Jeannie moved to America in her mid-teens and struggled with the English written language. “I used to dread writing papers. I could never express my thoughts exactly in writing...In graduate school, I realized that I could only improve writing through practice. It was like learning to play a musical instrument. The more you practice, the better you become.” And practice she did -- eventually earning her Masters in English from Texas A&M.
Nearly fifteen years after her move to America, Jeannie relocated to Washington, DC with her husband and two young children. As her children entered school, Jeannie devised a schedule to encourage her son and daughter to practice writing. She took them to the library at least three times a week and began reading the same books as her oldest child -- Jane, then 8. Jeannie developed writing assignments for her daughter and began creating a curriculum for her son’s future. For 6 months, she produced essay questions, vocabulary work, and comprehension questions -- creating over 50 assignments. They practiced writing on a regular basis, and her daughter advanced quickly.
Why not have other kids do the same thing? Jeannie strongly believed reading and writing was the foundation for all learning -- and necessary for every child’s success -- especially ESL students.
She began with eight students, 500 used books, and very little money. Her pastor allowed her to use two empty rooms in the church for free. After a mere month, her student base doubled. The work was exhausting, but Jeannie quickly realized she had found her calling.
Her mother immediately cashed in her insurance policy and lent Jeannie $2000 to obtain a permanent tutoring space. With this money, and a loan, Jeannie started the Reading & Writing Center of Annandale in 1989.
In three months, she had nearly 50 students. The Reading & Writing Center soon morphed into the SpiderSmart Learning Center and grew substantially. Even with her incredible success, Jeannie remains grounded; “I feel so lucky to have come this far because of the people who worked for me.”
Not only is she intelligent and driven, but she truly cares for her students; “I don’t like vacations. I just cannot wait till I get back! I miss the kids too much. The Annandale kids are like my own. Some have been coming for eight years!” Her genuine affection for her students transforms her center into a place where children can be themselves, learn without embarrassment, and improve beyond what they thought possible.
As told by Amber Byrne.