Rachel* has been struggling for the last 11 years. Now a senior at one of the area day schools, her parents say Rachel’s dyslexia affected every aspect of her childhood.
“Dyslexia is not just mixing up letters or transposing numbers. It affects word retrieval, memory and even coordination,” explains Rachel’s mother, Mrs. Meyers.* “Children with dyslexia also tend to be a bit behind socially.”
While children with dyslexia are suffering in school, struggling just to pass a test, they are often being taunted by their peers. To this day, says Mom, Rachel will not read aloud in class as she has been traumatized by the childish jeers of her elementary school friends. She faced being considered “stupid” by her peers and teachers, often being placed in lower tracks than her intelligence warranted because she learned differently and needed reading assistance.
Unfortunately, Rachel is not alone.
According to Marcy K. Kolodny, CEO of the Dyslexia Tutoring Program, 15-20 percent of the population is dyslexic or has a language-based learning disability. Kolodny, who is also a member of the SHEMESH board, says the key to helping children with dyslexia is identifying the problem early and getting them the help they need to learn compensatory skills and be successful in everyday life.
This past summer, through SHEMESH, a program of THE ASSOCIATED: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, a group of day school teachers were trained in the Orton-Gillingham methodology, which utilizes phonetics and emphasizes visual, auditory and kinesthetic learning styles. Instruction begins by focusing on the structure of language and gradually moves toward reading.
The program provides students with immediate feedback and a predictable sequence that integrates reading, writing, and spelling. The Orton-Gillingham method is language-based and success-oriented. The student is directly taught reading, handwriting and written expression as one logical body of knowledge. Learners move step by step from simple to more complex material in a sequential, logical manner that enables students to master important literacy skills. While this comprehensive approach to reading instruction benefits all students, it is particularly important for those with identified reading disabilities.
The day school teachers were given this privilege because of Kolodny’s connection with SHEMESH. SHEMESH supported the program and provided the venue to ensure our community schools have not only SHEMESH Learning Centers, but also in-class teachers who can identify and assist students who are struggling. It is essential, explains SHEMESH Executive Director Aviva Weisbord, that mainstream classroom teachers can work with SHEMESH special educators. This partnership is what guarantees that every child can succeed in school.
Rachel is a star example of the success students can achieve when there is a full partnership among the family, the school and SHEMESH. The family advocated for Rachel and made sure all the necessary testing was done. The school remained open to any accommodations Rachel needed and worked with the Learning Center to coordinate Rachel’s schedule, ensuring the least disruption possible. SHEMESH provided the support services to help Rachel acquire the skills she needed to succeed and monitored her schoolwork overall. Free tutoring from the Dyslexia Tutoring program and summers at Camps Jemicy and Odyssey played a major role in complementing the services at school. In the process, Rachel’s confidence grew and now her future looks bright: She wants to further her education and become a special education advocate.
While in the past Rachel was hurt by some insensitive comments about her disability, her mother points out, she now knows she can accomplish her goals. Her SHEMESH Learning Center teachers gave her that message daily.
“She had really great Learning Center teachers throughout her school career,” says Mrs. Meyers.
Ultimately, of course, the Meyers – and Rachel – had to fight to make sure Rachel made it. They had to get testing done and educate themselves on dyslexia to better understand their daughter’s needs. They had to talk to the school, to SHEMESH and to all the other outside programs they were interested in accessing.
“Rachel has been hurt by unthinking people that have said some really unkind words about her disability, but she has kept on going because she wants to show people she is smart.”
As Kolodny says, “Even with dyslexia, there is a light at the end of the tunnel.” And SHEMESH is helping students find that light.
*Name has been changed.
This year, the SHEMESH Book Club will focus on dyslexia by reading, “Overcoming Dyslexia: A New and Complete Science-Based Program for Overcoming Reading Problems at Any Level,” by Dr. Sally Shaywitz. The Book Club will meet twice throughout the year. Those who attend both sessions qualify for a raffle to win a new Kindle. For more information, visit the new SHEMESH website, www.shemeshbaltimore.org, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.