The Lellow Story as told by our founder, Nicole Serle While pursuing a Master's degree in Chicago, IL, I took a job working for a private learning center. It was here that I fell in love with special education and saw the potential behind intensive, research based learning interventions for teaching children with deficits in reading, writing, and math. In 2011, their services cost $98 an hour and students attended for an average of 120 hours. Today, their hourly rate is $135.
After completing my Master’s degree, I worked as a special education teacher for a network that turned around failing Chicago Public Schools. To understand what I experienced here and what eventually led to the idea to start The Lellow Foundation, I need to tell you about some of the first students I ever taught:
Tashanti was a 5th grade girl. She was barely reading on a first grade level, and I spent hours trying to teach her to count money, but she couldn’t differentiate between the coins. Just when I thought she was making progress, she’d lost it all by the next day because she couldn’t retain the information. Tashanti’s mother was a prostitute in and out of prison.
Damonte was a 5th grade boy. He could read words, but he couldn't comprehend what he was reading. Damonte was living with a foster family and they made him sleep on the porch some nights.
Lavonde was a 6th grade boy. He struggled emotionally and would often be crying or extremely angry, expressing he wanted to hurt someone. Lavonde was living with a foster family because of repeated sexual abuse by an older sibling.
The Rodriguez brothers were also in this class. The oldest brother was in 7th grade. He was in a gang and had 2 kids by 2 different women. He was unable to read. His two younger brothers were in 5th grade. They also could not read.
Each of these students presented as completely “typical.” Upon meeting them, you wouldn’t suspect any cognitive difficulties. In fact, you might even attribute their lack of progress in school to their bad attitudes and disrespectful behavior. Each of these students had a story and each of these students had a learning disability preventing them from learning the way their peers learned, from learning the way the educational system is designed. Because they were special education students, they were all put into the same class with one teacher and the teacher was expected to teach them what the 5th, 6th, and 7th grade classes were all doing, but in a small group. I would cry, spending hours trying to design some sort of lesson plan that could help them. It was especially frustrating knowing there were outside companies like the one I used to work at that were using research based strategies to remediate learning deficits.
80% of kids identified as having a specific learning disability have a specific learning disability in reading. And research shows that 95% of students are able to learn to read, but special education teachers aren’t provided with the resources (including specialized curriculum), support staff, or the classroom structure to make this possible.
Despite all the resources available, the public education system is failing to meet the needs of exceptional learners, especially those who are at an economic disadvantage. And the private resources aren't accessible due to the high cost of their services. I realized with all that I was given, I had a responsibility to advocate for these children and their families, to bridge the gap so that these children could receive the resources and education they deserve.
Tashanti, Damonte, Lavonde, and the Rodriguez brothers were the inspiration behind starting The Lellow Foundation. In June of 2017, The Lellow Foundation was officially recognized as a 501(c)3 organization.
Currently, we are proudly partnered with Lindamood-Bell Learning Processes in Houston, Texas. We work together to fund intensive instruction for struggling learners in financial need. Additionally, we provide grants to special education teachers working in Houston area, title 1 public schools through our For Schools Program. It is our vision to continue to expand our partnerships with reputable companies to provide academic, behavioral, and physical interventions, supplies, and equipment for children with special needs. We are currently serving Houston and its surrounding communities, with the intention of eventually expanding nationally. The public school system is missing the bar, and The Lellow Foundation is dedicated to providing our exceptional learners with the support they need to reach their highest potential.