We rarely have the opportunity to sit down with a young person and their trusted adult! OTA learned about an incredible story and had the privilege of sitting down with Jake and his trusted adult, Jill, to hear about their journey.
At nine years old, Jake was a bright and social kid who found reading and writing challenging. Jake says he “knew he wasn’t dumb” but he couldn’t understand why his friends finished their homework in record time, eager to play outside, while Jake found himself still stuck on the second question. Jake’s parents saw the impact his struggles were having on his confidence and they got in touch with Jill, a reading specialist, to schedule an appointment. Jill was immediately impressed with Jake’s thirst for knowledge. He wanted to understand. He was smart and determined to do well. He shared with Jill his dream to attend the University of Michigan—to be a Wolverine—and he wanted the tools to get there! Jill recommended that Jake take a psychoeducational assessment, which revealed a diagnosis of dyslexia.
Jake reflected on hearing this diagnosis for the first time: “It was a huge relief to find out I had dyslexia. There was a reason for my struggles!” Jill shared a list of famous athletes and celebrities who also had dyslexia. Jake left Jill’s office that day knowing there was a path to success. He knew “everything was going to be okay.” Jill’s office quickly became a safe space where Jake could release his frustrations from the school day and redirect his focus toward solutions. Jill soon became Jake’s trusted adult.
Just as Jake began gaining confidence, fifth grade ended and he faced the challenging transition to middle school—new teachers, new students, new routines, new spaces. Jake reflected on this big change, sharing that “all of my ‘security blankets’ at school were gone.” Jake arrived at Jill’s office in tears most days. He remembers Jill listening without judgment, encouraging him to express his frustrations freely. After letting the tears roll, he would naturally shift and begin thinking about how to make things better. Jill taught Jake self-advocacy skills, showing him how to seek support and ask for what he needed. The two also continued to work on the specific skills Jake needed to improve his reading and writing.
Through this challenging time, Jake gained confidence in his abilities. He said, “I stopped feeling sorry for myself.” He recognized the power of hard work and advocated for his needs. He was self-disciplined and goal oriented in his decisions. Knowing the road to acceptance at University of Michigan would be a long one, Jake began practicing his writing skills by documenting his sports predictions on a blog he started with a friend.
Over the next several years, with Jill and his parents cheering him all along the way, Jake wrote more than a hundred blog posts. Jake’s dad, incredibly proud of Jake’s accomplishments, was speaking with a work contact affiliated with Sports Illustrated and mentioned that his son had a sports blog. The contact encouraged Jake to submit an article for review . . . and the rest is history! Jake, the student who had struggled to read and write, became a writer for Sports Illustrated. His focus: University of Michigan athletics.
Fast-forward to today, and Jake is a sophomore at the University of Michigan—a Wolverine at last! He still calls Jill for support through his challenges and to celebrate his successes. Jill has had a huge impact on Jake’s life. He summarized this impact best when he shared that he recently designed a “perspective poster” highlighting how he got where he is today. His poster features his mom, his dad, his sister, and Jill. Jill is family.
For all these reasons and more, we are spotlighting Jill and Jake’s journey! Every kid needs a Jill in their life—an accessible, boundaried, and caring trusted adult. Thank you, Jill, for showing up as a trusted adult for the young people in your care. Your profound impact continues to ripple through schools and communities.
Jill is the founder of Whole Phonics, a structured literacy program for beginning and struggling readers. Whole Phonics books are carefully crafted to sequentially instill language and reading skills over consecutive levels of learning. One Trusted Adult encourages you to check out Whole Phonics and Jill’s amazing work!
Thank you, Jake, for sharing your story, and congratulations on your incredible accomplishments!