Monfredo: Time for All Schools to do More for Children with Dyslexia

Saturday, March 02, 2019
John Monfredo, GoLocalWorcester MINDSETTER

As a former teacher, principal and now a member of the Worcester School Committee I have been an advocate for encouraging our students to become good readers.  Slogans such as “Those who read succeed “or “Today a reader and tomorrow a leader” are true and meaningful quotes as is “To learn to read is to light a fire; every syllable spelled out is a spark.”  However, recently I was made aware of the difficulties that children, through no fault of their own, struggle with reading early on in school.

Last month Mark and Nicole Portunomdo parents of a child with dyslexia in the Worcester Public Schools came before the Worcester School Committee to urge that more be done for children who are dyslexic.   In a nutshell, dyslexia affects a child’s acquisition of the skills necessary to read easily and proficiently.  The problem manifests itself in what educators call “oral language processing related to phonological awareness.”   This means that the child lacks the skills in deciphering letter patterns and developing “word attack” skills.  The child with dyslexia will often experience difficulties with spelling and writing.  It is not uncommon for children with dyslexia to reverse or invert their number forms too.

If you are concerned that your child may be dyslexic, you’re not alone for it is estimated that close to 20% of the American population or close to one out of every five children have had some form of learning disability.  Of these, dyslexia is the most common.

Unfortunately, most students who are diagnosed with dyslexia aren’t identified until they have been in school for several years, according to Dr. Sally Shaywitz, co-director of the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity, and author of “Overcoming Dyslexia.”   Dr. Shaywitz stated that it is not unusual for dyslexic children to go unrecognized until adolescence where unfortunately the schools have effectively abandoned struggling young readers during the most critical years of learning.

After listening to several parents concerns I was invited to a meeting called RIVET (Reading is vital explicitly taught) of parents whose children were diagnosed as dyslexic.   These parents from all over Central Massachusetts were most articulate and were all strong advocates for their children.  Stories of what the child and the parents went through brought tears to my eyes.   Many parents felt that additional assistance needs to take place in the public schools.  The meeting did impact me for not only did I want to do more for these children but I worried about many of our families in low-income areas that did not have a clue about why their child was struggling with reading and did not know how to help them out.  Keep in mind that many who struggle to read are more likely to drop out of high school and live a life in poverty.

Teachers and parents need to pay attention to some of the signs of dyslexia such as…

  • Slow to speak
  • Struggles with rhymes
  • Can’t seem to follow directions
  • Mismatches letters and their sounds
  • Mixes up the order of letter
  • Can’t organize spoken language
  • Can’t memorize number facts

 

Parents, if there are any concerns please have your child tested early on by the school system and don’t wait until the following school year.  You must give informed consent for a school to evaluate your child. Remember that under the law, your child has the right to a free and appropriate education and his individual needs must be met.  Many may not know this but Massachusetts recently passed a Dyslexia Screening Law.  Hopefully it will be fully implemented for the start of the 2019-2020 school year and I’m sure that many districts will start the screening process with their kindergarten students.

More good news … research suggests that if all children were taught to read using approaches that work for students with dyslexia, reading achievement would improve overall.   Listen some of the most successful people like Thomas Edison, Leonardo da Vince, Steven Jobs, Sir Richard Branson, Walt Disney and John F. Kennedy, Jr. all had dyslexia.

The question from the parents at RIVET was can all districts assist the children with dyslexia?  Many felt that the schools lacked the appropriate training to help out their child or in many cases did not offer enough help on a daily basis.  Others questioned whether the school specialist spent time with the classroom teachers giving them strategies in working with the dyslexic child throughout the day.

The parents are correct to question the schools for research suggests that if students with dyslexia received effective early reading instruction in their regular classrooms some of them may not need intensive, specialized instruction. The problem is that many teachers across many districts do not know how to teach reading effectively or have not had the training.

As a school committee member and a lifelong educator I am well aware of the constraints on the school’s budget but more needs to be done.   Parents should not have to bankrupt themselves by sending their child to a private school to get the needed help.  All school districts need to step up and address the problem.

Can we start by having districts be Dyslexia-Friendly Schools as suggested in a story via the internet?   A school may be classified “dyslexia-friendly” if:

  • it values the needs of all learners and has a positive view towards pupils with dyslexia
  • the management structures of the school provide support with regard to issues of dyslexia
  • it provides a systematic and supportive approach to continuing professional development that focuses on dyslexia for all staff
  • it has appropriate levels of provision and resources which are deployed effectively
  • it has effective early identification, assessment and intervention procedures

 

I believe that the Worcester Public Schools is moving toward having a Dyslexic Friendly district.  The district this Thursday at the School Committee meeting came out with a comprehensive report on dyslexia and made several suggestions on how to move forward.  Many suggestions will be expensive but I believe that it is in the best interest of the children that we try to find the money to expand the program.   More training for the teachers will need to take place, additional services for the students, and better screening should be all part of the package.  Let’s create a district that will meet the needs of all children and not have parents worry about looking for a private school to meet the needs of their child. Stay tuned …more on this subject in future writings!

 

 

 

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