By: Tegan Dry (Loyola Senior)
In the United States, one in five students have a language-based learning disability-the most common being Dyslexia.
Right here in Rogers Park and Edgewater, Redwood Literacy, both an after-school and summer program, and a full-time day school is helping learners combat those learning challenges.
According to their website, Redwood’s mission is “that all students with literacy struggles can access their dreams. By cultivating hope and restoring confidence, we help students dramatically improve their literacy skills regardless of socio-economic background or learning differences”.
In 2019, Rogers Park community member and educator Rebecca Sinclair joined the Redwood team as Co-Founder and Head of the Day School. Sinclair came into this position with 10+ years of experience working in Chicago Public schools, both in general education and special education specifically focused on students with autism.
Rebecca, 39, is now the Executive Director of the non-profit sector of Redwood, which includes the Day School. She brings her background in teaching, social-emotional learning, and passion for education to the Redwood community. She is married and a mom to three little girls who all inherited Rebecca’s love to learn. We sat down with her to learn more about her journey to Redwood and what is going on in our community.
*Interview has been edited for length and clarity
RogersEdge Reporter: When did you know you wanted to work in schools?
Sinclair: It wasn’t until my first special education class that I was like “Oh, this is it” — it really connected these pieces for me of not only academics but also the whole child, that empathy and social-emotional piece brought it all together for me, as well as the physical components that can be part of the complexity of special education. That’s when I decided I was doing this!
RogersEdge Reporter: You have taught from Rogers Park to Roseland. How did teaching in a diverse range of Chicago neighborhoods change you as an educator?
Sinclair: I grew up in a place with limited cultural and socio-economic diversity. My eyes were really opened. Schools really can be the only safe space that a child has to go to get their very basic needs met. I learned what it means to add on support after that like social-emotional and academic needs and preparing kids to be citizens and leaders in their neighborhoods, wherever that might be.
RogersEdge Reporter: What was the journey that led you to Redwood Day School?
Sinclair: I had been working at a local Rogers Park elementary school for 10 years — a really good school. I grew, felt at home, and had leadership opportunities, but I was starting to feel stagnant. During that time I also got my Masters in school counseling, continuing that learning in the realm of social-emotional support. During that time my friend Kait started Redwood Literacy which started as an after-school and summer intervention program for students with dyslexia. she asked me to be on the board which I did, and after the first summer of tutoring, parents asked if Kait would open a school, which she did! After their first year, Kait asked me to consider joining the Redwood team full time and after about 7 months I say yes — I wanted to continue to grow, be stretched, and be out of my comfort zone. It’s a totally different world than public education but it’s been a good journey and it’s super rewarding.
RogersEdge Reporter: Where do you see Redwood (both Day School and Programs) going in the near future?
Sinclair: We want to continue to exist to have the fidelity of implementation and to make sure that we know what we’re doing works! We want to continue to pay teachers a competitive salary and provide professional development. We are also working on obtaining a connection with a local university for research so that we can implement best practices and be on the cutting edge of research. And finally, we want to increase accessibility — traditionally screening is only available to white, affluent families so we’re trying to make a difference and provide increased accessibility to that screening. There’s a strong connection between learning differences and the school-to-prison pipeline — a pretty large percentage of incarcerated individuals also have learning differences so we are trying to prevent that in our little corner of the world.
If you would like to learn more about Redwood Day school or its after-school programs, please visit https://www.redwoodliteracy.com/