An actor and author has paid tribute to the role a Lichfield school has played in his life.
Michael Lieber spent five years at Maple Hayes Dyslexia School after joining as a ten-year-old in 1998.
Despite being unable to read and write when he arrived in Lichfield, he has since gone on to forge a successful career as an actor.
And he has now published his debut novel, The War Hero.
But he believes it was the innovative work of Maple Hayes’ founders Dr Neville Brown and Dr Daryl Brown that ensured he – and hundreds of other students like him – has been able to succeed.
“I was coming from a very low place, education-wise,” he told Lichfield Live. “I was being shipped around from school to school to school as a child and people didn’t know what to do with me.
“Eventually my dad decided that as I was getting to 10 or 11 and couldn’t read or write – and nothing else was working – that it was time to send me to the place considered to be the best of the best for dyslexia.
“At that time the Maple Hayes method wasn’t quite frowned upon, but in terms of the dyslexia education industry, it wasn’t widely accepted.”
“Dyslexia was still being figured out”
The morpheme – or meaning unit within a word – method of teaching dyslexic students was pioneered by the school’s father and son figureheads.
And it was a far cry from the traditional methods that had failed to resonate with a young Michael.
He explained: “Dyslexia was still being figured out really back then and the main thing people were leaning back on in terms of education was phonics.
“It’s used to teach people how to read and write, usually people learning a English as a second language. It’s quite an easy way that works quite well, but it has limitations.
“At Maple Hayes we used icon cards with an image with a section of a word on it. They taught us how to memorise and recite hundreds of icons, each one associated with a section of every single word in the English language.
“The huge array of patterns would then help you to break down and spell a word.”
But while it might seem obvious to link Michael’s new venture as an author to the success of this method, he firmly believes the school gave him more than the gift of literacy.
“What they really do at Maple Hayes is take kids who come in with very low confidence and build them back up,” he said.
“They’ve been through school book readings where they have to stand up and real aloud – they’ve bumbled through that and been moved around from special class to special class and not really got anywhere.
“The first thing that they did at Maple Hayes was give you respect and that was earned back.
“There were things like haircut requirements that you had to have. Then there were kids turning up in jeans, but the school was putting you in a suit and giving you a suitcase at the age of 10.
“I remember a teacher saying to me ‘Michael, I want you to cross your t high at the top to fool people that you are of a high intelligence”. There was a lot of that quick quip style that taught you how to put your shoulders back and lift your head high.
“Dr Brown Jr and Dr Brown Snr were running a very big operation back then, but even so, it really felt like something was happening and this method was taking off.
“But they still managed to give every single student their time, even though they were running the school as well.
“If someone was misbehaving, you weren’t sent to a disciplinary figure, you’d be sent to Dr Brown Jr or Dr Brown Snr and they’d sit down and talk with you about what the issue was.”
“Thanks for giving me the icons”
The debt of gratitude is clear to hear in Michael’s voice – and it’s even clearer to see in his new book.
“If you look on the inside cover of my novel you can see that it is dedicated to them both and thanks them for giving me the icons,” he said.
“It was an opportunity to thank them personally for everything.
“It’s a real dedication because everything I do, from having the confidence to pursue a career as an actor or to sitting down to write a novel, I owe to them and to Maple Hayes.”
The War Hero tells the tale of a dinner party with an uninvited guest who it soon transpires no-one knows – until it emerges that he’s been sent with murder in mind.
“The whole novel is focused around the intended victim trying to keep it together once he finds out what is in store for him as the guests are getting more drunk around him,” Michael said.
“But it’s really about a battle of minds between the would-be killer and the victim, and whether or not he is smart enough to make it through to the morning.
“There’s a brilliant twist at the end too.”
The War Hero by Michael Lieber is available to buy on Amazon.