Betty H. Yarborough

During 24 years in Chesapeake Public Schools as a teacher and administrator, then more than 20 at Old Dominion as a professor of elementary education, Betty Yarborough was a sympathetic friend to all, young or old, who had trouble reading or spelling.

In a language that contains the words to, too and two, she said, “I don’t see how children learn to spell as well as they do.”

Yarborough first gained national and even international attention in 1967, when she used a $1.5 million grant to found an experimental elementary school in Chesapeake that was not divided into grade levels and that did not issue letter grades. Children of some limitations, she said, did better in the non-graded environment.

After coming to ODU in 1972, her research in reading and spelling gained national attention. She led workshops on the subjects across the nation and co-authored a series of children’s books on spelling. Yarborough founded the Center for Adult Illiteracy, which over a period of about three years helped more than 150 adults read. She also helped establish the Virginia State Reading Association and still serves on its board. In 1988 that organization named an award after her.

Although she retired in 1992, Yarborough still has an office on campus where she continues to help troubled readers and spellers.


Quest Fall 2005 • Volume 8 Issue 2