As bringing help to children with individual learning delays remains a challenge in many smaller communities like the Western Treasure Valley, one local educator addressed the Payette Area Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday about ways to meet that challenge.
Fran Renk operates Delight in Dreams Learning Center and the Delightful Discoveries daycare, preschool and after-school program. Her talk centered around how to address learning disabilities.
Renk shared about her experience as principal at the now-defunct Treasure Valley Christian School in Ontario. She said her effort to create a learning center for kids with learning delays spanned 11 years there.
“When I was principal … There were some things happening that really puzzled me; We started getting kids in the school that were three-to-eight years behind academically,” she said. “As I [began] to think about it, one of the things I realized was that these kids were trauma kids. When you look at how your brain functions, if a kid has been in trauma a lot of times they can’t function in school.”
During her time at the school, Renk assigned trauma kids to what she referred to as a “critical care unit,” where teachers would work with them to help them function more effectively. She said kids assigned to this unit took several years of concentrated effort to restore normal ability to learn.
After her time as principal, her commitment to trauma kids is what led her to Payette.
“I had retired and I was going to eat bon-bons on the couch, that was my plan,” said Renk. “My girlfriend who is a grandma ended up raising her grandchildren, and they were trauma kids. She brought them to me to be tested, and they again were three-to-eight years behind because there was severe trauma in their life.”
Now out of retirement, Renk began her learning center in a church office in Payette. The search for a permanent building for her center started shortly afterward.
Two years later, she bought a church building on Second Avenue South in Payette, where her parents wed in 1950, despite initial resistance from her husband.
As part of her talk, Renk included an infographic which details the characteristics of the brain. According to the infographic, this three-pound, 10-25 watt organ generates enough energy to power a light bulb.
It is also 75% water, and uses up to 25% of all the oxygen used by the human body.
Reenk said she wants parents to learn as much as they can about the brain.
“We know that the brain plays an important part, and the most important part in kids. If your brain is not functioning, you do not have functioning children.”
Renk shared that her son, now in his 40s, experienced learning delays when he was in the second grade.
“One day he’s bright, the other day not-so-bright,” was how she recalled her son’s teacher describing the issue.
Renk explained that outside influences often cause learning disabilities. She noted that increasing use of drugs and alcohol nationwide is causing an increase in these disabilities.
“When you take alcohol, the alcohol [injuries] from fetal alcohol only show up between days 17 to 21. However, alcohol impacts the brain … these kids do not have the ability to understand ‘no.’ Their conscience does not work.”
She also noted a study out of Toronto, Ontario, Canada which suggests autism diagnoses are on the rise thanks in part to marijuana use.
Renk’s center is composed of three separate entities, for insurance reasons she said: Delight in Dreams Learning Center, Delight in Learning and Delightful Discoveries. As part of her programs, she offers what she calls “academic coaching,” to help students reinforce the basics of core subjects through repetition and memorization.
She likened the approach to sports coaching, where athletes are reminded of the basics of their sport over and over before plays can be made.
“When we took out memorization and when we took out constantly reviewing [from public schools], we did not set into the kids the neurological pathway that they needed to remember,” she said. “A spiral curriculum which they see over and over again, and you add, is the best way to train a kid.”
Renk said she works to slow things down with each kid to help them understand each step of a process. She said enrollment is small right now, and is inviting caregivers who have kids in need of help to reach out to her.
Her point in doing this: A zip code shouldn’t dictate what resources kids have for learning.
“We need some of the services that are on the cutting edge, and I think ‘Why not Payette?’ I have the dream of seeing those things come in, because bigger cities have it. Why can’t we? That’s what I’m after.”
Parents or caregivers interested in learning more about Renk’s programs can phone (208) 284-5288.