns.
We also have our monthly Science Saturdays where students learn and explore different STEM companies and organizations. Activities have included touring the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency and Carderock Naval Research Facility, visiting the Udvar Hazy Air and Space Museum and the US STEM Expo in DC, and participating in workshops hosted by OGSystems in Chantilly. We also host parent workshops during these Science Saturdays where parents get to learn about different topics such as assistive technology, interpreting evaluation results, and how to help their children with executive functioning skills.
One of our main missions to make these types of services accessible to students of all socioeconomic levels which we accomplish by staffing our locations with tutor trainees who donate their time and through our powerful STEM network who provide both volunteers and sponsorships that allow us to provide 4 spots in our program at no cost.
3. How have your programs directly impacted the regional community?
In the short year we have been in operation, we have 16 students enrolled and are currently training 12 tutors at two locations – Camelot Elementary School in Annandale and St. Bernadette Catholic School in Springfield. Our students have shown tremendous growth in their reading as well as growth in their confidence and belief in their abilities. The 12 tutors we are training not only help these students but will go on to use our method to help countless struggling readers in our region.
Most recently we partnered with the Children’s Science Center of Northern Virginia and RoboNation, a non-profit, educational robotics community, to create the SDSquared Robotics Club for students in grades 4-8. This pilot program which meets once a week at the Children’s Science Center uses a robot called SeaPerch to teach students engineering basics. This program for students with dyslexia is specifically designed to meet these students where they are and to give them the opportunity to excel in STEM while working with other students who understand what they face on a daily basis. Our plan is to grow this program into summer camps, thereby impacting more students with dyslexia.
We have also created awareness among local STEM companies and organizations that these students represent the future of STEM if only they are given the opportunity to overcome their challenges in reading and to reach their full potential. These students represent a leak in the STEM pipeline and by working with local universities and STEM companies to understand that, we are giving them an opportunity to build their future workforce.
4. What inspires or drives your team to stay committed to your mission?
The impact we have on our students is what inspires us to stay committed! Our students often come to us feeling pretty low about their abilities, school, and most specifically about reading. Within only a few short weeks of starting our program, we begin to see them take more risks with their reading, smile more, and get excited to offer hypotheses during our STEM activities. As that begins to happen, we also start to see our parents relax and smile more, knowing that their children are getting what they need and are beginning to thrive. Knowing that we are making a difference for these families is the driving force behind all that we do.
5. What advice would you give to other nonprofits trying to make an impact in their community?
The advice that I would give is to find the right strategic partners who can help you move your mission forward. Our partners range from our team of tutors and volunteers who give selflessly of their time and energy, to our corporate partners who support us both financially and with their creative energy, to our relationships with places like Marymount and George Mason Universities and the Children’s Science Center – all of them make us a richer and more robust and dynamic organization that in turn gives us a greater impact.