Christie Andrews is breathing hope into the lives of families whose children are struggling. She co-founded the Nashville nonprofit learning center Learning Matters. The nonprofit’s mission is to provide K-12 students—regardless of socioeconomic status—with a team of experienced learning specialists who assess students’ academic abilities, offer intensive instruction to meet the individuals’ needs, improve performance and grades in school, increase students’ feelings of self-worth and enhance opportunities for success in life. Simply put, the work at Learning Matters is changing lives every day, and today we’re thrilled to introduce you to its executive director. Welcome today’s FACE, Christie Andrews!
Tell us about your journey from elementary school teacher in California to Nashville.
I loved teaching elementary school, but when my husband was transferred and we left California, I knew that I was finished teaching in the general education classroom. I was pregnant with my second child and in a new city. There were a few more moves, and, ultimately, we lived in four states in three years. Our last move brought us to Nashville. I had three sisters already living in Nashville, and I knew that I had come home. During those years of moving and raising small kids, I continued to read about literacy and learning, and I knew that I wanted to go back to working in education in some capacity. I had read some research that had come out of the Dyslexia Center at MTSU. Once in Nashville, I contacted the Dyslexia Center, and was put in touch with Dr. Bobby Bowie, who had been at the Dyslexia Center and was opening a learning center in Nashville. He was to become a dear friend and mentor. I started working with him on a very part-time basis and increased my involvement in his center until I ultimately became the director. The center provided the kind of service that I knew was giving hope and a future to so many students who struggled to succeed in school. Bobby Bowie died suddenly and tragically. After his death, I wanted to continue the work we were doing, but I wanted to be able to offer this same service to students regardless of income. So, with a colleague and friend, Learning Matters was born.
When did you first realize your passion for literacy education?
I started my teaching career as a first-grade teacher. That is the year that most students become readers. I was so frustrated when, at the end of my first year of teaching, I had a few students who were not yet reading. When I asked what would happen to these students, I was told that they would be assigned to second grade. This continues; students continue to get moved through the system. Seventy-four percent of students who read below grade level by the end of third grade don’t ever catch up. It is so disheartening to realize that a student’s early success or failure with reading, to a large extent, determines their future. Reading is the foundation for all of the academic subjects in school. Students who are poor readers struggle in all areas.
What would you say is the biggest concern that parents voice when they first come to Learning Matters?
I think that as parents, we all just want our kids to have happy, fulfilling lives. When our kids begin to struggle in school, our fears set in, and we believe that their futures may be at risk. Whether their concerns are that their child is struggling to learn to read or master math, or that their study skills are poor, they need to be reassured and know that there is help and that the situation can be turned around.
How have you seen a student’s self worth improve through intervention?
We know that one in five students is dyslexic. I hate to think about all of the students who are undiagnosed and just believe that they are not smart. Reading intervention, when properly taught, changes lives. Every day, I have the privilege of watching kids who previously assumed that they lack intelligence realize that, in reality, their minds process language differently and that they are really smart. Nothing feels better to me than to have our kids come in with report cards that reflect their success.
What would you say to a parent who has been told that their child is struggling in the classroom?
They need to be told that it will be okay, they need to know that there is help, and that we will walk the journey with them.
Do you have a mentor?
In education, Bobby Bowie was absolutely my mentor. His life was way too short, but he was charismatic and inspired me, and so many others, to ensure that all kids have the opportunity to succeed in school. In business, my dad has been my mentor; he always gives sound advice and understands business better than I ever will, and he is so proud of the success of each of his kids.
What can we find you doing when you are not at Learning Matters?
When not at Learning Matters, you will find me in my garden, driving a carpool, running, cooking, knitting or reading.
What books are currently found on your nightstand or e-reader?
I am a voracious reader. I have found that this crazy middle age time can make it hard to sleep, so I download one book after another. Most recently, I have read a lovely book that Kent Haruf wrote at the end of his life called Our Souls at Night, the new Ann Tyler, A Spool of Blue Thread, and Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale. In my office, I have a few books that are my “go to” books for insight, Judith Birsh’s Multisensory Teaching of Basic Language Skills and Sally Shaywitz’ Overcoming Dyslexia.
Are there any local events you have recently attended or that you are looking forward to attending in the next few months?
Learning Matters just hosted its second annual NashVegas Night on August 21 at Ruth’s Chris Steak House. Proceeds from NashVegas Night are already benefiting children in our area, regardless of socioeconomic status, ensuring that they can receive the resources to support their learning needs, because learning matters for everyone.
Name three things you can’t live without, excluding faith, family and friends.
Good books, plenty of time to read them and my bubble bath.
Thank you, Christie, for sharing your passion with us today, and for your tireless efforts on behalf of students and families in Middle Tennessee.