"For a child who has been struggling to read, discovering how to crack the code of reading is like learning to do a magic spell that suddenly opens the whole world to you. You are getting a passport to an entirely different future in which you can trust your ability to shape your life, and change your world." -- Rayna Dineen
A passionate educator, social innovator, and children's literacy advocate, Rayna Dineen has infused her humanitarian and professional passion for lifting up young children with a sense of service guided by a deep spiritual practice. At a time when two thirds of 4th graders in the United States are unable to read proficiently at grade level -- and with illiteracy a major pipeline for unemployment, incarceration, and homelessness -- Rayna Dineen holds a vision of a world in which all children are lovingly and effectively supported to become confident readers and emotionally literate citizens.
Rayna has dedicated the past 40 years of her life to researching and implementing the art and science of teaching children how to read and thrive. Experience has taught her that all children can learn, regardless of their personal and socio-economic background, the language they speak at home, and whether or not their parents read to them. So her primary focus has always been to support the kids who struggle the most.
She currently directs Reading Quest, a Santa Fe-based organization which provides free structured literacy tutoring and social emotional skills to hundreds of undersupported, struggling readers. Reading Quest employs a team of 24 reading specialists who tutor 450 low income students in reading every week. Rayna's creative approach to literacy, which she has finetuned over many years, draws on evidence-based scientific research about the critical importance of phonics, as well as of play, loving community, and a growth mindset. The effectiveness of Reading Quest's approach has been beautifully documented in two short videos: The Story of Reading Quest made by SONY and Breaking the Boundaries of Literacy made by Meow Wolf.
What inspired Rayna's passion for teaching children how to read? Several threads have run through her life since she was a child: a love of reading, learning, and teaching; a dedication to the path of seva, or selfless service; and a commitment to social justice and inclusion for those who are often left out.
In elementary school, she hosted classes in her family's basement for kids in her neighborhood. In high school, she started a club to help people with disabilities. During her college years, she started a dyslexic students organization, and worked at several schools and camps focused on supporting kids with special needs. Upon graduating, she worked at a residential school for troubled teenagers where she learned a lot about what works and what doesn't work with young people. She went on to get two Masters degrees from Teachers College at Columbia University, including one in Counseling Psychology.
It is at Columbia that Rayna met Brian, who was a doctoral student as well as a Transcendental Meditation practitioner and teacher. They bonded over their passion for education, and their mutual desire to live a life of service guided by a deep spiritual practice. Upon getting married, they gave all their belongings away, and embarked on an open-ended pilgrimage to sacred sites around the world, with the intention of meditating for world peace. After a year of traveling through Europe, the Middle East, Pakistan, and Nepal, they arrived in India and were serendipitously introduced to Amma-ji, the hugging saint, who became one of their greatest inspirations on the path of selfless service, and the initial reason they moved to Santa Fe.
In 2000, Brian and Rayna founded the Santa Fe School for the Arts & Sciences which they envisioned as a "sanctuary school." Rayna served as a teaching principal there for 13 years. She has also worked as an education consultant for EL Education, a transformational education non-profit serving hundreds of schools in the US. She has consulted for Harlem Village Academies, Heritage and Polymath schools in India, and Discover Learning in Tanzania - a collaboration between Save the Children and UC Berkeley. Rayna contributed to the ELA (English & Language Arts) Primary Literacy Foundation Skills Block portion of the EL Education K-2 curriculum, one of the country's most highly rated ELA curriculums. Rayna later supported a group of middle and high school students to start a literacy campaign called Hooked On Books, and some of the young literacy activists who gave a TEDx talk about that initiative later became Reading Specialists at Reading Quest which she started in 2016.
Rayna also provides workshops on teaching reading and positive classroom management for teachers, tutors and parents. She contributed to the writing of Management in the Active Classroom, a highly regarded positive classroom management book for educators. and the EL Education book Learning That Lasts.
While working in the trenches of children's literacy for the last few decades, Rayna has given a lot of thought to the question of how to end illiteracy, and has been invited to consult on policy issues at local, state and national levels. She agrees with Oakland-based NAACP activist Kareem Weaver, and the producers of a 2023 documentary titled The Right to Read, that the current literacy crisis is both one of the greatest civil rights issues of our time, as well as one of the most solvable issues of our times. She believes in the power of young people to change our world and loves supporting children as they discover the joy and magic of reading.
Join Rahul Brown for a conversation with this dedicated teacher, social innovator, and champion of service.
Watching how quickly children blossom when they feel welcomed, loved, and valued, and when they are supported by caring, skillful, and playful mentors dedicated to helping them grow into confident readers. Nothing makes me happier than seeing children start to believe in themselves and trust their capacity to change their life and their world in positive ways.
I have always been deeply moved and inspired by anyone who manages to overcome the limitations projected onto them because of their condition or circumstances, and that has included nearly every child I have been privileged to work with. As a kid, I was fascinated by the story of Helen Keller and her tutor Annie Sullivan who inspired me to learn ASL in college. And as an adult, I was blessed to meet Robert and Michelle Smithdas -- the deaf blind co-founders of the Helen Keller National Center for the Deaf Blind. I understand why Barbara Walters said that her interview with Robert Smithdas was "the most memorable interview of her life" and her greatest source of inspiration. I was deeply moved by how empowered, persevering and loving he and his wife were. Watching the movie Brother Sun Sister Moon about the life of St Francis of Assissi was a turning point for me as a young person. And so was meeting Amma, the hugging saint, in my early 30s. I have spent many months at her ashram in India, and am continually inspired by the way she empowers people all over India, building schools, colleges, hospitals, vocational training centers, and turning a neglected orphanage into a thriving home and award winning school for children.
The hundreds of times my husband made dinner for me because I was working late.
I don't have a bucket list, but I dream of meeting a few heroes of mine, particularly Lin Manuel Miranda, Hank and John Green, and Levar Burton. It would be such a joy to explore with them creative ways to leverage art and creativity, reading science, including in-person and online platforms to resolve the literacy crisis.
Love and serve others.