Children’s Dyslexia Center addresses area needWritten by Morgan Delp | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Thirteen-year-old Mariam Fneiche has read more than 30 books this year alone and volunteers for the Holland branch of the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library’s teen reading program.
“She’s a readoholic,” said her mom, Yvonne Fneiche. “At any given time, she probably has four or five (books) going.”
But Mariam has not always found reading so enjoyable. Mariam has dyslexia, which caused her to struggle in school before she received help from the Children’s Dyslexia Center in Maumee, a free tutoring center sponsored by the Scottish Rite Masons, Northern Masonic Jurisdiction.
Struggling to succeed
“When she was 1, she knew all her colors. She was very, very bright,” Yvonne said. “My mom was dyslexic, I’m dyslexic and I started seeing some tendencies in kindergarten that she was dyslexic. So I talked to her kindergarten teacher. I said, ‘This is our history, this is what I’m seeing. Please keep an eye on it because I know now there are things that can be done.’”
At Central Elementary in Sylvania, Mariam’s teachers assured Yvonne her daughter was normal and it wasn’t uncommon to have word and letter reversals in first grade. But Yvonne said Mariam continued having trouble in school and her reading level dropped.
“I started having her tested. Her IQ in first grade was 120, which is on the superior level. But for her not to be able to read and do sounds as a normal child would, I saw some of the flags. It took her four years to learn to tie her shoes. She was always very bright and learned everything very quickly so it was frustrating,” Yvonne said. “Her spelling was horrendous. We would study her words all week and she’d get barely enough to pass the test and the next week it was all forgotten, like it didn’t exist.”
During her second-grade summer, Mariam was tested and found to be in the highest risk level for dyslexia. In third grade, she began tutoring with a reading intervention specialist who had previously worked at Children’s Dyslexia Center.
When Mariam was accepted into Children’s Dyslexia Center in fourth grade, her tutor incorporated and expanded on the strategies Mariam had received from the intervention specialist.
“Mariam went from being below state standard to [above],” Yvonne said. “Within the first three months, I saw a change, a blossoming. Before, doing homework was a nightmare; it was so horrible. The tears, the frustration. The ‘I can’t do it’ started to become the ‘All right I’ll try it.’ Now, she can do anything. She really can. And that’s not just me saying that, it’s her saying that.”
Mariam an eighth-grader at Timberstone Junior High School, has had straight A’s in reading and other subjects since the end of the first year of her two-year program at the center.
“(The program) changed the dynamic of our relationship a lot,” Yvonne said. “It was really hard, having to force her to do something that I knew was almost beyond her reach. Then when she went to the center, it transformed her and it’s transformed our relationship too. One of the things I’m most proud about is she’ll go on the grade system and monitor her own grades and her own progress.”
Yvonne believed in the program’s effectiveness so much that she sent her youngest child, 8-year-old Adam, to the center as well. He is now in his second year there. Already, Yvonne said Adam has caught up an entire year to the reading level at which he is supposed to be.
Diane McCreery, director of the Children’s Dyslexia Center for the past 11 years, said the key to the center’s success is the Orton-Gillingham methodology, which the specially trained tutors use to help dyslexic children from across the Northwest Ohio and Southeast Michigan area.
“We use a multisensory approach to teaching, reading and spelling. We use all of the senses — visual, auditory, kinesthetic and tactile,” McCreery said. “We use repetition to help them retain the information. One of the things people don’t understand about dyslexia is that telling them once in class does not do it. They need repetition, repetition, repetition.”
McCreery said children ages 7-12 attend one-hour sessions twice a week after school at the center, which recently moved to the former Union Elementary School building after months of uncertainty regarding the center’s future location.
The center is in such demand there has been a waiting list to get in the program, which has a limit of 36 members, McCreery said.
Becky Berry, a former learning tutor with Toledo Public Schools and parent of a child with dyslexia, said there isn’t sufficient help for dyslexic students in Ohio’s public school systems, including those in the Toledo area.
Other disabilities can be mistaken for dyslexia, which makes it hard for students to receive the correct assistance, Berry and McCreery said. Another reason students are not helped is because special education teachers are not all trained in the Orton-Gillingham method, Berry said.
“Teachers who are trained in special ed do not always know the signs to recognize [dyslexia],” Berry said.
However, the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) is hoping to change that this school year.
In December, the Ohio Senate passed two bills that aim to improve the state’s response to dyslexia. House Bills 96 and 157 provide a concrete definition for dyslexia and dyslexia specialists and allow for the implementation of specialists to train teachers and administrators. The bills also provide for a three-year pilot program for early detection and remediation of dyslexic students in a handful of Ohio school districts.
Eight school districts — none in Northwest Ohio — were selected for the pilot program after an email was sent to all school districts in the state that receive the ODE’s special education newsletter, asking interested districts to apply. A variety of rural, urban and suburban schools were chosen.
Wendy Stoica, assistant director of the ODE Office for Exceptional Children, said Rossford Exempted Village Schools was the only local school district to apply.
Dawn Fahsholtz, director of special services for Rossford, said the district already has procedures and interventions in place and applied for the pilot to improve upon its dyslexia prevention program.
“Basically, we want to close the achievement gap so we don’t have to refer students to special ed,” Fahsholtz said. “We’re trying to take care of [the problem] with general education and interventions.”
Stoica said the pilot program goes hand in hand with the state’s initiative to improve the literacy of elementary school students. The schools that were chosen have a variety of programs currently in place, so the ODE’s goal is to determine what works best and how best to implement the programs, Stoica said.
“The goal is to reduce future special education costs. By early intervention with a system that addresses struggling readers, we are hoping to reduce their eligibility as children with disabilities,” Stoica said.
Celina City Schools was one of the districts chosen. Special Education Director Nancy Hartings said the district already uses READ, a multisensory reading intervention program. Teachers for kindergarten through sixth grade are trained in the program.
“We have been a district striving to get a multisensory reading program in place for the last three years,” Hartings said. “We thought, ‘Oh, what a way to put a feather in our cap and take us to that next step.’”
Toledo Public Schools (TPS) Chief Academic Officer Jim Gault said the district was not contacted about the pilot program, but is willing and hoping to participate in future programs. TPS doesn’t screen specifically for dyslexia, but screens for reading disabilities whenever a teacher or parent asks for it or believes there’s a problem, Gault said.
“I’m not necessarily worried about identifying students (as dyslexic) because I think our process identifies students, but what I’d like to do is label dyslexia as the cause and get more services and treatments for it, in terms of actual symptoms the children have,” Gault said.
Gault said his biggest concern was for students with mild cases.
“For students with severe cases, we’re easily able to identify those; they will be captured with testing. My concern is for the student with mild dyslexia — not to the extent that they qualify for services but still need additional support to be successful; the students with C’s and D’s that are capable of better grades that don’t qualify for services. I will be looking forward to seeing the pilot,” Gault said.
Gault said TPS is looking into putting its own plan together.
“Let’s look at the pilot [and] at the number of schools in the district and what is being done to … ensure dyslexia can be overcome,” Gault said. “We will look at our practices and what we can do to be on the forefront. … The goal is to provide the support to allow students to be in a regular curriculum and be successful.”
“Let’s not be the last school in the area to jump on the bandwagon and help these children,” Berry said.