by Barbara Sherf
Kim and Andy Sears moved to Chestnut Hill from Florida a year ago in September to enroll their twin daughters, both diagnosed with dyslexia, at AIM Academy in Conshohocken.
Their journey is one of determination and victory in the face of a reading disorder that according to Wikipedia is characterized by trouble with reading despite normal intelligence that may include difficulties in spelling words, reading quickly, writing words, “sounding out” words in the head, pronouncing words when reading aloud and understanding what one reads. Dyslexia is the most common learning disability and occurs in all areas of the world. It affects 3–7% of the population, but up to 20% may have some degree of symptoms. Kim recalls the heartache of leaving family and friends in Florida to do what was best for Otelia and Halle, who turn 10 at the end of the month.
“We loved our old school, and they helped us as much as they could, but it was not enough,” said Kim. “They were very gentle and were telling us it was nothing to be concerned about. While the girls were articulate, their reading wasn’t falling into place after the first grade. They were going to put the children in separate classes, and I realized how isolated they would feel being one of ‘those kids.’”
Kim, who does business development work, took charge and researched the best methods for dealing with dyslexia and found that the Wilson Reading System® was what her girls needed. The search brought the couple to this area to housesit for friends on the Main Line while the twins attended summer school at The Center School in Abington.
Kim and Andy started talking to other parents who suggested they look at the AIM Academy, founded in 2006 by Pat Roberts and Nancy Blair, two mothers who met when their young daughters were diagnosed with dyslexia. Kim heard their story and knew she had hit pay dirt.
“I was sitting in the Open House thinking ‘we are going here.’ Andy and I went to Panera to talk it over, and the next thing I knew we were online filling out the applications,” said Kim. “After looking around, we do believe that AIM is the best school in the country for dyslexia and ADHD.”
Kim likes that the girls’ progress is regularly monitored, with reports going out about every six weeks. The couple feels their daughters are where they need to be. “After about six weeks in, we saw tremendous improvement. There is so much hands-on interaction.
“While we miss our family and friends (in Florida), we have no regrets. AIM participates in leading research from major universities on language-based learning differences. This puts them in the position to move from research to practice in a short time. Our kids are getting the latest techniques long before they enter the mainstream.”
According to AIM’s website, “AIM is driven by the belief that children who learn differently challenge conventional ways of thinking. Therefore, they are at an advantage over their peers when it comes to essential 21st century skills for success. A study from London’s Cass Business School revealed that 35% of entrepreneurs in the United States are dyslexic.”
In October, Andy Sears, who works with start-up companies, invited Chris Herman, AIM’s Head of Upper School, to speak to Chestnut Hill Rotarians. “The school started 12 years ago with 24 students and has grown to 340 students this fall. We have grown out of three buildings,” said Herman, who has been part of AIM’s faculty since it opened its doors in 2006.
Herman noted that dyslexia is a neurological problem. “We engage our students in creative problem solving in both reading, writing and math,” Herman said, noting the school has an award-winning robotics team and eight art teachers. “When you come to AIM, we do not label you as learning disabled.”
As for the Sears’ move to AIM and Philadelphia, Kim sent Andy and the twins home after camp was out in the summer of 2016 and searched for a community where she felt comfortable. They landed in Chestnut Hill.
“I liked the Main Line, but was tired of spending so much time in the car,” said Kim, who liked that the lawns were smaller in Chestnut Hill and that there are lots of trees and good hiking. “After driving everywhere in Florida, I wanted a more urban experience for my family. Chestnut Hill seemed to be a good mix of what we needed.”
The next AIM Academy Admissions Open House is Dec. 8. More information at www.aimpa.org. Flourtown freelance writer Barbara Sherf tells the stories of businesses and individuals at www.communicationspro.com.