Wilson® Dyslexia Practitioner Angela Marks and her growing team of reading instructors are on a mission to foster literacy and justice—one student and one step at a time.
In 2019, the educator founded the nonprofit organization Reading Allowed with a handful of students and teachers. Its mission is to provide specialized structured literacy instruction to children and adults in the greater Philadelphia area who struggle to read, write, and spell, and who otherwise may not have access to tutoring.
Reading Allowed operates on a sliding-scale basis, enabling all families to benefit from the one-to-one Wilson Reading System® (WRS) tutoring it provides.
“The lack of access to high quality instruction is clearly a social justice issue, and that’s what we’re trying to address. If people don’t have the same educational opportunities, their outcomes in life are going to be very different,” shared Angela. She points to national statistics on reading disabilities and disparities, and the correlation between early literacy failure and the school-to-prison pipeline.
With the support of grants and the generosity of the community, Reading Allowed has grown to nearly 30 Wilson® Certified Instructors and more than 100 children and adults who otherwise may not have access to explicit, one-to-one instruction.
How it Began
Earlier in her professional career, the mother of three worked as an accountant for a large firm in London and New York. In the mid-2000s, she decided to make a change to a field she found intriguing—education. Specifically, Angela shifted to reading instruction.
“I’ve always been fascinated with the process of learning to read. It’s an evolving science and I was always drawn to that.”
Angela earned a master’s degree in education and began her new career as a reading specialist in 2005. Yet, she felt she was “missing something.”
“I still didn’t know how to help someone who couldn’t read become a reader,” she said. “Wilson gave me a road map. I was lucky enough to work at a school that brought in a Wilson Trainer for the three-day introduction to the program. After that, I was hooked. I saw that it worked and I wanted to know how to do it properly.”
Angela turned to AIM Academy’s Institute for Learning and Research, a Wilson® Accredited Partner in nearby Conshohocken, PA, to earn her WRS Level I Certification. She went on to complete the Advanced Strategies for Multisensory Structured Language (MSL) Group Instruction Course and additional training focused on Fundations® Level 1, Wilson’s structured literacy program for first graders.
With explicit, effective skills in her toolkit, Angela delighted in the gains her students made academically and personally.
“I can’t say enough about how Wilson helps students! For many, it’s their first reading success. I’ve seen the behavior changes in kids who had been acting out. Once you get them in the Wilson rhythm and they know what to expect, it changes many kids and adults.”
Yet given the urgency of the national reading crisis, her experience was bittersweet,
“I was so fortunate to work in a school where families for the most part had the resources to pay for tutoring if their children needed it. Seeing over and over again how well the students did with their reading, writing, spelling, and self-esteem was such a joyful experience. It made me so sad to realize that individual, specialized attention is often beyond the means of many families.”
That poignancy spurred Angela to action and she soon founded Reading Allowed.
To build up her team of like-minded tutors equally determined to catch students “before they fall,” Angela contacted other Wilson® Certified Instructors in the area and invited them to join her mission. Tutors must be certified in high quality, evidence-based structured literacy instruction and remain up to date on the science of reading.
Two years later, Reading Allowed is busier than ever. In fact, the shift to virtual learning over the past year enabled Angela to match even more students and WRS tutors in their own neighborhoods.
“Before COVID-19, we would meet in school, and some districts contracted with us. We also met after school, at students’ homes or in the library, depending on the situation. Then we went virtual. I was hesitant at first, but it has been beyond my expectations. It really opened up our ability to serve so many more students.”
Reading Allowed partners with schools and community organizations, such as Community Partnership School in North Philadelphia. Angela and her team are ready to assist more schools and students of all ages—either in person or remotely—this summer and in the coming new year.
“This past year has been an odd one in many ways, but at Reading Allowed, it has been one of growth, learning, and excitement. Our hope is to partner with more schools, go into schools during the school day, and also provide virtual instruction. It really depends on the student and what they need.”