History of OPT

Joseph Strayhorn, M.D., while working as a child psychiatrist at the Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic in Pittsburgh, in the 1980's, noticed that children's emotional and behavioral problems often seemed to be accompanied by, and at least partially caused by, academic problems, particularly reading difficulties. He found that researchers had documented this connection, and other researchers (for example Michael and Lise Wallach) had done exciting work on ways of teaching children to read. He began to train tutors to help children with reading skills. At the same time, he did research on teaching parents and nonprofessional community members to increase the psychological skills of young children by presenting to them models of positive psychological functioning through stories and dramatic play.

In the late 1990's, Dr. Strayhorn was an investigator on a grant funded by the Heinz Foundation, looking at the effect of reading tutoring on both reading skills and behavior problems in elementary school children. The intervention used in that successful study is the ancestor of OPT's current reading instruction methods. When the intervention was over, there was a little money left in the budget. Dr. Strayhorn asked the Heinz Foundation to be able to use this to explore the possibility of using the same tutoring methods by telephone, thus avoiding the problems of finding space and time at schools for tutoring. In 2005, the results of the telephone tutoring study were published, finding an increase in rate of reading recognition improvement from 0.5 grade levels per year before tutoring, on the average, to 2 grade levels per year during tutoring, in the children we recruited.

In 2001, Dr. Strayhorn founded Psychological Skills Press. The telephone tutoring manuals began to include material on psychological skills. From then until now, more manuals have been added with the goal of explaining and modeling for children how to be psychologically healthy.

From 1999 to 2014, telephone tutoring was part of Dr. Strayhorn's private practice of child and adolescent psychiatry. Tutors delivered phone tutoring as an adjunct to whatever other treatment children received. Most of the referrals to the program were Dr. Strayhorn's patients.

In 2014, OPT became a nonprofit organization, and in early 2015, it was approved as a 501 (c) (3) public charity. Its board of directors was formed.

In 2021, sufficient charitable donations had been received that the board of directors decided to eliminate fees for OPT's services.

The research component of OPT has over the years been overseen by several Institutional Review Boards, including that for Allegheny General Hospital, Cornell University, and most recently by private Institutional Review Boards, currently Advarra.