SOE hosts inaugural Ruth Harris Scholars Orientation

Seven scholars will receive training, mentoring and a scholarship from endowment funds. More events are planned this year for the community.

The Ruth Harris Scholars and faculty in the 2nd floor main hallway in Oliver Hall.
From left (Ruth Harris scholars are bolded): Phyllis Haynes, Ayanna Akinkoye, Lisa Cipolletti, Sarah Grissom, Darryl Baugh, Jr., Riley Jo Smith, Zoe Walker, Vanessa Altman, Katie Tuten, Alie LinensDean Andrew Daire.

The VCU School of Education hosted its inaugural Ruth Harris Scholars orientation meeting for seven students on May 2 at Oliver Hall. The orientation featured an introduction from Dean Andrew Daire, Ph.D., plus introductions of the initiatives team and scholars, as well as previews of a planned summer training session and a shadowing/tutoring experience this fall.

Dean Daire said that the scholars program is part of a renewed emphasis and attention to the field of language learning/reading disabilities with a focus on dyslexia.

“As the Ruth Harris Endowed Professor, I saw an opportunity to expand on only offering a Ruth Harris Lecture, to a comprehensive program and programming to best serve schoolchildren with dyslexia and language learning disabilities, their parents/caregivers, and the educators that work with them,” Daire said. “We now have an annual Ruth Harris Symposium, professional development and learning sessions for schoolchildren, parents/caregivers, and educators, and we now have the Ruth Harris Scholars Program. This program will offer scholars the opportunity for additional training to prepare for success and impact with schoolchildren with dyslexia and language learning disabilities.”

Lisa Cipolletti, assistant professor in the Department of Teaching and Learning, elementary program chair, and Ruth Harris Fellow, said that the professional development training available to the scholars is based on the Orton-Gillingham (OG) approach and will increase their effectiveness as educators.

“This program will offer scholars the opportunity for additional training to prepare for success and impact with schoolchildren with dyslexia and language learning disabilities.” – Dean Daire

“The Ruth Harris Scholars Program offers teacher candidates an opportunity for specialized training in Orton-Gillingham, a structured literacy approach,” Cipolletti said. “This training will complement their VCU coursework and offers a unique experience for mentorship and hands-on application of their training to be completed in the fall semester. The training is highly sought after, and the teacher candidates will graduate with the training on their resume, increasing their effectiveness as educators and their marketable skills. I look forward to working with the Ruth Harris Scholars as their advisor and supporting them throughout their participation.”

The OG instructional approach is a direct and systematic way of teaching language structure for reading remediation. It is designed to address the needs of struggling readers who have difficulty with reading, spelling and writing, including students identified with a specific learning disability such as dyslexia.

The summer training for scholars will be held July 18-22, followed by supervised tutoring under the guidance of OG Classroom Educators in Richmond Public Schools.

Upcoming Community Events

Additional events planned for 2022 include Dyslexia 101, a presentation on May 10 designed for parents, caregivers, and interested community members. Participants will learn more about the signs of dyslexia, as well as effective classroom assessment and instruction. The deadline to register is Monday, May 9. More information is available at

The 2022 Ruth Harris Dyslexia and Language Learning Disability Symposium is also planned for this fall, featuring a Parents/Families Strand and a Student Strand. View materials from last year’s symposium here.

The Ruth Harris Scholars Program is a collaboration between the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE), the Partnership for People with Disabilities, the Training and Technical Assistance Center (T/TAC), and the SOE Dean’s Office.

As part of the program, VDOE has agreed to do a pilot with this year’s scholars, all of whom are majors in elementary education or special education. Each scholar will receive a 30-hour training at no cost, be provided with 20-25 hours of tutoring under the supervision of certified classroom educators and receive a $500 stipend from T/TAC, and receive a $1,000 scholarship from the Ruth Harris endowment funds.

The Ruth Harris Professorship in Dyslexia Studies was established in 2010 through a generous gift from Dr. Lou and Ruth Harris. Ruth Harris, a pioneer in the treatment of dyslexia, dedicated her life to helping others with learning disabilities after her third-grade son displayed persistent trouble with reading, writing, and spelling. The professorship supports faculty and doctoral student research in the field of dyslexia education and supports an annual lecture by nationally prominent researchers.