Dr. Charlene A. Wrighton taught special needs children for 21 years. Her education, experience and love for these children led her to a new career—developing the Zoo-phonics Multisensory Language Arts Program in partnership with her sister Gigi Bradshaw and artist, Irene Clark. Charlene is Co-author and CEO of the Program, now in its 28th year.
Char creates new materials, participates in multi-state research projects, reads and writes research, watches the latest trends in education, and travels to various states and countries to train teachers, parents, and administration. Charlene trained and presently oversees international Zoo-phonics partners in Japan, South Korea, Mexico, Denmark, Kuwait, and Russia. In addition to her work with Zoo-phonics, she is the Co-Director of the Safari Learning Academy (shared with daughter, Katie Edwards), which serves 125 children, ages 18 months old through 2nd grade.
For the first 6 years, Char and her partners develop Zoo-phonics while she taught special education. “We created materials, ran the business, and traveled to present and exhibit Zoo-phonics at workshops and conferences. Our product line grew as the language arts needs of our students dictated.” During this time, Charlene also taught teacher credentialing classes for USF and Chapman University. She was also a California Mentor Teacher for Special Education for two years.
In 1993, Char retired from teaching, devoting her time to the expansion and further development of Zoo-phonics. The Zoo-phonics preschool and kindergarten curricula won Learning Magazine’s “Excellence in Education - Teachers’ Choice Award” (Peer Reviewed) in 2011 and 2013.
Zoo-phonics is used in all 50 states. However, calls for research on the Zoo-phonics Program was becoming common. Char realized that in order for Zoo-phonics to be completely accepted in public education, she needed research skills. She pursued a Doctorate of Education from Argosy University, San Francisco Bay Area, graduating in 2010—at the age of 62. “Both Zoo-phonics and the Safari Learning Academy require me to read research on a daily basis. There is so much coming from neuroscience about how children learn most efficiently. Being able to read and share the research with others, and apply it to both of my companies is essential. Having a doctorate tells other educators that I have worked hard and long to achieve excellence and expertise in my craft. It has also enabled me to work on research projects that have led to independent research on the effectiveness of the Zoo-phonics Program with young children.”
Charlene chose Argosy University, San Francisco Bay Area because she was able to continue working full-time while taking classes. “I love the blended classes of online instruction and classroom dynamics.” She’s also thankful for the guidance that her instructors provided—and the pressure that they put on her to be her best. “I was and am so grateful for my chairperson, Dr. Scott Griffith for his constant help throughout the writing process. Dr. Griffith, Dr. Malvetti, Dr. Cole, and Dr. Baab taught me how to think, write like a researcher. The experience was challenging but the learning process and end result was well worth it.”
Charlene says that her instructors were patient and nurturing from the start, responding to her emails late at night as she was studying and writing after a full day at work. “My chairperson was never too tired or busy to get the answers to me in a clear and timely manner. “Writing my doctoral dissertation was a time critical endeavor, so Dr. Griffith’s quick help was a complete blessing to me.” Charlene adds that despite working at her job over 60 hours a week, her studies and research at Argosy was enjoyable and something that she looked forward to. “The very fact that I was in the doctoral program gave me a sense of pride and honor that kept me going.”
Charlene recalls the time when she took a hiatus from her doctoral studies to open the Safari Learning Academy, only to be called back by Dr. Cole. “She said, ‘Let's get this done.’ I am forever grateful to her. She recommended the members of my committee and said, ‘They will hold your feet to the fire.’”
Charlene says that her biggest challenge throughout her younger years involved balancing family, school, and career. “My family has always come first, and I have been blessed to be able to teach, have my mom watch over our babies, and have my older children at my school so I could always participate in their education and activities. While traveling for Zoo-phonics, my children have traveled with me, and when work allowed, my husband came with me as well. I have learned to fit a lot of work into a day and still have time to enjoy life.”
She belongs to education organizations such as, the ACSD, NAEYC, and Brain and Learning Organization. Her professional accomplishments include winning the “Woman of the Year Award" for the Newport Beach Chamber of Commerce in 1972; the "Entrepreneur of the Year” for Tuolumne County in 2009; and in 2103, won the Sonora Community Excellence Award for Volunteerism.
“Giving back to God is an imperative for me,” said Char. As a family, they have spearheaded and participated in ongoing projects for the homeless and the elderly, and in 3rd world countries. Zoo-phonics donates its educational materials to church mission schools. Zoo-phonics is being taught in 9 countries in Africa, 2 schools in India, and 2 schools in Mexico. Char shared, “To be able to give children living in poverty an opportunity to learn to read, spell, and write is a huge joy and blessing to us.”
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