Royalton School Board hears need for support for students with dyslexia

By Mollie Rushmeyer, Correspondent

Since estimates are that more than 2.8 million school-aged children nationally facing the struggles associated with dyslexia, the Royalton School District held a meeting for parents, the School Board and staff regarding dyslexia warning signs and resources, March 13.

At Monday’s Royalton School Board meeting, several directors, including Randy Hackett and Ellie Holm, spoke about the dyslexia information night held by Lori Langerud of St. Joseph and her company, Reading Resources.

Both Hackett and Holm agreed the first step is to recognize the signs of dyslexia in the students and provide support to the parents of these children.

“We need to help the parents find the way,” Hackett said.

Holm said parents who attended the meeting expressed frustration and a desire to help their children, but didn’t know where to turn.

Director Jim Block asked what Royalton School District teachers and administration currently do to detect dyslexia and other learning challenges, and what resources/help are available to those students and families. No one answered.

Dyslexia as a specific neurobiological learning disability is much more common than most people realize, with an estimated 20 percent of the world’s population falling under the dyslexia spectrum the International Dyslexia Association (IDA) says, but it is not widely understood.

The IDA defines dyslexia in part as, “… difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities.”

Common warning signs according to Bright Solutions for Dyslexia, include: dysgraphia (slow, non-automatic handwriting that is difficult to read); letter or number reversals; slow, choppy, inaccurate reading; trouble spelling; being unable to remember sight words or homonyms; and difficulty telling time and certain aspects of math, just to name a few.

“Of the 1,000 students at Royalton School District, 200 are probably dyslexic, and only two will qualify for special education,” Langerud said.

Langerud said she found herself in the position that many parents find themselves in. When her son went into seventh grade, he was diagnosed as dyslexic. She subsequently found that not only are all four of her children dyslexic, she is, too.

So began her journey to first educate herself on the resources available. After finding and training in the Orton-Gillingham tutoring method as well as the Barton method, she started receiving pleas for help from other parents of dyslexic children.

“I started this company to help families,” Langerud said. “Then schools started asking for help.”

The St. Cloud School District was one of the first Langerud assisted. Now she leads informational meetings, as well as training courses for teachers and school staff to recognize dyslexia and educate them on what types of accommodations and learning environments will help dyslexic students absorb information the best.

Some accommodations include things like: extra time on tests, because it takes a dyslexic person longer to not only read the questions but to write down their answers, tests read aloud, having a copy of the notes instead of the person having to write them down during class, an overall reduced volume of work and pace; opportunities to ask questions, an alternate assignment or test question when appropriate and auditory learning through audible books.

“If I could do one thing, I would have all teachers trained to recognize it (dyslexia),” Langerud said. “Not to diagnose it, but to screen for it and recognize the warning signs. Then to plan how they are going to accommodate for it.”

She said it’s not necessarily the school’s job to tutor every dyslexic student, as that could take up to 400 hours per week. Langerud said she recognizes that school districts don’t have the time or manpower to handle that kind of load. Instead, she said, parents will likely have to do something privately.

However, if teachers are trained and aware of the educational implications this learning disability has, they can work with the family to ensure the student has resources and is more successful.

“It would benefit everybody. The school can’t solve everything, but we can help, and provide some guidance,” School Board Chair Noel Guerard said.

One such resource for individual tutoring is Janna Brenhaug of Sartell and her business Spelling Success.

Brenhaug had a story similar to Langerud’s, in that her son’s diagnosis of dyslexia prompted her to research ways to help him.

Later, she turned a desire to help other parents into her business, getting trained as a certified Barton tutor at the master’s level, and developing her own set of 20 games based on the Barton method to go with her tutoring.

“Parents are baffled. They know their child is smart,” Brenhaug said. “They often have many strengths in other areas, but the kids feel dumb and stupid because they’re failing in school.”

Families don’t always know right away something is wrong, Brenhaug said.

“By third grade, that’s when they hit a wall. That’s when all of their coping skills are no longer there,” Brenhaug said. “Instead of learning to read, by third grade, they’re reading to learn.”

That’s also when pictures are gone from their reading material and harder, longer books don’t allow for guessing or substituting words.

There is hope for dyslexics though, Brenhaug said.

Each person is different in what approaches work and where they are on the spectrum.

Brenhaug said she has personally worked with many over the years who finally gain confidence, and the skills to improve their reading and writing through consistent weekly tutoring sessions.

For some families that may or may not be a financial possibility. Langerud said perhaps parents learning some of the Orton-Gillingham tutoring aspects to practice at home may be a place to start.

Royalton Elementary Principal Phil Gurbada suggested looking at what the state requires the school district to do about this, what is diagnosable, what interventions are available, whether the parents can hire a tutor and what space and time the schools can give to these students to have some special one-on-one tutoring.