Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Families in Austin start middle school for students with dyslexia

From the intro to a story in the Oak Hill Gazette in Austin, Texas. In the picture, Sophia Perdichizzi, (left ), Cody Pedneau and Matthew Fain, (right), explore the new technology which will be offered next year at The Worthy School of Austin, a school for children with dyslexia.

There were early signs when Cody Pedneau was in pre-kindergarten class, but by the time he hit kindergarten it became very obvious that school was really tough for him.

"In preschool, when kids were supposed to be picking up rhyming and letter recognition, Cody wasn't picking up the foundational reading skills that many kids have at that age. Cody was diagnosed with dyslexia in kindergarten. It was a really hard time for our family," said his mom, Randa Pedneau.

"Cody thought he was dumb and his self-esteem was low as a result. It was hard for him because his older brother is a little bit advanced and Cody would compare himself to his brother. As a parent of a dyslexic child, you ache for them," she added.

Pedneau, who has a business degree and teacher certification, became a private dyslexia therapist after learning about Cody's situation.

"I have always had my hand in education, and with dyslexia, it is so crucial to get help early on. It can totally change the child's world."

Cody is now in the fifth grade at Rawson-Saunders, which is a specialized school for dyslexic children.

"It is hard to be the mom and his therapist, it didn't work well for us, so it was better for him to attend a school that specializes in this," said Pedneau.

She has two other children, a first-grader at Clayton Elementary and a seventh-grader, who will be attending Gorizcky Middle School in the fall.

Cody, who is in fifth-grade, added: "I don't like being dyslexic a bit. Reading is a lot harder and it is not very fun. I like to skateboard and go to the skateboarding parks around town. You have to go early when it is not so crowded."

His mom said he can do some pretty good tricks. "I think it must be very freeing for him," she added.

Between 15% and 20% of the population has mild to severe dyslexia. As defined by the International Dyslexia Association (IDA): "Dyslexia is a language-based learning disability. Dyslexia refers to a cluster of symptoms, which result in people having difficulties with specific language skills, particularly reading. Students with dyslexia usually experience difficulties with other language skills such as spelling, writing, and pronouncing words. It affects individuals throughout their lives; however, its impact can change at different stages in a person's life. It is referred to as a learning disability because dyslexia can make it very difficult for a student to succeed academically in the typical instructional environment."

The IDA continues: "The exact causes of dyslexia are still not completely clear, but anatomical and brain imagery studies show differences in the way the brain of a dyslexic person develops and functions. Moreover, most people with dyslexia have been found to have problems with identifying the separate speech sounds within a word and/or learning how letters represent those sounds, a key factor in their reading difficulties. Dyslexia is not due to either lack of intelligence or desire to learn."

The Web site states that dyslexia is not about reversing letters. Many dyslexics display insightful, impressive talents for thinking outside of the box.

"You have to be smart to be dyslexic, because of the 'decoding' methods that take place for dyslexic students to read and write," added Pedneau.

Some of the early indicators of dyslexia include difficulties in acquiring and using language, such as rhyming and letter recognition at the pre-school age, which are foundational skills for reading. Talking later than expected and slowness to add new words can be another early indicator for children under seven. By first and second grade, there may be no understanding of how to put letter sounds together or fluency in reading. Spelling and reading are affected, as well as doing math operations, such as remembering sequences, like counting to twenty.

Now, with her husband Mike, the Pedneau's are starting up The Worthy School of Austin, which will open in the fall of 2009 to incoming sixth graders.

"We are starting this school, almost out of necessity. It is our goal to empower these kids to know that they are worthy – worthy to learn, worthy to succeed, worthy to go to college or pursue their dreams, worthy to become anything they want," Randa Pedneau explained.

"We want to integrate the available technology and there is currently no school nearby that does this. We are starting off with sixth grade first and want to have our program to be as good as possible before we start adding grades. Our plan is to add grades seven and eight the following year. Beyond that we will add grades each year to become a full secondary school offering grades sixth through twelve ultimately," she added.

Among the founding families is the principal of the School for the Blind, Miles Fain. In addition, former teachers, an engineer, a motivational speaker, and a dyslexia specialist are also helping set up the school.

"A person doesn't usually start up a school like this for fun, but we just felt it was so needed and so important. We have some really great people to help us start this up. One of our goals is to keep the curriculum more consistently at grade level to prepare these kids for college," added Pedneau.

At this time, there is no secondary school in Austin for children overcoming dyslexia. The Rawson-Saunders School, located on Exposition Boulevard in Austin, offers a specialized curriculum for dyslexic children for students in grades first through eighth.