BY KATHERINE FIRESTONE
School was hard for me. I felt like an imposter. I was in honors classes but I felt like I had to work so much harder than everyone else to get the same grades. I had to read to myself out loud so that I would understand what I was reading and not skip ahead. It took forever. Then I had to go back and highlight everything I had just read to make sure I remembered some of it.
Little did I know at the time, that was part of my ADHD. I struggled with undiagnosed ADHD until my Junior year of high school. Thankfully, I was smart and was able to create strategies, like reading my textbooks aloud, to overcome the disadvantages I faced. I couldn’t plan my time. I never read instructions. I constantly made careless mistakes.
My parents were also a huge help. My mom would copy all of my textbook pages so I could highlight them and then she’d stay up late to keep me company while I worked, which helped me to focus. Both of my parents emphasized hard work and persistence, while also encouraging me to be on the lookout for “the goods” every day. It was a winning combination. The ADHD diagnosis also helped – it provided me with a new strategy for moving forward.
My ADHD hasn’t gone away. I’m not a detail-oriented person and I still have typos in important documents. But I can plan my day out to almost the minute. I can prioritize my work. I know exactly what needs to get done and how I am going to get it done. And when I’m so stressed out that I start thinking about everything and nothing at the same time, I meditate.
With my helpful parents, tutors, and the ADHD diagnosis, I excelled at school. I graduated high school at the top of my class and went to the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill. At UNC, my honors thesis on recognition memory was published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition and I graduated as a member of Phi Beta Kappa. But I didn’t want to be a researcher forever. I wanted to apply the research in the real world and have an impact.
When I graduated from college, I started teaching at Greenwich Country Day School. My students were wonderful, but like all students, they weren’t perfect. They were learning. They were learning to be kind, thoughtful friends and citizens. They were learning to write and to read and to do math. They were learning about their world. And they needed help. I realized as a teacher that each of my students needed round-the-clock support. And I learned that parents wanted to provide that support, but did not always have the training to do what was best for their kids.
After Country Day, I worked as an Executive Functions Coach at the Southfield Center for Development, where I taught middle and high school students the skills needed to be successful scholars. Again, I met parents who wanted to help, but who did not have the required knowledge base.
With this background, I knew I wanted to help children succeed by opening a nonprofit dedicated to parent training. However, I wanted to make sure I could run a nonprofit efficiently and avoid the many pitfalls that have led other nonprofits to not live up to their potential. I therefore went to the Johns Hopkins University Carey Business School where business is taught with humanity in mind. After graduating, I spent some time working for an investment firm in order to learn how a successful for-profit business operates, so I could ultimately apply those skills to my nonprofit.
In 2014, after years of education, experience, and training, I officially launched Fireborn Institute. We provide parents and caregivers with strategies to improve the academic lives of their learners. Through a variety of practical and easy-to-remember trainings and tools, Fireborn seeks to empower every parent with the essential knowledge base needed to help their children thrive at school and beyond. And we focus on way more than ADHD and Executive Functions. We help parents help their kids with:
• Academics: Homework help. How to help your child write a paper or do their math homework without tears.
• Social and Emotional Development: How to help your child develop skills such as empathy and grit.
• Life Skills Acquisition: How to help your child develop their executive functions (ability to plan, manage time, and organize, etc.)
• Parenting: How to be the best parent you can be during the most stressful times!
Our mission is to help parents help their kids THRIVE in school – both academically and socially. The focus is on thriving, as opposed to “succeeding,” because you can succeed and not thrive – you can have a great job, but not feel fulfilled. Through our services, we provide parents strategies on topics ranging from helping with homework, to conquering a messy backpack, to developing empathy, to how to communicate with your distracted teenager. These tips come from the research psychologists and others are doing in education and parenting. Our strength is taking that information and sharing it with parents in an easily digestible way.
We work to achieve our goal by meeting parents where they are – online and on their devices (so they can listen in the car or at the gym), as well as at PTA meetings, at business lunches, and at home.•
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Katherine Firestone, based in the Greater New York City area, is the Founder & CEO of Fireborn
Fireborn Institute Services
As a nonprofit, the majority of our services are free as we work to reach as many parents as possible. These include:
The Happy Student
A podcast for parents on promoting happy academic and social lives. Easily accessible anywhere you can listen – in your car, chauffeuring your kids around, waiting in line, working out, and making dinner. The Happy Student can be found on Apple Podcasts, GooglePlay Music, and Podomatic.
Each episode is different because we want to cover a variety of topics and conversations that parents might be dealing with! In the past, we have had guests, such as, education reformist and author of Creating Innovators, Tony Wagner or school psychologist and author of The Grit Guide for Teens, Dr. Caren Baruch-Feldman.
Lectures & Coffee Chats
We have a couple of lectures we give for free at PTA meetings, such as “Be Ready! The Well-Put-Together Student” where parents learn practical strategies to get their kids to school on time with hair brushed, homework ready, an organized backpack, and a jacket!
Additional Free Resources
Fireborn has a monthly newsletter, “Fireborn Flickers” – quick video tutorials, a blog (Fireborn Fireside), and we actively post interesting articles across social media.
Exceptional Parent Magazine; September 2017