Teaching ‘gem’ for children with dyslexia
Elizabethtown resident Alison Kriner saw her daughter, Emmy, 9, go from one extreme to the other in school.
Kriner noticed a change from kindergarten to first grade: Emmy did not want to go to school and was shy in the classroom.
“It was like someone turned out the lights in her,” Kriner said. “We couldn’t figure it out.”
School officials told Kriner that Emmy was smart, and that there was nothing wrong — even though Emmy had reading difficulties. That seemed “off” to Kriner, who was prompted to have Emmy tested for dyslexia.
Her dyslexia diagnosis was a relief. Emmy didn’t know what dyslexia was, but finding out the source of her difficulties meant she wasn’t “stupid,” her mother said.
Kriner then took Emmy to the Children’s Dyslexia Center of Lancaster, which operates out of the Lancaster County Masonic Center on West Chestnut Street. One of nine such centers in the state, it accepts students from first grade to age 17 for tutoring.
“Developmental reading disorder [or DRD], also called dyslexia, is a reading disability that occurs when the brain does not properly recognize and process certain symbols” related to language, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine website. “The disorder is a specific information processing problem that does not interfere with one’s ability to think or to understand complex ideas. Most people with DRD have normal intelligence, and many have above-average intelligence.”
Symptoms, according to medical sources, may include very poor reading skills, reversed word and letter sequences, and illegible handwriting. Others include difficulties in determining the meaning of a sentence, learning to recognize written words, and rhyming.
About 20 percent of the world’s population is dyslexic, said Lancaster Dyslexia Center Director Charlotte Granito, who also noted that the severity of the disorder varies.
The local nonprofit center has been tutoring children with dyslexia since 2002, helping many who would have been pushed through the educational system, said Fred Sample, chairman of its board of governors.
The center operates on about $120,000 annually. Most of the money is raised through private donors and fundraisers such as pie sales and a walk-a-thon. The center does not charge for the services it provides.
“It’s a quiet gem,” Sample said, “that produces fantastic results.”
Many students come into the center feeling apprehensive about the program but leave, in large part because of work with tutors, with gratitude for what has transpired, Granito said.
The center uses the Orton-Gillingham method of teaching; it engages children’s senses of sight and sound as well as oral and written skills to help them learn how to read and write. For example, tutors have the students repeat, sound out and spell different words.
The goal for the tutors is to set up new neurological pathways in the students, Granito said.
The tutors often use flash cards and teach the students “tricks” to learning rules of grammar, such as “i before e, except after c.”
The children are tutored, one on one, for two one-hour sessions each week. Currently, the center has 18 students, but it can take up to 26 students.
Many tutors have 45 hours of lectures and 100 hours of supervised tutoring, Granito said. But lots of teachers trained in special-education or supportive-learning teaching aren’t trained in the Orton-Gillingham method, something that “floored” Granito.
Tutor Elizabeth Ranck said she transfers her tutoring skills to the classroom, teaching learning support and English as a second language to public school students.
Mastery of reading and writing is the main goal for the students at the center. Most of the time, students will go through one concept each session, no matter how well they are doing. Granito said it helps the student understand the language.
“They need to know why,” Granito said of how the students learn.
Emmy said she likes going to the center and has fun during her lessons. She said that her tutor has to slow her down when going through her flash cards of grammar rules though, because she goes too fast.
Emmy, who wants to be a police officer when she grows up, said she is excited to start fourth grade in the fall at Bear Creek Elementary School in Elizabethtown.
Her mother said she’s now doing a lot better in school now.
To receive an application for the Children’s Dyslexia Center of Lancaster or for more information, call 481-5680.