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Dr. Rebecca Mannis of Ivy Prep: Why authenticity and decency go far, both in feeling proud of yourself and in attracting other people

Authenticity and decency go far, both in feeling proud of yourself in various life roles and in attracting other people who possess good character. A Story: I often help families whose children had experienced brain tumors and who needed a great deal of educational guidance. I was once helping a boy who had a brain […]

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Authenticity and decency go far, both in feeling proud of yourself in various life roles and in attracting other people who possess good character. A Story: I often help families whose children had experienced brain tumors and who needed a great deal of educational guidance. I was once helping a boy who had a brain tumor, and each time his mom also brought his sweet and understated sister who sat in the waiting room of my center, practically inhaling the books on the shelf. I learned from the mom that she was a gifted student who was desperate for more challenges but whose family was strapped due to the energy needed to help the sick son. My colleagues and I ‘got on it’ and were able to help place the boy placement in a school that could tend to his cancer aftereffects. We also identified a private girl’s school that enrolled the sister on scholarship and gave her a community of supportive and equally inquisitive peers.

As a part of my series about strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Rebecca Mannis.

Ivy Prep was founded by Dr. Rebecca Mannis, a learning specialist in private practice with 35 years of experience teaching children and adults in New York City and worldwide. Dr. Mannis holds a Ph.D. in Developmental Psychology with a specialization in Neuroscience and Education from Teachers College, Columbia University, and a Masters degree in Reading, Language and Learning Disabilities from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Her publications include a chapter in a 1999 volume of Child and Adolescent Clinics of North America. She was an editor of The Jewish Special Educator and is the tri-state liaison to the SENG — Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted.

Dr. Mannis consults to schools and corporations about the neuroscience of learning, remediation, learning disabilities, individualized instruction and adaptive technology. She coordinated educational services for cancer survivors and children with traumatic brain injury for The Making Headway Foundation for 14 years.

Dr. Mannis has been in practice for over 30 years and was a 2009–2014 appointee of Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Alumni Council.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I arrived at this career path due to lots of wonderful mentorship and direct early experiences with those role models. I wanted to follow in my mom’s footsteps as a pioneer in early childhood education, but I was more interested in individualized teaching than the classroom. By volunteering at a local hospital the summer of my sophomore year of college, I saw firsthand what neuropsychologists do and was hooked from the first day! With their guidance, I first went to Harvard to learn how to teach students with learning disabilities, a skill psychologists don’t possess and from there to Columbia for my PhD in developmental psychology. This led to many other opportunities to grow and develop my unique specialization in brain-based instruction, or what we now call “translational neuropsychology.” I started my practice unexpectedly when I was asked by my professor to test a child in our clinic, and it was a child whose parents had just started a very innovative school. Since we had a good working relationship and I knew how to translate testing to teaching, the family asked me to start teaching the child and some others at the school. Along the way, I brought in instructors who bring expertise in related areas and use their skills through the brain-based teaching tools I have developed over thirty-five years.

Can you share the most gratifying story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

One of the most gratifying stories is about a boy who was a superstar early talker but had severe dyslexia that stopped him in his tracks. He was at the top percentile for problem solving but slower than almost any peer at scanning and visual memory. He repeated first grade and was devastated. But he’s so gifted that he made amazing progress within a few years. This delayed, frustrated reader went on to win his writing competition at a top law school and to be appointed by his Con Law professor as the sole student to help write an amicus brief for the Supreme Court!

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When I started grad school in the 1980s, my professors helped me develop a study to understand the brain development and learning patterns of Ethiopian refugee kids who had been malnourished, then rescued and brought to live in Israel. The professors sent me off with all sorts of formal tests that were gold standards for western developmental research, but the tests just weren’t attuned to kids who had just traveled from rural African poverty to a modern, foreign land. When I started showing the kids table activities, they switched to creating action games with the pointy pencils and berries from the shrubs! It taught me how critical it is to appreciate a child’s or family’s culture and context rather than just impose my preconceived perceptions. We have to use tools with an appreciation for every individual and her unique background.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Ivy Prep stands out because we have the ability to translate brain science to each person’s unique profile for learning and workplace success. In doing so, I am always thinking about three things; the client’s specific learning profile, that person’s unique temperament, and the learning and family context in which the person is growing. We know how to roll up our sleeves to bridge testing and teaching to be tactical but also flexible to the individual needs of the client. This is important because too much instruction these days happens in a vacuum, which makes for inconsistent care and lots of stress And we have decades of doing this exact work with varied students, whether to help severely dyslexic kids learn, topoint a brain tumor. or concussion survivor in the direction of success in med school, or helping an anxious, gifted kid pick the right college where he can launch, or now — help parents develop effective learning programs and in the midst of a pandemic! Parents who have done psychological testing often come to us frustrated because despite conducting complicated and costly test batteries, the evaluators really didn’t know how to apply the information they have gleaned for tactical teaching. And the teachers or tutors often know about course material or one way of intervening, not about how to translate the testing to move the student ahead. There is a bit of an element of caveat emptor since parents are often unaware of nuanced differences or the realities of these gaps in professional knowledge. We fill the gap between the “silos” that can be so frustrating because we bridge the ‘why’ underlying a challenge to the ‘how’ for a person’s. success. Our families know that this is a gradual process, but we offer hope and ultimately results with action plans that are state of the art but that also adapt to the individual in a very agile way. It keeps us on our toes since every student is unique, but makes every day different and the results are very gratifying to witness.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

We’re very busy right now with brain-based “boot camps” that help parents, schools and corporations create learning programs that are effective, creative, and both child and family-centered. A great deal of this consultation is online, whether down the street of schools and families in Dubai. We are working a lot on teaching programs for the coming semester that can be implemented both in person and remotely, as well as ongoing 1:1 work for learning lags to address parents’ concerns, having seen their kids ‘in action’ on Zoom this spring. But many of our students actually thrived over the spring, remote instruction can be a very effective tool for learning. When new students arrive having hit a wall, we start to analyze why the prior systems didn’t work. We can use this information to right the ship and chart a course for calmer waters ahead. Parents are understandably focused on the unknowns that the coming months will bring. But we know that children can always learn when they are in the hands of expert teachers who are equal parts tactical, flexible, and passionate — and when their parents are supported as partners in a kid’s learning success. It is exciting to see how, despite these tough times, we can build upon decades of this tactical work and partner with others so that kids can be successful learners, whether in person or via creative remote platforms.

What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?

Figure out when to give members of the team space and when it is important to sweat the details along with them. Professor Chall taught me that good readers use both “top down” (problem solving, wide lens) and “bottom up” (systematic phonics knowledge) systems to become expert readers. And this is a gradual developmental process that happens through targeted instruction along with continual practice. I believe this is the same in helping others grow as individuals and work as part of a team.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I think back to three people who greatly influenced me. One was the neuropsychology pioneer Dr. Barbara C. Wilson, who mentored me from a college volunteer straight through my doctoral program. She involved me from the start, with my sitting in on a planning meeting for an international conference while I placed mailing labels for the event. I keep a photo on my desk of myself with Professor Jeanne Chall from my commencement in 1985. She headed my Harvard Ed School Reading program as perhaps the most influential American reading researcher ever. She supervised us with eagle eyes, never missing an opportunity to praise us or point out the theory and practice tips that would “up our game.” She set high standards, but knew we could meet them and, in doing so, we would change the lives of children. The last person is a philanthropist whom I once approached about a brilliant student whose family had hit hard times. He needed some technology to manage a writing disorder called dysgraphia, but it was out of his parents’ means. In responding to my timid request, she exhorted, “Rebecca, never be shy about asking people with resources to make a difference in the life of a deserving child.” The lessons learned are in my professional DNA and still shape me now, as a learning specialist and as a parent.

What are your “4 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

  • Stay in touch with clients — to celebrate their success, be available as a resource at different stages, and enjoy the gratification from having helped others achieve their goals.
  • Growth doesn’t happen in a straight line, so expect the fastbreaks as well as the speedbumps. Sometimes, the start to summer is a slower time since some students and families are settling into new routines. But I developed some of my best relationships with colleagues by meeting them during those weeks and sharing ideas, whether about new educational technologies or how to improve our assessment skills.
  • Cultivate relationships with others (in your field and in other areas of life) who can be sounding boards and share their insights from experience and with integrity. And go out of your way to extend yourself to others in that same vein.
  • Authenticity and decency go far, both in feeling proud of yourself in various life roles and in attracting other people who possess good character. A Story: I often help families whose children had experienced brain tumors and who needed a great deal of educational guidance. I was once helping a boy who had a brain tumor, and each time his mom also brought his sweet and understated sister who sat in the waiting room of my center, practically inhaling the books on the shelf. I learned from the mom that she was a gifted student who was desperate for more challenges but whose family was strapped due to the energy needed to help the sick son. My colleagues and I ‘got on it’ and were able to help place the boy placement in a school that could tend to his cancer aftereffects. We also identified a private girl’s school that enrolled the sister on scholarship and gave her a community of supportive and equally inquisitive peers.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

It would be continuing the work I have started through my nonprofit, which provides educational support for individuals whose needs aren’t appropriately met. Whether it’s a kid with medically based learning problems like a brain tumor or concussion and whose school district just doesn’t ‘get’ how to teach him, or by providing test prep to an underprivileged gifted child whose life can be changed through that mentorship, that is my goal. So many organizations mean well but provide ‘one off’ experiences because let’s face it — followup and integrating systems for kids takes a lot of time and effort. But we owe it to children and families to use what we know, bridging our knowledge, and to sweat the details for the long run.

Can you please give us your favorite. “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I often think of my dad, who was an exacting accountant by profession but often reminded my brothers and me, “Don’t buy green bananas!” He encouraged me to seize the day and trust my instincts, whether it was applying to Harvard when no one from my college had ever been admitted before, or in my decision to embark on parenthood and expanding my practice at the same time. His words stay with me fifteen years since his death, as does his confidence in my ability to live by my convictions.

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 with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

I would love if this was one of the answers chosen!

That’s easy! Hands down, I would love to chat with Bill and Melinda Gates. They know from personal experience and as parents that families today live complex lives and that creating networks for access, through excellent care and meaningful mentorship, make for a powerful gamechanger. We are not applying enough of what we know so much about how kids grow and best teaching practices, and Bill’s experience speaks to the unique needs of exceptional learners, whether they have brain tumors, dyslexia, family poverty, or giftedness. After all, it was his parents’ determination that gained him access to a university mainframe (computer network) to develop the tools he was so passionate about as a youngster. I admire their commitment to locating meaningful information and using that information to bridge initiatives and opportunities instead of letting them exist in silos or manuals gathering dust on shelves. With COVID education asymmetries on our minds, is there a better time than now to create programming that is systematic but also flexible to the circumstances of our kids, their families, and our learning communities? We’ve got the knowledge and the tools, and I would love to partner with them to bring that knowledge to life even more, one successful student at a time.

How can our readers connect with you on social media?

Instagram: @ivypreplearning

Facebook: @Ivypreplearningcenter

Twitter: @ivypreplearning

LinkedIn:linkedin.com/in/rebeccamannis

Web site: www.ivy-prep.com

Blog: www.ivy-prep.com/blog

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCJTiBScNxmA2NJ1EdW2SO4w/featured

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