Originally Published: December 21, 2017 6:02 a.m.
At age 34, Jonathan Ogden is finally learning to read. Growing up mostly in Prescott Valley, Ogden dropped out of school midway through seventh grade, frustrated and angry with himself for not being able to learn like most his peers.
“School was difficult and hard. I was in a lot of different programs. I kind of gave up,” he said during a study session with his tutor Kathy Lewis, director of the Adult Literacy Group program through the Prescott Valley Public Library.
This is Ogden’s second time through the adult program, and he is achieving success at last with the newly acquired Susan Barton Reading and Spelling System.
It makes sense, he said.
School districts, too, are finding the systematic, multi-sensory program truly benefits its students with dyslexia. Barton is not the only reading curriculum based on Orton-Gillingham, a structured, sequential and intensive program developed in the 1930s. However, programs influenced by the O-G approach and research appear to offer the best methods for people with dyslexia to learn how to read.
SCHOOL DISTRICTS — HUSD
Humboldt Unified School District reading specialists, for instance, have a variety of approaches and programs available at each school for struggling readers. If one intervention program doesn’t work, they will try another, said Patricia Bitsilly, director of Special Services. The specialists also collaborate and use each other as a resource when looking for what works with individual students.
Teachers are more aware these days when a student struggles with learning, said Cole Young, HUSD director of Educational Services.
“We go through a process to identify any learning disabilities. When it comes to dyslexia, we take kids where they are at, work with them and their needs, and we move them forward. We identify the need and find the means to meet the student where he is.”
Seven or eight years ago, as principal of Humboldt Elementary School, Cole said a student was identified as dyslexic through Response to Intervention testing. The district purchased the research-based Barton program specifically for that child. The program is available – and utilized – for any student at any of the district schools identified as needing this type of approach.
At Taylor Hicks Elementary School, Reading Interventionist Karen Benson uses the Barton system with 28 students. The school also trained 16 volunteers on how to use the program.
Benson trained with Susan Barton and is the person responsible for bringing Barton to Prescott in 2010. It was Barton’s first visit to Arizona and drew a capacity crowd of educators at Mile High Middle School where she spoke for three hours.
“We have a lot more awareness of dyslexia,” Benson said of the disorder researchers now believe impacts about 20 percent of the population and can be hereditary. Like autism, there is a spectrum upon which one may be mildly, moderately, severely or profoundly dyslexic.
Not everyone with dyslexia will qualify for special education and an Individualized Education Program, Benson said. Nevertheless, if she and the other reading specialists identify a student who could benefit from the Barton program, they work with those students.
“There are so many people who still don’t understand what it is and what it entails, and don’t know you need a structured multisensory program. It’s still an ongoing battle,” she said.
Director of Special Education Terry Gorman said the district uses variety of curriculum that focuses on decoding, vocabulary and comprehension skills, based on the individual student’s needs.
Chino Valley Unified School District is on board with these reading programs, too. Special Education Director Nicole Burdett said the district uses the Wilson Reading Program (also based on O-G) as the main program to address reading deficits, learning disabilities and dyslexia. For some students, teachers supplement their instruction with the Barton program.
The earlier students are identified with a reading disability and intervention begins, the better. By third grade, students with dyslexia recognize the gap between them and their peers. “By fourth grade they only see failure, failure, failure. It’s painful,” Benson said.
She encourages parents to become their child’s advocate. “They don’t know what to ask, or maybe they feel intimidated – perhaps the parent was in special ed themselves because they, too, are dyslexic – school is not the easiest place to navigate. They have to become knowledgeable of students’ rights.”
Ogden got married two months ago to a woman he’s known since age 13. He wrote and read his own wedding vows.
“My family was in awe. They had never seen me write before,” he said.
Had he learned to read years ago with his peers, Ogden said his life would have been much different. He would have earned a high school diploma and gone to college – to enter the law or medical field – and wouldn’t have been so depressed. “Life would not be so hard,” he said.
Unlike Ogden who received his driver’s license by taking the test verbally, Rita Bosley’s adult student doesn’t drive, which limits her employability.
Bosley has been working with her 38-year-old student since May when the student started a precursor to Barton called Foundation in Sounds, which teaches the basic sounds of letters.
“I’m really proud of her,” Bosley said. “Dyslexia is something hard to overcome, especially at age 38. It takes someone who is really wanting to improve. I have a lot of respect for people who want to do that. It’s a hard thing, especially as adults.”
The Adult Literacy Group works with students around the Quad-cities and is offered free of charge. For more information, email Kathy Lewis at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave a message at 928-759-3049.
“Anyone who volunteers or donates is fantastic because these people were forgotten and left behind,” Bosley said. “I wish we could help more people.”