Dr. Anupama Sethi, founder Executive Director of EmpowerKidz, a multi-disciplinary learning enhancement center dedicated to children with learning disabilities, dyslexia, slow learning skills, ADD/ADHD and/or moderate autism, has been helping kids from 1993 to achieve their full potential in life, and has experimented with research based new developments in the area of education and the science of teaching.
In conversation with this truly remarkable lady, who is bringing joy and acceptance into the lives of hitherto struggling children:
Q1. Please tell us a bit more about your childhood and your love for kids.
My childhood is filled with fond memories of mountains, rivers, snow hydro-electric projects, a feeling of community living in small townships where my father got posted in Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab and some parts of Rajasthan. I grew up in small towns – in safe spaces where everybody knew each other and there was no fear or risk. Kids played outside in the playgrounds – games like Gulli-danda, badminton, marbles, pitthoo, stapoo, chhupan-chhupai.
We did not have television reception in those remote hilly and mountainous areas. We had ample time to play and read books, like Nandan, Champak, Chandamama, Parag, Calvin and Hobbes, Peanuts, Reader’s Digest, etc. Summer time fun used to be playing Carom, Ludo, Snakes and Ladders, and Chinese Checkers.
As I grew up a little more, I enjoyed doing craft work and picked up a hobby of embroidery and crochet work along with shuttle work. My kids find it hard to believe that I used to do all that as they have never seen me doing any needlework. I showed them some of the samples of work lying at my parents’ place, they were surprised.
I do have the intention to pick up some of these activities again, especially some sort of embroidery and shuttle work. I really find it healing and for me, it is a great source of creative satisfaction.
Q2. Please highlight your major milestones in your career.
Though my career has been a gradual flow of events, there are some that might be called ‘milestones’:
- My first real life experience of working with children with dyslexia and learning disabilities was with Dr. Sunita Sodhi at Educare. I learned the real meanings of the terms associated with dyslexia, and other learning issues with her. She trained me how to teach Phonics, sight words, creative writing to students with learning disabilities. How to develop Individualized educational plans, lesson planning and various components of teaching through multisensory strategies.
- The next milestone was when we started Vidyashree Learning Center under Gulab Rai Trust, and with Mrs. Romil Rai’s support in Kailash Colony. We started with 6 students and in a short span of one year, we had 25 students receiving help in the area of reading, spellings, sight words, creative writing, comprehension skills and behavioral skills. Most of the students made significant gains.
- I moved to the US in 2003 and joined Learning Disabilities Association of America as a volunteer and it was such an enriching experience to work with Ms. Jane Browning, the Executive Director of LDAA. It gave me first-hand experience with one of the major policy-making organizations in the area of learning disabilities.
- Then I did my basic teaching certification as Reading Therapist under The International Multisensory Structured Language Education Council (IMSLEC). This reinforced my understanding of the teaching modalities of reading under this proper, structured program. I learned the correct accent and pronunciation of the sounds and words. I continued to work as the Reading therapist at 32 degrees Masonic learning Center in Pittsburgh PA. I enjoyed a lot working with my students on a one-to-one basis, but somewhere had a few unanswered questions, like why the struggling students, even after intensive Multi-sensory instruction and significant improvements, still need modifications in the classrooms, exemptions at the exams level in schools and a support system throughout the education program from school to college/university. Some children respond very well to Multi-sensory teaching instruction, but still, there are so many other students who, despite getting all the interventions and support, are not able to show improvement. I kept on looking for the answers and ultimately found them in some cognitive skills training programs being used in the US, like Learning RX, Brain Balance Centers, SOI systems, just to name a few.
- I kept on exploring these new developments and programs with regard to how these can be used along with my multi-sensory intervention programs. Then I met Ms. Claudette Anderson in Denver Colorado, who gave me an insight into a variety of cognitive skills development programs. I worked with her and did my basic certification in SOI systems. This training and certification gave me a feeling of providing comprehensive assessments and interventions to students on the basis of detailed diagnosis, along with the solutions aspect. I continued to work in SOI systems and multi-sensory teaching program and moved further in SOI systems to get my Intermediate and Advanced certification at their headquarters in Oregon under the guidance of Dr. Robert Meeker, Ms. Diane, and Ms. Jody Brooks.
It was then that I moved back to India and started EmpowerKidz Learning center with all the enthusiasm and rich experiences. And I’m enjoying it to the fullest!
Q3. What was your inspiration for starting EmpowerKidz?
After working for 18 years in different institutes as a remedial educator and working on all the certifications in the fields of Multi-sensory teaching, Braingym, Cognitive Skills training, I felt that I should implement and experiment with all these programs and strategies at a place of my own. I wanted the freedom to implement and see how the different combinations of the programs work together and observe the holistic, significant changes in the students.
Q4. How has EmpowerKidz grown over the years?
EmpowerKidz has, over the years, gained a huge experience of:
- Working with children with learning disabilities in Denver, Colorado, to Folsom to California and now in Noida, India. The experience has been very enriching in terms of handling children from different cultural settings and differentiated needs.
- We have grown our experience from being the basic remedial educators to cognitive skills trainers under SOI systems US, Braingym instructors for children and adults, licensed providers for The Listening Program (Music Therapy Program) for children with ADHD and Autism, Certified and Authorized providers for Brainware Safari, a computer Game based cognitive skills training program for young children.
- We have been in Noida for past two and half years and have already worked with almost 30 students, out of which 10 have graduated from our program. Presently we are working with 15 children in the after school program and 4 children in the morning.
- We have grown from one staff member, that’s me, to three special educators and one office staff person.
- As a start-up organization, we have had our share of struggles and hiccups. However, we are committed to providing the quality customized services to parents, children, schools, and teachers.
Q5. What has been your biggest strength in this journey?
Our biggest strength in this journey has been the experience of 25 years of working with children using a variety of programs which help us customize the interventions with each of our students. My travel and stay at different places globally have given me the experience and the knowledge, along with certifications and licenses, to provide international quality work under the following areas:
- SOI-IPP Systems for Cognitive Skills Assessments and Interventions.
- Reading Therapist under IMSLEC
- Brainware Safari
- The Listening Program
Q6. What are some of the personal challenges you have faced and how have they changed/impacted you?
My biggest challenges in one sense have my strengths also indirectly. My challenge had been that because of my family’s moves across the globe for the past 13 years, I could not settle at one place and focus on my profession of being a remedial educator. Because of this frequent moving from one place to the other, I gained so much experience and was able to meet with so many professionals, which led to global certifications in SOI systems, Braingym, The Listening Program and Reading Specialist. So, for me, moving to so many new places has been a blessing in disguise.
Q7. What keeps you motivated to bring about a change in the lives of these beautiful kids?
When I observe a student responding to the programs at our center and when he starts blooming, believes in himself/herself that he/she can do the work independently, takes initiative and comes to me and reads aloud, it keeps me moving ahead and put an extra effort to make a mark in so many more students.
EmpowerKidz tries to provide answers to ‘why’ a student is not learning efficiently and successfully by going beyond academics and tutoring. Dr. Sethi develops their foundation for learning in a holistic integrated approach, thus making learning enjoyable and academics more meaningful for the children.