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What's Up Magazine

Dr. Jane R. Snider

Mar 05, 2011 03:00AM ● By Anonymous

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Immaculately put together in a tweed suit over a cheery raspberry sweater, Snider is eager to have that description accurately understood. The roughly 100 students enrolled at Summit are exactly like their peers attending area public and private schools. The only distinction is that Summit students must achieve academic success while coping with dyslexia or a similar difference in language processing.

So how did this woman who was an ordinary student herself end up with a doctorate in special education when her youngest child was barely out of diapers? How did the daughter of a traveling salesman and stay-at-home mother come to found an exemplary educational institution by the time her children were in middle school?

Karen Walsh, a close friend of forty years, has a clue. “I have never met a person more true to themselves,” she says of Snider. “She has a passion for living, compassion for children, and the ability to be totally present when you are with her.”

Jane Snider was not a tremendously serious student in high school, yet nonetheless found her way to the University of Hartford. Snider’s mother, who eventually went to business school herself had discovered the university was starting a program in special education. She knew Jane wanted the opportunity to make a difference and encouraged her to apply. Although the program itself did not pan out, Snider discovered she loved college and her childhood desire to serve others began to take direction. She married her college sweetheart, local attorney Martin J. Snider, and had both a daughter and a son of her own. Following her husband to law school at George Washington University, Snider entered a doctoral degree program where she met student Michael Castleberry. The two forged a lifelong personal and professional friendship instrumental in the founding of Summit School.

Initially, Snider worked for Dr. Castleberry, now a professor at GW, but in 1981, with a doctorate of her own, Snider started Children’s Potential, a diagnostic testing and school placement service. It quickly became apparent that bright students with learning differences had few alternatives to public and traditional private school systems.

“You need to start a school,” Snider recalls Castleberry saying in 1987, “and “because I had no idea what that involved,” she says with a laugh, “I did.” A year and a half later, in 1989, The Summit School  located on a 15-acre campus opened its doors.

While some dyslexic students are successful in a conventional school setting with the supplemental help of a tutor, the students at Summit follow Snider’s approach of structured, systematic, phonetic learning in every aspect of their education. Teachers employ a multi-sensory approach, using auditory, visual, tactile and kinesthetic modalities.

Summit graduates go on to attend the same array of high schools and colleges available to the mainstream student population. Many of these graduates credit their time at Summit with transforming their lives.

One case in point is a call Dr. Snider recently received from a 24-year-old young man who had come to Summit at the age of nine. Like many other students there he had a high IQ but was severely dyslexic. “He had great potential,” Snider recalls, “but was a real rascal.” Crediting his years at Summit as “life changing,” the former student, working towards his doctorate in political science, wanted to discuss the possibility of teaching with the woman who inspired him.

“Jane is always looking for something new,” says Dr. Castleberry, “something better, always improving everyone and everything. She ‘s also one of the happiest and most cheerful people I’ve ever known.”

Dr. Snider and The Summit School have won more than 17 awards since opening the school in 1989 including the Excellence in Education Award from the National Association of Special Education Teachers last year. As colleague and educational specialist Margaret Foster says, “It is easy to admire Jane’s passion and vision.” Part of that vision is reaching out to segments of the community that are underserved and unlikely to find their way to the kind of help Summit offers. According to Snider’s friend Ginny Joy, Jane has provided help to the Boys and Girls Club of Annapolis and brought experts to the African American community as well.

By her own admission Snider is not a worrier. It is probably one of her personality traits that made it possible to start a school while enjoying a 40-year marriage and raising two children. She is able to leave her work at the office. And what does she do once she leaves the sunny school on the hill?

“I love to dance,” she confides, “Latin and ballroom.” She performs within the dance studio setting and would like to compete someday. She also loves to cook, garden and read everything from professional journals to cookbooks. Her biggest frustration is simply that there is never enough time in the day.

As for the future of The Summit School, Dr. Snider wants to be sure the school and its good works survive. Part of her mission is to normalize the public’s view of the school. “There is so much misinformation out there,” she says.

She hopes the school continues to eliminate the stigma of learning differences.

“I’m not done yet,” says Snider. “Someday I will turn Summit over but even then there will be something else for me to do. Maybe a literacy project in rural Maine where we have a vacation home, maybe even in another country where the needs of these children are so great.” nDr. Jane R. Snider is one of those rare individuals who has found in her profession, a calling. What is even more unusual is that she recognized her passion early—while she was still a student in high school. Today, the woman who was “always drawn to children who were excluded,” is the founder and executive director of The Summit School in Edgewater, an educational institution for “bright kids with learning differences.”