Druidawn® Academy is a tax-exempt non-profit educational corporation designed to help children with learning disabilities to overcome writing challenges, regardless of age, learning style, gender or background. Together with our team of teachers, we have helped over 5,000 students who suffer from dyslexia, dysgraphia, lack of motivation, autism spectrum disorders and fine motor delays to move past their disabilities and find a love of writing for the first time in their lives. We do this by utilizing a fantasy role playing system that ties the writing process into the game play.
Playing games is the way students naturally gain and retain information without emotional resistance. We learn best when we are in a happy and engaged state of imagination and play. Many students who can’t memorize a single fact about American History can easily recite every fact stated on hundreds of Pokemon or Magic the Gathering game cards. Druidawn® taps into students’ natural love of game playing and uses that to help them overcome writing disabilities and writing reluctance.
Druidawn® is accessible to everyone no matter where they live in the world because our programs are conducted online in small groups. Students can attend from their home computers or create a social event of it and gather at each other’s homes to attend their online groups together.
In addition to this invaluable service, we offer exciting summer camps every year that jump-start students into a love of writing. Currently our summer camps are offered only in Lafayette, Colorado, but with proper resources, our camps could travel to other states and even to other countries. We also dream of one day building a permanent facility of our own that would offer in-person workshops and classes to hundreds of students all year round, as well as advanced teacher training workshops and interactive summer camps.
We are currently seeking funding to expand and advertise our facilities and programs, increase scholarship funding for low-income students, and hire more staff to accommodate an anticipated large influx of families.
Identifying the Need
Our public and private schools in America are struggling. Every year, more and more students with unique learning needs are entering school systems that are woefully understaffed, under- trained, and unprepared for the constantly rising demands of their students. More children today struggle with learning disabilities and social disabilities, such as ADHD, dyslexia, autism spectrum disorder, fine motor delays, sensory integration dysfunction, extreme giftedness, and a myriad of other unique challenges than ever before in history.
Miriam Darnell, M.Ed., Co-Founder of Druidawn® Academy, has been a special education teacher for over thirty years. It appears that there are so many more children with special learning needs now than there were decades ago that they have become impossible to ignore. They’re struggling in great numbers, and they are demanding that we change the ways that we are educating them.
In recent years, the rate of Autism in America and other developed countries has spiked dramatically. From the year 2000 to 2014, the ADDM Network identified a rise in Autism rates from 1 in 150 children to 1 in 59. This number will only continue to grow, and as it does, education needs to grow with it. Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder almost unanimously suffer from writing difficulties due to poor fine motor coordination, poor organizational skills, and difficulty processing grammar and spelling rules.
With the ever-changing learning needs of our student population, the writing process has become a source of panic for children, teachers and parents. Whether it’s struggles with grammar, spelling, punctuation, sequencing, pencil grip, perfectionism, or ideas themselves, many teachers and homeschoolers don’t know what to do to help their challenged students overcome writing reluctance. As a result, millions of students fall through the cracks every year, barely getting through school at a semi-literate level. Writing, instead of being a window to creativity and self-expression, has become a frightening and laborious task, and students often are not given the support they need to overcome these challenges. This is not the fault of teachers and parents. It’s that our old ways of teaching writing are simply ineffective with modern students. They learn differently and they need different teaching methods.
Some History -- How the Druidawn® Writing System was Developed
In 1988, Miriam Darnell, M.Ed., was inspired to create a game-centered creative writing curriculm when she was a 23-year-old teacher’s aide in a school for the gifted who was asked to work with a group of boys who were reluctant to write in class. Their teacher and their parents were desperate for a solution. Each of the boys suffered from a different learning disability, and she knew she had to come up with a single system that would encourage all of them to work hard on overcoming their challenges… and do so willingly. She knew it had to be a game that they would enjoy playing and that tied into the writing process. So, she took them through an imaginary fantasy adventure and the only way they could progress through the game and level-up their characters was to write stories. The formula worked beautifully. The kids couldn’t wait for more, and they began writing like they had never written before. It was all about motivation. It doesn’t matter what the source of the writing challenge is.
When children are motivated enough to work at a skill, they will master it, regardless of the obstacles they have to overcome to get there. Miriam learned that she had to tie the act of writing in with the act of playing so that they would become one and the same thing.
Soon afterward, in 1989, a brilliant 13-year-old student named Nate Goldstein, Miriam’s first private client, wanted to create an original fantasy world from the ground up and publish the stories of this world in a book. Nate and Miriam worked together every week for two years developing the world of Druidawn®. They published it as a homemade book and sold a few copies to local bookstores. The project was forgotten for a few years as Nate went on to high school and pursued other interests. With Nate’s permission and full blessing, Miriam decided to further develop the world of Druidawn® as an educational tool with her writing club students and this became the basis of the interactive fantasy realm that is used in the curriculum today. Druidawn® continues to grow and develop as a world, with the help of generation after generation of students (all contributors to the project get credit for their additions).
The dynamic nature of this project sets it apart from other fantasy worlds that students might participate in, such as Minecraft or Pokemon. Students of Druidawn® actually have the power to help form and change the world itself. One student created the concept of miniature garden dragons and the Druidawn® team liked the idea so much that they added garden dragons to the Druidawn® Compendium as well as the gaming curriculum so all gamers can now have one of these delightful creatures. Other students have created islands, castles, new races, items, merchant shops, and all sorts of other permanent features that have been added to the realm. It’s an exciting opportunity for creative children that they can’t get anywhere else. It turns out that the Druidawn® formula also works as the perfect platform for mentorship of gifted young fantasy authors who love to write and who need help editing and publishing their stories. Contributors to the published Druidawn® Anthologies are paid cash for their artwork and stories and are able to begin creating resumes as published authors.
Miriam Darnell began the Druidawn® summer camps in the year 2000, and the Druidawn® online writing clubs in 2010, and both continue to operate successfully today with wait lists of students trying to get access to these specialized services. After spending many years teaching in a variety of private schools for gifted and learning-disabled students, directing after school programs at public schools, establishing her own private tutoring company, and spending three years as a vision therapist, Miriam went back to graduate school and gained her master’s degree in Special Education in 2012. Now, with the addition of Druidawn® Academy, Miriam is a full-time Co-Director of the Druidawn® creative writing clubs, tutoring service and summer camps.
Cara Allen, B.A., Druidawn’s® other Co-Founder and Co-Director, a talented artist and writer, graduate of the University of Southampton, England, came onboard the project in 2012 as its chief artist and publisher. Cara propelled the Druidawn® project to a whole new level as she furiously illustrated, edited and published a brand new Legends of Druidawn® Gamers Manual, several volumes of the students’ fantasy stories in the Druidawn® Anthologies (Volumes II, III, and IV), the Salt vs. Pepper Anthology of student stories, and the Druidawn® Compendium (a 300-page encyclopedia of the world of Druidawn®). She also created an interactive website at druidawn.org where students could post their stories and ideas and give each other feedback. The website is now under construction and a new and improved version will premier in 2019. Cara Allen is also a full-time Co-Director of the Druidawn® creative writing clubs, tutoring service and summer camps.
Since its humble beginnings as a seedling idea and self-published book three decades ago, Druidawn® has grown to include eight teachers; exciting and highly successful summer camps in Colorado that utilize story-driven sword-play adventures outdoors to turn children on to writing; and over 200 students per year who attend online writing clubs all over the United States, as well as other countries - Canada, England, Australia, India, and Japan. Many Druidawn® students stay in the writing clubs throughout all of their childhood years.
One of the longest-term students, Daniel, has been enrolled in the Druidawn® system for over eight years now and will likely become a Druidawn® instructor someday. Four of the other current instructors used to be Druidawn® students as well. As they enter college, students’ credit Druidawn® for their writing success, not just for the stories they were inspired to write, but also for the essays and research papers that were suddenly much easier to compose as they mastered the writing process.
From mastering early writing skills, the ability to write professional and well-organized essays develops. The path to achieving strong writing skills starts with stories. A well-written story has a beginning, middle, and end. It has details, conflict and resolution, character development, and descriptions. By learning these skills, a student has a much greater chance of adapting to the strenuous demands of college-level writing, something which is difficult to master without the foundations of fiction writing. Over the decades, the Druidawn® team has seen hundreds of students enter its programs who have never written a single word without struggle. They are bursting with stories, eager to share their ideas, but lack the skills or ability to convey them. When they move on from Druidawn®, they do so with confidence and excitement to continue with their writing in higher education programs.
Druidawn® is fostered by other educational organizations that frequently refer students to our services. One of the most notable organizations in our network is Gifted Development Center in Westminster, Colorado. Founded and directed by Dr. Linda Silverman, Gifted Development Center has offered testing and counseling to gifted children all over the world for 40 years. Druidawn® is one of their most recommended services for children who struggle with writing or who enjoy writing and need mentorship. Dr. Silverman is a member of the Board of Directors for Druidawn® Academy.
Among our largest donors is Ronald Dozoretz, M.D. Dr. Dozoretz has worked tirelessly to expand access to mental health services and specializes in behavioral sciences and mental wellbeing. He is a pioneer in setting industry standards and has previously worked with the White House to develop healthcare policy. His endowment, Dozoretz National Institute for Minorities in Applied Sciences at Norfolk State University, proudly provides financial assistance to low-income students attending medical school.
Schools and other educational organizations that have hosted/supported Druidawn® in the past:
Mackintosh Academy, Boulder, CO
PG Retreat, Colorado Springs, CO
Camp YUNASA, Sedalia, CO
The Helios School, Sunnyvale, CA
Twin Peaks Charter Academy, Longmont, CO
Watershed School, Boulder, CO
Bixby School, Boulder, CO
Baltimore Homeschooling Co-Op, Baltimore, MD
Rocky Mountain School for Gifted and Creative, Gunbarrel, CO
The Brideun School for Exceptional Children, Lafayette, CO
The 2e Newsletter, Chicago, IL
Gifted Development Center, Westminster, CO
A Few of Our Amazing Students (with pseudonyms)
We make it our mission in Druidawn® to reach out to students who are falling through the cracks, who are misunderstood or suffer from low self-esteem, and who have financial limitations. Jennifer is one such child. Dr. Linda Silverman, of Gifted Development Center, found Jennifer through her work with gifted girls in California, and offered Jennifer pro-bono services. Jennifer’s family of six lives in a two-bedroom apartment; she, her mother and her three siblings all share one bedroom and her grandmother lives in the other. They don’t have room for a Christmas tree, so every year they put a green felt cut-out on the wall and decorate it. Like many of our students, Jennifer is an absolutely brilliant, profoundly gifted writer who can’t afford our services. For three years now, she has attended our writing clubs and summer camps on a scholarship provided by our organization.
Another of our students is Shelby, who is so isolated in his home in Pennsylvania, that the only friends he has are the teachers of his Druidawn® online writing club. He is highly compassionate. At the age of five he became vegan and held a protest in front of a circus over the mistreatment of animals. Shelby was deeply depressed before he discovered Druidawn® on his own at the age of eight. Suffering from dyslexia and dysgraphia, the writing process was impossible for him before he began Druidawn® online. He is now writing hundreds of words a day independently, his confidence has improved dramatically, and he has completely overcome his depression. Struggling with money, his mother managed to get a scholarship to pay for the first five months of our services. When the money ran out, she was terrified that we would have to drop Shelby and his depression would come crashing back. Shelby is now enjoying our services on a scholarship provided by Druidawn®, and he has made new friends who are just like him in his writing club. Through our networking, we were also able to set him up with services and scholarships through Gifted Development Center, where Dr. Silverman has worked with him through pro bono consultations, diagnostic testing, and arranging for he and his family to be at a retreat for others like him.
David was eight years old when he came to the Druidawn® summer camp for the first time this past summer. The camp lasts for five days and during this time, we work hard to help our students get over writing anxiety and reluctance. David came to us on day one as a non-writer. We took dictation for him and introduced him to the highly motivating Druidawn® creative writing curriculum. By day two he was willing to pick up a pencil and try a few words on his own. By day three he had written a whole page on his own and his mother nearly fainted when she saw it. By day four, he was bringing his writing home with him and turning in hundreds of his own words the next morning of camp. By day five, he didn’t want to go out to recess because he was working on a story and wanted to keep writing. This is typical for many boys and girls who join our programs.
We also serve many struggling teens in Druidawn®. Robin is a transgender teen who was in the process of transitioning from a girl to a boy at our last summer camp, though he didn’t tell anyone this. Like many of our teens, Robin was questioning his gender identity, but we knew it immediately upon meeting him. He is 13 and comes from a low-income family that can’t afford to pay for him to attend our writing clubs or summer camp. When we asked Robin if he’d like to join one of our teen girls writing clubs for free, he said he’d love to, but even though he prefers to hang out with girls over boys, he wasn’t sure if the girls would accept him now that he’s transitioning. Of course, the girls embraced him in their group, and he quickly felt accepted, valued, like any other young teen. He was shocked and so grateful that he wouldn’t have to hide his secret from us or from anyone else in Druidawn®. He told us how isolated he felt and how hard it was to make lasting friendships in his public school. Robin is now part of a writing club filled with friends who accept and love him just the way he is. This is the kind of community we have spent 30 years building in Druidawn®.
A Few Examples of Our Numerous Testimonials
"Our son was a very reluctant writer. After he started working with Miriam and Cara in the Druidawn® Creative Writing Club he gained so much enthusiasm to write. This program is genius. Miriam and Cara are patient, extremely creative, enthusiastic, and seem to be able to read the participants and meet them just where they are. I have seen them lead groups in various settings and with different kids; they always somehow can tune into just what that child is about, know how to communicate with them, form a bond, and work with them to nurture the student's love of writing and adventure. I highly recommend any program that Miriam and Cara create." - Lynn A.
“An overall change in his demeanor happened early in the first week. It was as though, in a moment, he grew into himself. Spark that I have missed for some time now, huge confidence, all that imagination channeled. Really happy and confident boy. Full of himself in the best kind of way.” - Adrienne M.
“3 ½ years ago, my then second grade daughter struggled in a public-school gifted student program. She had stopped reading, writing and even putting her name on a worksheet. Her self-esteem hovered below zero and her normally sunny personality had melted away. As parents we became frantic for reasons and solutions.
I will never forget the first Sunday afternoon club meeting. When I picked my daughter up, she skipped!!! down the walk and jumped into the car. She jabbered all the way home about Miriam and the stories she wanted to tell, like they had been locked up inside of her somewhere and Miriam was the magical key master.
My daughter writes constantly now, developing characters, plots stories, excels at essays and vocabulary, plays imagination driven role-playing games with the kids in the club and at school. The words are still coming, the tools at her fingertips, on her lips or safely tucked away to find, catch or file them away.
Now I look back on the second-grade disaster as actually a blessing in disguise. It is so hard for parents when they can’t help their children. So, we look for a safe place for our kids, if even for an hour or two. Especially when they might have a broken wing or extra vulnerable souls. Miriam has offered a soft, gentle lap while she magically repairs what ails them, provides guidance and a safe nest when they fly on their own, a place for their words to be safe and to be heard.
I could never minimize what Miriam did for our family that first Sunday afternoon. She understood the trust and has never faltered in the role she has in the lives of these kids. They know they are safe. Period. What they don’t know yet, but will when they are parents, is that Miriam is a gift.” - Kate M.
Please ask us for our detailed Proposed Five-Year Growth Financial Plan!
Rewriting Today for Success Tomorrow...
We may dream big, but from past experiences, we know that Druidawn® has the power to change the way children learn to write. It crosses all boundaries of learning style, intelligence, age, and socio-economic status. It is just as effective for advanced writers as it is for struggling and learning-disabled writers. Game-based curriculum is the way of the future. With the help of generous sponsors, this revolutionary program won’t be reserved for just those who are privileged enough to be able to afford it. A program like this should be available to everyone regardless of their financial circumstances.
The future of this world lies in the hands of our children. Effective decisions that adults make often stem from their grasp of literacy. A strong ability to read and write opens up possibilities that don’t exist otherwise. It creates options that would not have been seen any other way.
Children grow up to be effective adults when they learn to read and write with confidence early. We can no longer afford to allow our learning disabled and underprivileged students to fall through the cracks and ignore the fact that they can’t express themselves on paper. There are just too many of these students coming into the world today to ignore. We must find new ways to tap into their unique learning styles and help them become world-changing, competent adults.
This is what Druidawn® Academy endeavors to accomplish.