7 months ago

Mid Rivers Newsmagazine 3-7-18

Local news, local politics and community events for St. Charles County Missouri.


30 I COVER STORY I By JIM MERKEL Kim Stuckey’s family fits the pattern of many in Missouri. “My adult son and my husband both have dyslexia,” the Lake Saint Louis woman said. “My husband did not receive any special services when he was in school.” Her husband went to college, where he excelled in engineering and math but not literature. Her son received some help for his dyslexia, graduated from high school and went to trade school. Stuckey, herself, is in the middle of the fight to ensure that children with the condition receive the educational services they need to achieve academic success. As director-dyslexia specialist for the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, she helped bring about the recent release of state guidelines for students with dyslexia. In June 2016, state law created a 20-member Legislative Task Force on Dyslexia to establish statewide guidelines to assist students with dyslexia. Those guidelines require all public and charter schools to conduct dyslexia screenings for students from kindergarten through third grade. The screening is a short test given by a teacher or school counselor to determine whether a student likely has dyslexia or a related disorder. It’s not a medical diagnosis, but it can identify whether a child is struggling with phonological awareness and memory, sound/symbol recognition, alphabet knowledge, reading comprehension and word recognition fluency among other traits. It also can indicate that a student can use extra help. Per the guidelines, extra help could mean, but is not limited to, oral examinations or extra time to take tests, availability of teacher-provided study guides and lecture notes, taped or recorded lectures, use of graphic organizers and visual aids, peer assistance and environment modification. The use of technology also can be helpful as students with dyslexia may find it easier to type rather than write assignments, or record lectures rather than taking notes. Finally, teachers are advised to be sensitive to the student’s emotional needs. Students with dyslexia can experience a higher than average sense of frustration. Access to school counselors, if necessary, and frequent positive feedback and reinforcement for effort and process, not just final output, is recommended. The guidelines further recommend that school districts offer two hours of inservice training regarding dyslexia and related disorders for all practicing teachers. March 7, 2018 MID RIVERS NEWSMAGAZINE Local school districts react Statistics show that about 15 percent of people have some form of dyslexia, from mild to severe. Among the kindergarten through third-grade group being tested, more than 40,000 could test positive for the condition. According to the International Dyslexia Association, dyslexia is a neurological condition brought on by a different kind of wiring in the brain. It has nothing to do with intelligence and it does not require a cure. Instead, those with dyslexia develop coping mechanisms. The earlier students receive the help they need, the more they respond. Later, they may not be able to catch up. For some local schools, the report’s recommendations are nothing new. Several districts in West St. Louis and St. Charles counties say they already are following many of the guidelines in the state document. “We currently screen all of our students in reading and we provide intervention [using] best practices,” said Matt Deichmann, chief communications officer for the Francis Howell School District. He said the district already meets the majority of the requirements set forth in the legislation. And he noted, “We always work with our parents.” In the Parkway School District, customized learning coordinators John Barrow and Patrick Shelton said the district screens several times each year for students who struggle with reading. Out of about 17,500 students in the district, about 1,300 receive direct reading support, they said. Dr. Shelley Willott, executive director of learning and support services for the Rockwood School District, said in an email that Rockwood just is getting information about how dyslexia will be defined and what assessments and supports the district will have to put into place. The district does has a comprehensive reading intervention program in place to support its struggling readers, Willott said. But she added, “We are starting discussions regarding how we will need to supplement our reading intervention program to support students who are diagnosed with dyslexia. There will be extensive training with both reading intervention and classroom teachers next year regarding dyslexia. We are still exploring our options for that training.” In the Fort Zumwalt School District, Assistant Superintendent Henry St. Pierre said good systems already are in place. He said the district already screens students four times a year through fifth grade and has elementary reading teachers who provide instruction. However, the district is going through the guidelines to ensure that its processes match what the state wants. The district may add to the screening, St. Pierre said. While the guidelines stipulate requirements for providing extra supports for student with dyslexia, specific interventions are not detailed. That’s because Missouri does not specify curriculum requirements, Stuckey said. Still, St. Pierre said, “The legislation is good in that it highlights the need for early intervention. They do a good job of outlining what the expectations are.” Ahead of the curve One local school that has been leading the way in educating kids with dyslexia and other learning disabilities is the Churchill Center & School at 1021 Municipal Center Drive in Town & Country. Founded in 1978, Churchill serves about 145 children with an intensive form @MIDRIVERSNEWS MIDRIVERSNEWSMAGAZINE.COM Overcoming the challenges of dyslexia New guidelines mean Missouri students have a clearer path to success of proven instruction meant to overcome such limitations as ADHD, nonverbal language disorder, social communications disorder and visual processing disorder. But the most common condition at the private school is dyslexia. The school was started by parents who were frustrated that they had to send their children to private schools elsewhere to get the best curriculum to deal with dyslexia. A variety of research-based methods exist to help students overcome the challenges of dyslexia. The Churchill School uses the Wilson Reading System, which depends on senses like touch, seeing and hearing when teaching a lesson. Teachers may have students use small tiles containing letters like “tr,” “u” and “ck” to assemble the work “truck.” “They [students with dyslexia] are not efficient readers. They need to be specifically taught all the various aspects of reading,” said Anne F. Evers, director of admissions. “Our kids need to be actively involved when they’re learning.” In most cases, students at the school come up to grade level, said founding director Sandi Gilligan. Moss is a bubbly fifth-grader who is in his third year at Churchill. Now 11, the Des Peres resident struggled at a parochial school before his parents decided he needed more help. “It was hard to read and spell, and I would get pulled out of class,” Moss said. His ambition is to be a football star or a lawyer. Churchill, he said, “definitely helped me in reading and spelling the most because that’s where I would struggle.” He said if he wasn’t getting the training, “I would feel sad, I guess.” Helping kids like Moss succeed is at the core of the new guidelines and Churchill’s curriculum. Whether in a public school or a school specializing in the field, dedication is a key, Gilligan said. “You have to be committed, and you have to understand it deeply,” she said. “Our alumni are conquering the world.” One alum, Gilligan said, went into the Peace Corps after college and now teaches children in Rwanda about how to start a business. Other less local, but well-known individuals who have overcome the challenges of dyslexia include Thomas Edison, Steven Spielberg, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Charles Schwab. According to the International Dyslexia Association, some say the way individuals with dyslexia think can actually be an asset in achieving success. But now in Missouri, the path to that success, finally say advocates, begins with a single, simple test.

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