Officially, Reading Success Plus began in 2015. But that moment was one step in the journey of co- founders Anne and Lawrence Kloth that started about 23 years earlier, when Anne noticed that Lawrence, then a preschooler, had trouble tying his shoes, just one of many warning signs.
Anne had no idea then that Lawrence’s difficulties were indicators of dyslexia. But she knew something wasn’t right. He would read a word, then be baffled by the same word a line later. Lawrence recognized the word “pizza,” but he thought every word that begins with “pi” – piano, for example – was “pizza.” He had left-right confusion. And he hated school.
“Looking back on the warning signs of dyslexia checklist,” Anne said,” he could have checked most of them off.”
But dyslexia wasn’t on Anne’s radar. And while Lawrence’s teachers were concerned about his reading difficulties, they were at a loss to identify them.
“Something was up”, Lawrence said, “and I didn’t know what to do because everybody was trying to figure out what was going on.”
By the time Lawrence was in second grade, Anne had made it her mission to identify his problems. It didn’t initially go well because, as she says, “I didn’t know what I was looking for.”
“We did all the right stuff. We read those 10 books a day. We did all of that and still no improvement.”
Prior to fourth grade, Lawrence had two psychological examinations. Neither provided useful answers.
“One of them said, ‘Oh, he just has a reading disability,” Anne recalls. “Even then, I knew that wasn’t helpful. Ok, so what do we do about it?”
Looking back, Anne is struck that neither examiner talked about Lawrence’s lack of phonemic awareness. “That’s why we’re so focused on that piece (at Reading Success Plus),” Anne says. “Now, I know there are a lot of people out there like Lawrence who are missing the phonemic awareness piece, and until that’s mastered, you’re not going to make much progress in any reading and spelling program.”
In fourth grade, Lawrence asked to be home-schooled.
“I was frustrated because I couldn’t complete the tasks very well. Thank God we caught it around fourth grade because I don’t think it would have ended very well.”
Anne home-schooled Lawrence for 3 ½ years.
“Homeschooling, for those few years was critical,” Lawrence says. “That really set us on the right path because that allowed me to be visual. We could get things done much faster. We could take breaks when I needed to.”
Anne agrees. “He had to get away from the way he had been feeling at school to show him that he was really very smart. He just learned differently.”
Anne’s research breakthrough came on a Florida beach during spring break of Lawrence’s fourth-grade year. She was reading a book, Right-Brained Children in a Left-Brained World by educator Jeffrey Freed. “He was talking about visual learners versus auditory learners, and about what a difference it makes if you’re presented information in the way that you learn best. And a lightbulb went off in my head.”
Anne took Lawrence to Denver to meet Freed. The author spent hours with Lawrence over four days. He shared homeschooling ideas and teaching strategies with Anne and referred Lawrence for a formal evaluation in Denver. As a result, Lawrence was diagnosed with severe dyslexia, as well as dyscalculia and dysgraphia – disabilities that make arithmetic and writing difficult. Finally, the family knew what they were facing.
Unfortunately, finding the right tutoring was as big a challenge as receiving an accurate diagnosis. They tried a variety of programs, many of which didn’t work and some that helped only incrementally.
With Lawrence being an only child, they travelled around the country checking any program that held promise. There was tutoring in Iowa, specialists in Chicago and New York, a curriculum in Florida—almost all turned out to be dead ends. This frustrating, time-consuming and costly process helped Anne realize that she could spare families in similar situations from this ordeal. Years later, the end result would be the formation of Reading Success Plus.
By seventh grade, Lawrence wanted to return to school. “I sacrificed my school progress for social reasons,” he admits.
The first two years of high school were “a rough road,” Lawrence remembers. His school didn’t initially offer the accommodations he needed (Anne and Lawrence say the culture there has changed since then). “I was begging to get of out there.” However, for his junior and senior years, Lawrence split his days between his Grand Rapids high school and another school which focuses on students with learning disabilities.
“I was taught the way I learned”, he says of the second school. “My self-confidence was coming back.”
Attending college had been Lawrence’s goal since eighth grade, and he found Hope College to be a good fit. Anne liked Hope’s academic support and accommodations. Lawrence was excited about being recruited by the football team.
Lawrence graduated from Hope College in 2015 with a degree in political science and a leadership minor. During the time Lawrence was at Hope, Lawrence and Anne discovered the Barton Reading & Spelling System®. This program along with the Lindamood Phoneme Sequencing Program® later became the foundation of Reading Success Plus.
About the same time, Lawrence was offered an internship with the Micah Center, a faith- based social justice organization in Grand Rapids. When Lawrence told its leaders about his dyslexia, they encouraged him to become an advocate for that community. He spoke to organizations around the state and met with Lt. Gov. Brian Calley. Anne and Lawrence co-founded Decoding Dyslexia – Michigan, an offshoot of a national grassroots advocacy group.
As his internship was about to end during his junior year, Lawrence had an idea. “Because I didn’t want kids to struggle like I did, my mom and I decided to start Reading Success Plus.”
He was further inspired by his experience with the Micah Center.
“I saw what was going on around the state. Realizing how much struggle there was in the state, realizing we can make a difference, we decided to plunge in.”
Reading Success Plus has come far since then, serving more families, hiring more tutors, opening offices in Grand Rapids and Troy and adding programs in writing and math. It’s mission, however, remains the same: to help individuals like that preschooler who couldn’t tie his shoes.
“I was very, very fortunate, looking back at my schooling,” Lawrence says. “There were a couple of points when things could have gone either way. And they broke my way.”