19 November 2015

Tea with JT - Mary Anne + Nicole

| Jenny Tiffen
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Jenny Tiffen

I have a treat for you today! Two women for the price of one. When I asked Mary-Anne Apps if we could sip tea together for my segment, she insisted she bring her sidekick Nicole Spillane along too. I am so glad she did. These two are a hoot and obviously have an amazing friendship as well as business relationship. We sipped away at one of our fave locations — Penny University, Kingston. These two are MAD about coffee so we broke the rules and hit the caffeine. This is what I discovered.

Who are you?
Mary-Anne: Mother, teacher and director of The Apps Learning Centre.
Nicole: Mother, teacher and manager of The Apps Learning Centre.

When we were primary school teachers we found it very difficult to accommodate all the special needs of the classroom because of the heavy curriculum, large class sizes, and continuing administrative requirements. We felt we could make a difference externally.

Mary-Anne Apps

How long have you lived in Canberra?
Mary-Anne: Born and bred. I grew up in Belconnen and now live in Ainslie.
Nicole: Same. We lived on a property on the outskirts of Canberra and I finished my schooling in Sydney (boarding school) but we have enjoyed raising our daughters here in the ACT.

What is The Apps Learning Centre and how was it born?
Nicole: The Apps Learning Centre is a tutoring agency catering for children not achieving to their potential in the classroom. It provides extra support for any child wanting extra help with school work and we are the only tutoring agency in Canberra who provide direct instruction and specific programming for children with the following high needs:

  • Dyslexia, dyscalculia, disgraphia
  • ADHD: (Attention Hyperactivity Disorder and Attention Deficit Disorder)
  • ASD: Aspergers/Autism
  • PTSD: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
  • Global Development Delay
  • SPD: Sensory Processing Disorder
  • Auditory Processing Disorder and Working Memory issues
  • Gross and Fine Motor difficulties
  • Techniques for mindfulness and anger management

Mary-Anne adds:
We decided to open our own learning centre where we could implement the environmental and academic changes necessary to accommodate all learning types.

We also became somewhat disgruntled with the lack of funding for children with dyslexia and the lack of phonemic awareness being taught in the classroom. This is a major reason why and decided to develop our own program to up skill children with dyslexia so they can achieve the adequate results and choose a career based on their interests rather than one that accommodates a lack of literacy skill.

Mary-Anne Apps Nicole Spillane

How did you girls come together?
Probably, our similar philosophies on the holistic teaching, similar work ethic and love of children. Our very own children are also best friends and Mary-Anne and I have known each other for years. It was an easy progression. We also LOVE netball. [We all laugh because they know I love netball too!].

What are some indicators your child might have dyslexia?
Nicole: In the classroom, the teacher may note that your child is not making benchmarks in reading levels. At home you may notice for yourself that your child is having difficulties in acquiring phonic (sound) especially the short vowel, difficulty comprehending, slow reading speed, inaccurate reading, omission of words, frequent loss of their place or they are easily distracted.

Mary-Anne agrees: The teacher may discuss with you your child is not reaching expectations when spelling familiar words, confusion of small words such as which/with, omission of words, especially when the writer is under pressure, awkward handwriting and/or slow writing speed, an unexpected difference between oral and written expression.

Another factor is a fear of homework or any reading which causes distress. The Apps Learning Centre can provide a screener to help indicate any early signs of dyslexia.

Mary-Anne Apps Nicole Spillane

What is the biggest myths about dyslexia?
Mary-Ann: I think there are a few important ones. Firstly, the myth that dyslexia somehow equates to a low intelligence. Generally, people with dyslexia have average to above average intelligence! Another myth is that colored glasses can aid the up-skilling of phonemic and/or phonological awareness and lastly, that dyslexia is a condition that ‘you can grow out of’.

What would advice would you give to adults out there that have had a life of dyslexia {un-diagnosed}?
Mary-Anne: Sometimes people come in for a screener to know for once, and for all that they are “not stupid”. They have already done all the hard years with coping with it, but sometimes it is nice to know that there was a reason for why they struggled. We do offer a senior program and it is never too late to learn new tricks.

Nicole adds: As dyslexia is hereditary, it is good to be mindful of your children’s literacy ability and provide early intervention at any sign of literacy weakness.

Name your favourite restaurant:
Nicole: I really enjoy the decadent lunches and winter dinners by the fire at Pialligo Estate Winery.

Mary-Anne: I’d have to say my family is quite keen on a burger at Edgars Pub, Ainslie. It is a friendly environment with consistently good quality food (and they allowed me to watch the Netball World Cup on their big screens!). I am also very partial to the amazing cakes at Breizh Café, Ainslie.

photo by Jenny Tiffen

Who does your hair?
Mary-Anne: My girlfriend Melissa Walsh.
Nicole: The Avenue in Campbell.

How do you keep fit?
Mary-Anne: We workout together too! We enjoy early morning starts running around our beautiful Lake Burley Griffin, rain, hail or shine. We enjoy all the seasons but have been known to grumble in -7.

Nicole: We also enjoy the Chick Fit and boxing at Synergy Self Defence in Hume. We make the drive out to Hume our ‘staff meetings’ and if we are time poor we just walk up Mt Ainslie or grab an early yoga class in the city. Oh and we also play netball together! AND a requirement of all this training is a good coffee at the end! Mary-Anne loves her coffee from Elemental, Braddon and I buy my beans from Bitter Sweet, Kingston.


What makes you smile?
Nicole: Hearing children laugh.
Mary-Anne: Agrees.

If you could change something about the ACT education system, what would it be?
We would definitely provide funding for dyslexia and allocate more funding for independent schools. The reason being, so they can reduce the class sizes, greater the pay to recognise our fantastic teachers.

If I could bless you with a superpower, what would it be?
Mary-Anne: Grief and trauma?
Nicole: (Nodding and agreeing without any words spoken – clearly understanding Mary-Anne’s angle)….

We would use our superpowers to eliminate the grief and trauma experienced by children and provide extra care and support for grieving families and the families who have experienced and or are experiencing trauma.


I am kind of sad my tea with these two is over. They taught me a lot and they are very kind, fun and energetic women! You probably saw I dragged my own sidekick along with me for this interview. Mary-Anne and Nicole were so gorgeous with her. I hope you didn’t mind that my baby Daisy joined us today.

Last week I sipped tea with Danielle Cleary and you can read it here.

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