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Meet the Team

Friends on the Block was written by experts in reading instruction. Through the funding of a federal grant, the authors were able to study the effectiveness of the literacy program while it was being created. This allowed the authors to monitor student success with the literacy program and make revisions and edits throughout the study in order to make the curriculum as effective and enjoyable as possible.


Although the authors' backgrounds vary, they are united in their desire to help every child learn to read, particularly those who require intensive intervention. They are excited to share Friends on the Block with you and hope you find success with it.


Dr. Jill Allor

Author and Owner/Operator

Jill received her doctorate in special education from Vanderbilt University in 1996 and is a University Distinguished Professor in Teaching and Learning at Southern Methodist University. A former special education teacher, her research is school-based and focuses on literacy acquisition for students with and without disabilities. As principal/co-principal investigator, she has received over $11 million of research funds, led the grant that supported the development of Friends on the Block (FOTB), and is currently leading a $3.3 million grant to conduct a large-scale randomized control trial of the efficacy of FOTB. In addition to publishing several early literacy programs for typical and struggling readers, as well as students with disabilities, she has also published over 40 peer-reviewed research articles and book chapters. She has presented widely at professional meetings and has led numerous professional development workshops on a wide variety of early literacy topics.

Dr. Jennifer Cheatham

Author and Director of Creativity

Jennifer received her PhD in Education from Southern Methodist University in 2010. She served as a research assistant and instructional specialist on federally funded research grants, including a grant that supported the development of Friends on the Block. She has experience teaching in a variety of settings: public school, homeschool, college, and church. She enjoys creating learning resources for students, teachers, and families, many of which are provided for free at When she's not teaching or making curriculum materials, you might find her playing games with her family, crafting, or running.

Dr. Stephanie Al Otaiba


Stephanie received her doctorate in special education from Vanderbilt University in 2000. She is a Professor and serves as the Patsy and Ray Caldwell Centennial Chair in Teaching and Learning at Southern Methodist University. She remains a Faculty Affiliate of the Florida Center for Reading Research where she previously taught at Florida State University.  A former special education teacher, her research focuses on early literacy interventions for students with or at-risk for disabilities, response to intervention (RTI), multi-tiered systems of support, and teacher training. She enjoys teaching graduate students and mentoring doctoral students. Her research has been supported by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES), the Office of Special Education Programs, and the National Institute of Health (NIH).   She is the author or coauthor of over 130 articles and chapters. She has served as the President of CEC’s Division for Learning Disabilities and currently serves on the International Dyslexia Association’s executive board. She is the editor of the Journal of Learning Disabilities.

Dr. Miriam Ortiz

Program Specialist

Miriam received her Ph.D. in Education from Southern Methodist University in 2017 with a focus on Special Education and Response to Intervention. Prior to completing her Ph.D. she worked in Tallahassee, Florida as a K-12 teacher for students with behavior and emotional disabilities. She is a Research Project Manager at SMU and has taught courses in early literacy, special education, and doctoral level methodology. She has co-authored several peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters on the topic of reading instruction for students with varying disabilities. In addition to her work at SMU, she is also the Executive Director for the Division for Learning Disabilities ( of the Council for Exceptional Children and she also consults with educational entities (  She is passionate about improving academic outcomes for children with or at-risk for disabilities, teacher training and professional development, as well as assisting struggling readers of all ages. When she's not working she enjoys singing, watching Disney movies and exploring Dallas, Texas with her husband Fabian, and two boys, Gabriel and Daniel.

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