Our Summer at Camp Dunnabeck

For years my son Josh and I have been playing the game ” What would you do if you win the lottery”. Invariably, Josh will come up with a version of building a school where all dyslexic students can go for free, where their talents are supported, and you do not have to feel bad about yourself about stuff that is hard for you. In his imagination, this school is located somewhere with lots of space, horse back riding, tennis, martial arts studio, an archery range, a place for swimming, an inventor’s laboratory where you can build rockets and new machines, there would be music, art, and of course film making. The subjects which are hard for dyslexic students would be taught by patient teachers on the level you need it, and if you cannot figure something out you are not scolded or given bad grades, but you are taught in a different way. Then, there is also camping, and snow skiing. And because all of this would be so perfect, there should also be projects to help people less fortunate. There are dorms for students who want to stay at the school during the school year. For those who get homesick and want to go home at night there will be a helicopter service to fly them home if it is too far to drive. And since there are trained pilots on campus, you could also take classes from them, so you can pilot your own helicopter home when you are old enough……

Wonderful dreams in our fictional world, or so I thought until we dropped off Josh at Camp Dunnabeck at Kildonan school in Amenia, New York this summer. It really is that place my child has invented in his vivid imagination (minus the free and minus the helicopters, but if Josh wins the lottery these amenities might be added…). Reading the brochures of Camp Dunnabeck did not prepare me for the real deal. Yes, they have a huge campus to run around on, the horses, the archery, the tennis court, a fantastic art studio in a barn, a music studio, a pond, boats, a wood working shop, and more than I can even list. But what I was not prepared for is the spirit of benevolence and pride for the talents of these students, who receive little recognition in the general education setting.

In addition, the difficulties of a dyslexic student are not confined to the school setting. Growing up with dyslexia can also be hard in other activities, such as music (learning to read music on these small lines is hard), robotics (you have to be loud and boisterous to get your ideas across, poor word recall does not help with this), sports (it can take a little longer to learn automaticity of movements). There is always lots of explaining whatever activity I take my son to. And as little is known about dyslexia, teachers/coaches/friends/other parents in the outside world often have to be convinced that dyslexia is not a disability preventing the child from participation, but that certain things may just take a little longer.

At Camp Dunnabeck however, the teachers and instructors have their sensors out. They know what to look for. They asked for relatively little information about my child at registration, but in just 3 weeks they have figured it out like no one else before. They have discovered new talents and taught me how to teach my son better at home. Interestingly enough, one of my son’s favorite activities at camp were “tutoring” and “homework”, so I believe the school year ahead of us will go a lot smoother with this kind of attitude! But best of all, I feel that my son has found some adults, who really believe in him. He experienced recognition of his talents like nowhere else before. Thank you Kildonan teachers and instructors. You know who you are. We will always remember you fondly.

My son’s biggest dream is a school, where he and other dyslexic students can go and learn in peace. Where talents are recognised and self-confidence is not destroyed by demands of an educational system a dyslexic student cannot meet. As one of the teachers at Kildonan put it: “If you take the scenic route instead the highway¬† you will discover beauty and innovation”.

Gabi Rutz

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