Teacher aims to help children with learning disorders with affordable program

PHOTO: Auset Gordon, a fifth-grader, participates at Redwood Literacy. Kaitlin Feriante and her husband, Andre Feriante co-founded Redwood Literacy that opened June 2018.PlayKaitlin Feriante
WATCH News headlines today: Oct. 22, 2019

A former teacher with Chicago Public Schools has turned her passion for helping children with learning disabilities into an affordable program that aims to help children all across the city.

Kaitlin Feriante and her husband, Andre Feriante, opened the Redwood Literacy program in June 2018 as a summer course with approximately 40 children.

More than a year later, Redwood has not only grown into Redwood Day, a school co-founded by Becky Sinclair and located in Rodgers Park, Illinois, north of Chicago, but also into a partnership and teachers training program called Redwood Grow.

PHOTO: Children take part in lessons at Redwood. Kaitlin Feriante
Children take part in lessons at Redwood.

"Things are moving so fast, but like it feels like this was all supposed to happen," Kaitlin Feriante told ABC News.

The school teaches students from first grade to eighth grade and currently has 20 children.

"Redwood Day is considered a transitional school, meaning that they help kids then they transfer back to their mainstream curriculum after a year or two," Feriante said.

Redwood Literacy now functions as an after-school program, where students receive literacy lessons, and Redwood Grow partners with charter schools in the Chicago area, providing funding and one year of curriculum as well as training instructors.

PHOTO: Sophie Galeener, a third-grader, participates at Redwood Literacy, an affordable program that helps children across Chicago learn to read and love it. Kaitlin Feriante
Sophie Galeener, a third-grader, participates at Redwood Literacy, an affordable program that helps children across Chicago learn to read and love it.

"Our mission is threefold: one, to offer affordable after-school and summer-camp, small-group sessions at around $33 an hour; two, to offer a full-day school program for 20 kids who need it most offering as many scholarships as possible; (and), three to train Chicago Public School teachers as dyslexia practitioners in order to get this intervention to students around the city for free," she told ABC News.

Feriante said she and her husband started Redwood Literacy because they found that courses helping children who suffer from learning disabilities are "marketed at such a high price" and only certain people have them as a resource, leaving others at a disadvantage.

Each program helps individuals with dyslexia, dysgraphia or other literacy-based learning struggles.

Feriante grew up in Albania and said she saw a lot of poverty and struggle. Those experiences influenced her desire to provide affordable education and classroom lessons to children.

She went to school to become a behavioral learning specialist but stopped working in the public school system because she found it hard to teach full time and have a family. Feriante told ABC News that she is focusing on Redwood Grow and more partnerships within schools around Chicago.

PHOTO: Children take part in lessons at Redwood. Kaitlin Feriante
Children take part in lessons at Redwood.

Feriante, now a mother of three, told ABC News that "it feels hopeful and encouraging" when seeing the results and growth of the children who are at Redwood.

Sophie Galeener, 8, a third-grader at Grace Lutheran Church and School in River Forest, Illinois, has dyslexia. She attended Redwood's summer program and then attended Redwood Day for a school year.

Megan Galeener, Sophie's mother, said that school year and program improved her daughter's reading skills and that they changed their lives.

"For the first time, someone understood what we were going through and what our daughter needed," Galeener told ABC News. "They taught her how to read."

Beginning its second year of services, the future seems bright for Redwood Literacy, Feriante said.

"We hope to have multiple affordable after-school centers around the city, especially in or near neighborhoods that are under-resourced. We are planning on opening a second Redwood Literacy location in summer 2020," she said.