In much of the country, schools and camps that serve kids with learning differences are scarce. Many families have to travel substantial distances to get the help their children need, if they’re lucky enough to have a supportive school in the area at all. For others, it can mean moving one’s entire family for a summer at Benchmark.
The Druans are one such family that made the trek to Media. The Druans live in Wells, Maine. Their son Jackson, a rising 4th grader, has dyslexia and was struggling with his reading. Jack’s education suffered under COVID remote learning; he had fallen behind substantially and was not getting the support he needed to catch up either in school or via tutoring. His mother Katey said, “Our son Jack is wonderfully bright and who has the most amazing heart and spirit. No matter how hard he has worked (and he has worked so hard!) he was continuing to fall further behind grade level and we had gotten desperate.”
Katey turned to the internet for help. “I joined dyslexia support groups on Facebook, and when I searched the past recommendation requests for summer camps, Benchmark came up several times. Several members of my family spent countless hours searching the internet for a summer program that had both an academic and a social portion. We narrowed it down to three camps that fit our needs; one was further away and didn’t appear to warrant the extra drive and one had a less appealing recreation program and slightly less classroom time, along with seeming to be more focused on a straight O-G [Orton-Gillingham] approach, which we weren’t sure was going to be Jack’s best option due to the type of dyslexia he has. After we committed and started area research, our decision was reaffirmed when I had a few people from the Media Facebook group share positive stories recommending Benchmark.”
The Druans are hopeful that a summer spent at Benchmark will help Jack catch up academically, socially, and emotionally. “You are our ‘hail mary,’” Katey said. “We were looking for a camp that would have specialized teachers leading reading intensives each morning to help him close the gap towards reading at grade level. We also needed it to guide students in how to best advocate for themselves as learners and give them the tools they need to be strong in the face of academic bullying. Almost as important for us was the need for an amazing recreation program with other students who are struggling with dyslexia.”
Once the Druans selected Benchmark Camp, there were still hurdles to be dealt with: money and proximity.
Katey said that she and her husband’s employers were generous in allowing them to alter their work schedules, and they each took a turn being the parent near camp. The camp experience can be expensive, and the Druans had already spent substantial savings in paying for a failed experience with a private tutor the previous summer. Katey said, “The summer camp at Benchmark School program costs $3,855, and to get a small efficiency VRBO/Airbnb was about $2,400. As a part-time preschool teacher and a police officer, we needed to get creative to fund it. We did a lot of research, sent out countless letters, and applied for several scholarships. We were humbled and grateful when a local branch of the Widows Sons Motorcycle group through the Masons sponsored Jack for a large portion of his tuition, and the Maggie Welby Foundation scholarship covered the rest.”
The Druan family, as so many families with students who learn differently do, made sacrifices to get their child the individualized educational support they need. For families who live far from Benchmark, or are unable to have their child attend Benchmark during the school year for a variety of reasons, Benchmark Camp is much more than a summer diversion; it is the time during the year when their children’s learning needs can be fully understood and supported appropriately. This is a powerful and lasting experience for many campers and their families. Katey says, “It is our hope that after being immersed in a fun environment with other children who are overcoming the same challenges that he experiences that he will always be able to remember that he is not alone.”
In the photo: Jack (center, in the dark blue swimsuit with stars) with his friends at the pool at Benchmark Camp.