Friday, July 8, 2011

AVKO Turns 35

AVKO Turns 35

I remember when I was a kid, I thought 35 was ancient. Well, now that I’ve reached the double lucky 77, I think 35 is very young indeed. Here I was barely 42, already ancient when I and some of my close friends and relatives founded the AVKO Educational Research Foundation. We knew, or at least thought we knew, what we were about to create. We hoped to start an organization that would do real research into the problems of why so many kids end up being very poor readers by the time they are old enough to leave school. That was the reason we wanted the words Educational Research to be part of our name.

We decided on going the non-profit route with the great expectations (Sorry, Charles Dickens) of being able to qualify for government grants and certainly charitable grants from large philanthropic organizations, such as the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation. Because we wanted the name to reflect our non-profit status, we thought the word Foundation, should be there somewhere. That gave us Educational Research Foundation, Inc. Although that seemed to describe what we intended to be, it seemed to need a name such as Ford, Mott, or Smith. The McCabe Educational Research Foundation was suggested, but I quickly vetoed that idea. I wanted the accent to be on what we were about, not on me. Then one of our small group suggested creating an acronym for the name, one that would help better reflect our multi-sensory approach to teaching, one that utilized Visual, Audio, Kinesthetic, and Oral methods. But that spelled out VAKO which sounded too much like wacko. But with a nice dyslexic reversal of VA to AV we got AVKO—The AVKO Educational Research Foundation.

One of the things we wanted to do was to determine what it is that good readers and good spellers learn that the “poor” ones don’t and whether or not it was taught. We strongly suspected it was “phonics” or spelling patterns, but there wasn’t any definitive source to determine what all the patterns were. As I already had begun working on that project of arranging all the words in the English Language by spelling patterns (word families), we did need more equipment than merely a typewriter or two.

That’s where we began to raise money with the help of weekly BINGO games at which we tried to get the word out that kids with reading and spelling problems could receive help and without any charge. Looking back, perhaps we should have charged for our services. But then again, there were quite a few people we helped learn to read who would not have been able to afford even a token payment.

At any rate, we struggled to make ends meet. Without donations from individuals we would never have made it through the first fifteen years. We tried first to get our ideas and publications out to the schools. We exhibited at the Michigan Reading Association and tried to get speaking engagements, but we were allowed only small rooms with even smaller audiences. We went to regional and national IRA conferences. We spent money on mass mailings to reading teachers. We failed miserably at all our marketing attempts. But we kept doing what we felt was right—the research and development of materials and techniques.

Our biggest breakthrough came when Sonlight Curriculum approached us. They had discovered from their blogs and other homeschool listservs that Sequential Spelling worked where other spelling programs failed. They had their own people not just look at the books but use them with their kids. Sequential Spelling worked for their kids. They wanted it, but not in the form we were selling it which was in three ring binders. When they offered to arrange for a professional printing if we’d make a few cosmetic changes and to pay in advance for a two year inventory supply, we were very happy to oblige. Now, we have a little money in the bank and are able to afford one full time and two half-time employees along with a pretty fair number of volunteers.

We now have fairly high hopes that a publisher with deep pockets will want to take over the publishing aspect of AVKO. We have had many small publishers make offers. We have had many small publishers make offers that were totally unacceptable. If and when that happens, perhaps it will be easier for us to find a non-profit tax-exempt 501(C)3 organization to leave our assets to, as we are coming and closer to accomplishing our mission. We had hoped to do be out of existence in twenty-five years. We now have turned 35. Certainly, we should in the next 15 years find a commercial publisher and a non-profit interested in carrying out our plans and ideas.

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