I would remove the focus on high stakes testing. High stakes testing has put too much focus on “teaching to the test” and has resulted in a lot of unnecessary anxiety in students. We should research better methods of assessment and implement those in place of high stakes testing. A more holistic approach to assessment makes more sense to assess progress over time.
As a part of my interview series about the things that should be done to improve the US educational system I had the pleasure to interview Delilah Orpi. Delilah is a literacy specialist and owner of Thrive Educational Services where she offers multisensory literacy resources and tutoring for struggling readers. She is a Florida certified teacher with a bachelors degree in Special Education, masters degree in TESOL, and literacy training through Lindamood-Bell and Orton-Gillingham.
Thank you so much for doing this with us, Delilah! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share the “backstory”behind what brought you to this particular career path?
I always enjoyed helping others and teaching people how to do things. I tutored younger children while I was in high school. When I was undecided about my major in college, I recalled how much I enjoyed tutoring and switched my major to special education. After teaching for a few years, I ended up at a dyslexia school where I learned more about how we learn how to read and received literacy training. This opened my eyes to the literacy crisis in our country. I saw a need in my community to offer dyslexia tutoring and resources to parents and educators. I have now been running Thrive Educational Services for over 2 years and continue to learn about the best teaching methods for struggling readers.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
In my first year teaching I had a student who seemed hesitant about everything to the point where it hindered her learning. I recall her being afraid to answer questions, participate, or even complete simple assignments because she thought she couldn’t do anything. I pushed her and sometimes she failed, but more often she did well and would be so proud of herself. I even had a few incidents with her mother because of how I pushed her resulting in a few low grades. That student really flourished that year and made significant progress across all areas. Most importantly, her confidence soared and she was happier. In the end it worked out but thinking back I could have handled that much better. My communication skills were severely lacking and I was very inexperienced. I learned a lot from that experience. Not only that I should have consulted colleagues for advice, but that many students with disabilities felt and behaved the same way as a result of what they had been hearing from others for so many years. I knew that building their confidence had to be a bigger part of my job.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I am in the process of developing affordable ebooks, courses, and printables for both parents and educators to learn how to teach struggling readers to read. Unfortunately, teacher education programs disregard the research and don’t prepare teachers with the correct strategies for effective reading instruction. These trainings are very expensive and result in high costs for specialized tutors and programs. From my experience, many clients cannot afford my services or similar programs so there is a huge need for affordable options. I hope to fill this gap with my products.
Can you briefly share with our readers why you are authority in the education field?
I have a bachelors in Special Education, masters in TESOL, am certified to teach K-6, Special Education, and ESOL in Florida, and have over 10 years of teaching experience. In addition to working in both public and private schools teaching K-8, I worked abroad for 3 years teaching Kindergarten in Abu Dhabi public schools. I also have Lindamood-Bell and Orton-Gillingham training, which are regarded as some of the highest qualifications for literacy training in the country. My last 3 years in the classroom were at a dyslexia specific school and I have continued to learn about how to teach reading more effectively. I have been running my tutoring and literacy business for over 2 years with lots of success stories from my students.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. From your point of view, how would you rate the results of the US education system?
I think we are doing a great job overall. Our test scores and graduation rates continue to improve, curriculum options are varied, and students are generally prepared for life. That being said, there are some areas that need some improvement. When I work with older students or even adults and speak with colleagues on this topic, it is clear that speaking, writing, reading, and executive functioning are areas that many people struggle with after leaving the education system.
Can you identify 5 areas of the US education system that are going really great?
We are doing great in regards to the promotion of literacy, inclusion, making data driven decisions, providing special education services, and increasing the graduation rate.
Can you identify the 5 key areas of the US education system that should be prioritized for improvement? Can you explain why those are so critical?
Of course I think literacy is the number one area that needs to be addressed. Even though we are promoting literacy and focus a lot on reading, we are teaching reading the wrong way. Addressing this will result in a lot less money spent on education and fewer students struggling in reading and writing. We should be using research backed methods and curriculum to teach reading.
Second, we need to stop taking away special area classes like art, P.E., and music. Students need a break from the intellectual subjects to use the creative part of their brains and build relationships and interpersonal skills. For many students, this is their only form of self expression and the one area in which they can excel. Perhaps working on adding these subjects through STEM activities would provide a greater benefit and serve 2 purposes.
Third, we should follow research proven best practices in early education. There is an overwhelming amount of evidence that we are expecting too much from our children at young ages. You’ve likely heard that Kindergarten is the new first grade and this is true. Children are expected to know how to read and write in Kindergarten which is developmentally inappropriate.
Fourth, we should focus on providing STEM curricula at all levels. Investing in STEM is critical as these areas are the fastest growing sectors in our economy and the need to fill jobs in these fields is increasing.
And finally, school funding needs to be revamped. Because of the way funding is structured lower performing schools in lower income neighborhoods are punished by receiving less funding than higher performing schools in higher income neighborhoods.
How is the US doing with regard to engaging young people in STEM? Can you suggest three ways we can increase this engagement?
I think we still need to work on adding high quality STEM programs to early education. We can improve on this by providing active inquiry activities, play based curricula, and plenty of discovery and exploration activities throughout the day. The success of STEM is highly dependent on introducing STEM in the early years. By teaching from a young age how to experiment, question, discuss, and problem solve you are wiring the brain for more scientific way of thinking which leads to success in STEM subjects in the future.
Can you articulate to our readers why it’s so important to engage girls and women in STEM subjects?
We are living in an unprecedented time with women entering career paths in areas that traditionally were not available to them. Careers in STEM are growing and the demand for women to take part is there. Engaging girls and women in STEM subjects opens the door to a wide variety of career choices in fields that have a high demand.
How is the US doing with regard to engaging girls and women in STEM subjects? Can you suggest three ways we can increase this engagement?
Like with early education, we still need to work on this. We need to partner with organizations that provide STEM opportunities for girls both in and out of school, provide STEM curriculum on relevant topics so they can see how these concepts are applied in real life, and provide female role models and mentors to increase engagement.
As an education professional, where do you stand in the debate whether there should be a focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) or on STEAM (STEM plus the arts like humanities, language arts, dance, drama, music, visual arts, design and new media)? Can you explain why you feel the way you do?
I think there should be a focus on STEAM. While STEM doesn’t exclude the arts, it can be an afterthought when focusing on math,science, engineering, and technology. Including the arts attracts more students, which is what we want. It’s also easy to combine the arts with STEM by adding in planning, problem solving, designing, and other scientific inquiry methods into arts projects. With my background in special education, I feel the arts are important for these students as it’s sometimes the only areas in which they feel they can succeed.
If you had the power to influence or change the entire US educational infrastructure what five things would you implement to improve and reform our education system? Can you please share a story or example for each?
First, I would make sure every teacher preparation program trained teachers to use multisensory and systematic phonics. Many teachers, including myself before I became a literacy specialist, are not taught how we learn to read and thus teach reading the wrong way. After learning more about this and receiving the proper training, my students now increase their reading skills rapidly.
Second, as a follow up to the first I would make sure all schools used research backed literacy curricula. Current research shows explicit phonics instruction is the most effective way to teach reading but very few schools are using such curricula. These are the types of curricula used in dyslexia schools because they are the only kind that work. It would make more sense for everyone to use this type of reading curricula since it is proven to be the most effective for everyone.
Third, I would remove the focus on high stakes testing. High stakes testing has put too much focus on “teaching to the test” and has resulted in a lot of unnecessary anxiety in students. We should research better methods of assessment and implement those in place of high stakes testing. A more holistic approach to assessment makes more sense to assess progress over time.
Fourth, I would add high quality STEAM curricula from early education all the way through high school. Like I mentioned before, high quality STEAM in the younger years is critical for preparing the brain to think more scientifically and results in better performance in other areas like literacy and executive functioning.
And finally, I would change the way schools are funded. Now this may not be the case in other states, but in South Florida schools are funded based on test scores and property values. So you can expect that schools in higher income neighborhoods outperform schools in lower income neighborhoods and future funds are allocated based on this. High performing schools in high income neighborhoods receive more funding than low performing schools in lower income neighborhoods. Low income schools are essentially punished and students in those schools do not have access to the same curriculum and opportunities as students in higher income neighborhoods. I feel this inequality needs to be addressed and corrected.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“You just can’t let life happen to you, you have to make life happen.” said by Idowu Koyenikan. I think I am someone who lives by this as I am not complacent in any area of my life. When I felt I needed to move on, I left teaching and started multiple businesses. When I decided I needed to see more of the world, I found a job abroad. I think it is important to go after your goals and not let life pass you by.
We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
I would love to sit with Jameela Jamil. I think she is just an all around amazing person with a great story. I look up to women who use their influence for good and her activism is very much needed right now.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!