Suburban News

Retired District 58 teachers pivot to business endeavor

Retired District 58 teachers pivot to business endeavor

While two Downers Grove Grade School District 58 educators recently have transitioned out of the classroom, their days of educating are far from behind them.

Downers Grove residents Beth Hatlen and Karla O’Brien have partnered on a business endeavor offering teachers professional development training on effective reading instruction for students, especially those with language-based difficulties or dyslexia.

Through their company, Classmates Educational Group Inc., the duo owns and operates SLANT System for Structured Language Training, which is based on the Orton-Gillingham multisensory structured literacy approach.

Those with dyslexia, for example, have difficulty processing letters and sounds. To that end, the Orton-Gillingham approach breaks reading and writing into smaller, more manageable pieces.

O’Brien and Hatlen are grateful Downers Grove educators who have been incorporating SLANT methods into their instruction for many years.

“Countless students in Downers Grove have been helped,” said Hatlen, who before working as a reading specialist in the district for five years served as a kindergarten teacher at Indian Trail Elementary School for 17 years.

And it’s an approach the pair, whose children are District 58 students, hope to see take root throughout Illinois and in schools across the country.

“There is such a need for this nationwide given the scores that have come out in the National Assessment of Educational Progress that was published showing reading scores declining dramatically in the last two years,” said O’Brien, who served as a special education resource teacher at Pierce Downer Elementary in Downers Grove for several years.

The two took over the well-established business from Marsha Geller, the original author of the SLANT System for Structured Language Training.

“When we originally participated in SLANT training, we didn’t realize it was through a small, family-owned business that was started by a woman in the northern suburbs,” Hatlen said. “And after using the methods with our students, we saw such huge growth. So when [Geller] decided to retire, we swooped in because it was some of the best training we’d ever received and we thought, ‘This is too good for it not to continue on.’”

A former president of the Illinois branch of the International Dyslexia Association and frequent speaker at state and national conferences, Geller remains a member of the SLANT System team.

O’Brien and Hatlen are thrilled to continue working with educators in District 58 and beyond.

They are in the process of obtaining International Dyslexia Association accreditation, which ensures the fidelity of the methods being taught and that they align with standards set up by the IDA.

“We are constantly hustling to make sure that ultimately we can reach the most children possible,” Hatlen said. “I think our shared passion for knowing the impact this has directly on the students is the driving force.”

The lifelong Downers Grove residents are committed to giving back to their community and surrounding areas.

“As passionate educators, serving our own community first was a priority,” Hatlen said. “Knowing the positive impact that this teacher training can have directly on students, Karla and I felt that serving our own community first was a must. While we left the classroom, we are confident that by training teachers, we can, in fact, reach many more students.”

They also are excited to put business roots down in the community they call home.

“Downers Grove truly has our heart,” Hatlen said. “In Downers Grove, we are all family, and taking care of our family is a core belief that we, as an organization, will always uphold.”

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