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‘Your brain just works differently’: How Mon Schools helps students with dyslexia

By third grade, you’re no longer learning to read. You’re reading to learn.

Provided you don’t have dyslexia.

If you do, forget that: you’re just trying to make it through the day.

Dyslexia keeps kids from getting a true read on their learning potential.

Words can appear jumbled, or in a blurry kind of undulating motion.

Words can pop in and out, in a peek-a-boo sort of syntax that makes it impossible to follow that chapter in the history book or passage from a novel in English class.

October is Dyslexia Awareness Month.

The Dominion Post last weekend profiled the Bonnie Bailey Dyslexia Foundation, a newly formed nonprofit that has a goal of offering education and resources for individuals and families dealing with the learning disorder in the Morgantown area.

That’s what dyslexia is: a learning disorder.

Which is how it’s broadly categorized by the state Department of Education, meaning there’s no solo department or how-to manual of teaching, specific to dyslexia.

West Virginia’s 55 public school districts are on their own.

Monongalia County Schools recognizes it as a stand-alone disorder, but the local district, like everyone else, has to contract out for teaching methods.

Kobe Bryant was dyslexic.

Albert Einstein had it and so did F. Scott Fitzgerald, Wernher von Braun and lots of other names from your long-ago book reports.

People who went on to pinnacles of success, no matter how they had to regard the printed (or digitally rendered) word.

Amanda Cosner always spells that out for her students.

“Don’t let anyone tell you that you aren’t smart,” says Cosner, a reading specialist with Monongalia County Schools.

“Because you are. Your brain just works differently.”

Untangling it

As said, the district purchases its own professional materials for the teaching of dyslexia.

There’s the Orton-Gillingham Method, which Cosner is currently in the final steps of achieving her certification.

And the offerings from Wilson Language Training and the Barton Reading and Spelling System.

It starts with the district’s universal reading curriculum, Houghton Mifflin Hartcourt-Into Reading, which is a literacy program building on phonics, language, reading fluency and other science-based elements dealing with how our minds process the words our eyes see.

There are benchmarks in the above multisensory program looking solely at how students decode letters and their corresponding sounds, even.

If all that appears complicated, Deputy Schools Superintendent Donna Talerico says, that’s because it is.

“Yes, it’s quite complex,” said Talerico, who began her career in education in the 1970s, when, as a beginning elementary school teacher, she encountered her first students diagnosed with dyslexia.

“But our training gets better and better each year,” she said.

“It all comes down to our mission to help every student in our system succeed.”

Different experiences

Jeff Bailey wasn’t so sure of the effectiveness of that mission as he watched his son, Trenton Bailey, struggle in the classroom — though he knows it wasn’t because of a lack of effort on Mon County Schools, as he told Board of Education members last week.

The father and son are the founders of the Bonnie Bailey Dyslexia Foundation, named in honor of Bonnie, Jeff’s wife and Trenton’s mother, who lost her battle with cancer two years ago.

Trenton was a bright kid with an extensive vocabulary, but he still had trouble sorting out those words on the page, his father said.

After his diagnosis of dyslexia, Mon Schools set up an Individual Education Plan, or IEP, as it’s known in the teaching trade, and he thrived.

At Cheat Lake Elementary, he learned to read in third grade through the aforementioned Orton-Gillingham, which hones in on the brain’s connections between words and sounds.

By his freshman year at University High, however, he was again floundering.

His parents pulled him out and sent him to an elite learning academy in New York State, where he graduated, on time and with honors — earning a perfect score on his ACT test — in 2016.

The father and son say they know many local families don’t have the resources for such a leap. That’s why they offered the services of their foundation to Mon’s BOE last week.

Their pitch, however, was made during the public comment portion of the meeting, during which the board refrains from questions or comments of its own.

That meant no exchange of ideas or impressions — nor any discussion of what may have happened to cause Trenton’s cognitive disconnect on the way to high school.

Dyslexia — out loud

“I don’t want to get into anything concerning specific students and families,” Talerico said.

“But I can give the global view,” she said.

“I can tell you that we have reading programs and interventions in every school at every grade level.”

Talerico points to the county’s reading assessment scores, which are consistently higher that most in the Mountain State, while keeping pace nationally.

There’s that, she said, and also the resumes of a number of administrators in the school system who are reading specialists by training.

Administrators such as a Kayla Edsall, the vice principal of Mountainview Elementary, who began her career in that discipline and still wears the hat when she has to.

Her school has a number of students with dyslexia.

For her, she said, echoing Cosner, it’s about encouragement.

It’s about helping students reconfigure their brains to steer around the potholes as it were, that are wrought by dyslexia.

Sonic properties, as she said, are powerful properties.

That’s where the methodology turns the page.

“You can read a story out loud to a child with dyslexia,” she said, “and he’ll understand it. Every bit.”

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