About The Fund
On May 10, 2017, my mother - Pat Maloney - died. Her death was sudden but not unexpected. Every day since, I've been thinking about her life, her legacy and how to honor it. As I surveyed the landscape of her life, it struck me that education and its role in socioeconomic mobility played a central role in who she was, what she thought and how she lived.
My mom was no dummy. But she never had the opportunity to get a college degree. And her 45 year career in academic administration at the University of Maryland Baltimore was stifled by this. She may have had the respect of virtually everyone on campus but without letters behind your name, the state wasn't going to promote you to an executive leadership role befitting someone of her strategic intellect and political savvy.
My mom struggled with this reality for as long as I can remember. She was deeply and viscerally frustrated by it. I believe that it made her feel like she wasn’t good enough. And that’s tough to take. Especially when, in your heart, you know you are.
Through her own frustration, my mom understood that education isn’t simply a way to open minds. It is an opportunity to grasp the next rung of society’s ladder.
At that moment, I realized that this was her greatest legacy — education. To her it was everything. And she prioritized it above all else. There was never a question. We would be educated. No matter the sacrifice.
She worked herself ragged to make sure that I had the opportunity to attend private schools. She'd buy her clothes at K-Mart so that I could walk around with polo ponies on mine. When I asked her, as an adult, why she did those things, she told me that "I didn't want anyone — including you — to think that you didn't belong."
There isn’t much in this world that Pat loved more than her kids. But her grandsons would certainly give us a run for our money. They were a source of eternal pride to her. On August 2, 2004, she became "Nanee" for the third time when my first born - Carter Thomas Maloney - came into the world.
And on that day, my life changed forever.
He was a beautiful boy -- helpful and outgoing. But he wasn’t the most vocal of kids. Throughout preschool, it seemed that he was on a different trajectory. I tried to explain it away as immaturity but my wife had a nagging intuition that it was something deeper. It worried us both. Deeply. We had no idea what was wrong. But we knew that something was.
After pursuing a few much less expensive options, we finally paid to have him tested by a licensed educational psychologist. When testing was concluded, she explained that his phonological awareness deficit would put him at dire risk of reading failure. And, without proper remediation, he may never acquire functional literacy nonetheless academic success.
In other words, he's dyslexic.
Dyslexia is a brain based learning disorder characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. By definition, dyslexics have normal or high IQ. It isn’t a cognitive issue. These are smart kids. But something about the way that their brain is wired makes it really difficult for them to read. Many kids who are dyslexic also have complicating issues such as ADHD, slow processing or working memory deficits which make learning, and thus access to education nearly impossible.
According to The Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity, dyslexia affects 20 percent of the population and represents 80–90 percent of all those with learning disabilities.
For most dyslexics, school will be the hardest thing that they ever have to do. In every conceivable way. It is estimated that up to a third of all high school drop outs have a specific language learning disorder, with dyslexia accounting for nearly 80%.
The social repercussions of our failure to properly identify, diagnose, and educate dyslexics are astounding. Data from National Institute for Literacy, National Center for Adult Literacy, The Literacy Company and the U.S. Census Bureau indicate that:
- Currently, 45 million Americans are functionally illiterate and cannot read above a fifth-grade level;
- 50% of adults cannot read a book written at an eighth-grade level;
- 57% of students failed the California Standards Test in English;
- 1/3 of fourth-graders reach the proficient reading level;
- 25% of students in California school systems are able to perform basic reading skills;
- 85% of juvenile offenders have problems reading;
- 3 out of 5 people in American prisons can’t read;
- 3 out of 4 people on welfare can’t read.
The good news is that these kids can be taught. In fact, proper intervention has been shown to physically improve the wiring of the brain. Nothing "cures" dyslexia. But with the right help and accommodations, dyslexia can be managed with little negative influence on academic performance. And once these kids get out of school with their self-confidence intact, they disproportionately go on to do amazing things.
Unfortunately, most public schools in this country do a grossly inadequate job in meeting the needs of dyslexic students. Heck - just recently has it become acceptable to even use the word dyslexia in public schools. Some parochial and private schools are working to ramp up their intervention efforts, it's through specialized research based instruction that dyslexic students are best positioned for success.
This is why our educational psychologist told us, when she explained the results of Carter's testing, that we should "run...not walk" to The Odyssey School.
What Happens Here Changes Everything
Carter started at the Odyssey School as a Kayak (Kindergarten) in the fall of 2009. He was one of 4 boys in the class. He would spend 6 hours a day building his phonological awareness with a Harvard trained special educator, a kinesthetic learning expert and receive personal tutoring with a licensed speech and language therapist for 50 minutes every day.
Before Carter started Odyssey, he was distracted and disengaged. He was friendly but not as outgoing as other kids. Within two weeks as a Kayak, he was a different kid. He wasn’t just happy. He was joyous. He wasn’t simply engaged. He was upset to have to leave school at the end of the day.
And we began to see improvement in his language skills almost immediately.
Carter will never be "cured" of his dyslexia. It’s a feature. Not a bug. But there is zero doubt that he has and will continue to improve his ability to manage it. Because of Odyssey, his dyslexia will not define his future.
The same can be said for his little brother Bennett, who was diagnosed as a 5 year old, spent 8 years at Odyssey and is now a freshman in the LaSalle Program at Calvert Hall College.
I feel incredibly fortunate to be able to provide my sons with this truly life changing opportunity. It isn't easy. But somehow I have been able to pull the funding together each year.
I consider it a blessing and privilege. And I hope that I continue to be blessed. For the sake of my boys. Like mom, all I want to do is give them a chance. And an Odyssey School education is just that for dyslexic children.
With a student-to-teacher ratio of 3:1, an Odyssey School education is a resource intensive proposition. And with an annual tuition just over $34,000, it is decidedly out of reach for most working families. In fact, I’m not sure that if I had been dyslexic, my mom would have been able to work enough overtime and scheme up enough side hustles to make it happen.
And it would have broken her heart.
And that's when it dawned on me. The most profound way for me to honor her legacy would be to use her last gift to me to help people like her send their kids to Odyssey. But her financial legacy wasn't a deep one. So I asked a small circle of my closest family and friends to help me pull together the seed funding required to establish an endowed fund in her name to provide financial assistance to families for whom an Odyssey education might be otherwise unattainable.
With Pat's gift and the generosity of our Founding Donors, we raised the money needed to seed and formally establish the fund. But an endowed fund can only spend a small percentage of its value each year in order to maintain (and grow) its principal value. That's how it lives on for generations. So, even though Mom's Fund is now a real thing, it will have only a minor impact on the lives of working families. An important impact, mind you, but a relatively minor one.
The only way to make a real difference is to grow the fund. So, with your help, that's what we intend to do.
Please consider a tax deductible gift.
Wondering about the fund or The Odyssey School or even dyslexia generally? Feel free to send us a message. We might not have the answer but we'll be sure to point you in the right direction.