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Alumni Spotlight

Barbara Glassman Donick ’59

Barbara Glassman Donick

Barbara Donick’s advocacy gave dyslexic students a better chance in the classroom.

By Tamia Williams

Barbara Glassman Donick ’59 knew she wanted to be a teacher since childhood; she remembers roleplaying as a teacher with cousins in her childhood home. But she never anticipated that she’d directly change Maryland’s education requirements.

Donick graduated from Goucher College in 1959 with a bachelor’s degree in education. She taught at elementary schools near Cleveland before returning to Baltimore. Years later, Donick began pursuing her master’s degree in education and heard about dyslexia for the first time. “At that time, there was very little knowledge about it,” Donick says, pointing out that dyslexia was originally referred to as “word blindness.” She was perplexed and concerned for struggling students. “I realized we [teachers] didn’t really know what we were doing,” she says. Still, Donick tried to educate every student to the best of her abilities. She fondly recalls counting on both fingers and toes with a student who deeply struggled with math—that student later wrote her a thank-you card Donick still has to this day.

In order to improve her teaching methods, Donick researched frequently. She learned the Orton-Gillingham approach, took reading instruction classes at Loyola University, and employed new teaching strategies, like multisensory learning. “That’s how we taught students. The multisensory approach connects with different pathways to the brain,” Donick remarks. “When you’re teaching them letters, you teach them to see it, to say it, and then trace them in the air or on paper.”

But her and her school’s efforts to employ better teaching strategies only helped students in their county. To better assist dyslexic students across the state, Donick thought bigger. Her passion led her to become one of the founding members of Right to Read-Maryland. “Right to Read-Maryland was a coalition of educators and organizations with the common goal of improving teacher preparation, specifically relating to reading skills acquisition for all,” Donick says. “It was a small group. We started going to Annapolis to try to have teachers trained in the science of reading. Personally, I worked two and a half years going back and forth to hearings.”

Ultimately, the group wanted to ensure that all elementary teachers received an undergraduate education and became certified in reading instruction. That way, teachers were properly equipped to assist students with learning disabilities.

Donick consulted with the Maryland School Board, testified before Maryland legislator panels, and advocated for years. “I remember running up and down stairs. If a delegate wasn’t there, I would talk to their aides,” she says. “Don’t give up, even if you’re denied a meeting.” Finally, in 2019, the Maryland General Assembly approved a certification test centered around reading instruction for elementary school, English for speakers of other languages (ESOL), and special education teachers. Donick later received an official citation from the Maryland General Assembly in recognition of her work. When asked what kept her going for years of chasing delegates and traversing across Maryland, Donick says, “I was really determined. I don’t think I’d do anything different. Listen, it was worth it. It was a labor of love.”

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