Mayor Eric Adams has repeatedly promised a brand-new approach to reading and literacy for students this coming school year. In addition to training teachers in phonics-based curriculums all summer, the city has beefed up its dyslexia support and screening.

“It’ll be terrific,” chimed in Harlem Commonwealth Council Vice President Suzanne Hurley about the coming reading programs. “Students will actually learn how to read. Learning phonics is fundamental for reading and comprehension. They’re learning to break words into smaller digestible pieces for understanding the word and then sentences. It will definitely help students in our community close the gap in education post pandemic.”

Adams partnered with Kate Griggs, founder and CEO of Made By Dyslexia, a nonprofit charity organization focused on dyslexia. The goal of the nonprofit is to train teachers in ways to spot and support kids with learning challenges. Griggs has spoken at length about her dyslexic journey, being from a dyslexic family and raising dyslexic kids and being dyslexic herself. 

“The main reason it goes undetected, the first is because teachers are not routinely trained in dyslexia. This is a global issue, not just in the U.S. So teachers are arriving not knowing how to support these kids,” said Griggs. “And because there isn’t that automatic knowledge it becomes such a big problem that no one knows how to deal with it.”

About 1-in-5 kids across races and genders end up having some degree of dyslexia, said Griggs. Commonly dyslexia is a different way of processing information leading to difficulties grasping traditional education. The more mild cases of dyslexia means problems with reading, writing, grammar, math, and sequential memory but not debilitatingly so. More severe presentations of dyslexia often means problems learning to read and likely requires intervention, said Griggs.

There is also a heavy evidenced connection between many incarcerated people and those identified as the most educationally disadvantaged population in the country. A joint report from the DOE and Department of Corrections noted that about “half of the individuals housed in jails do not have a high school diploma or general educational development (GED) certificate.” And, on Rikers Island about 80% of new arrivals didn’t have a diploma or GED back in 2007. 

Griggs commended Adams and the city’s massive push for more screening and intensive support for New York City students to head off the root causes of systemic issues. Griggs said her organization has been working with the city’s teachers since June, and luckily the training is free so it hasn’t been affected by the ongoing back and forth legalities on school budget cuts. 

Teachers for grades K-12 will have one year to complete literacy training and are all expected to participate in Made By Dyslexia’s 2-hour introductory training by April 2023, said the Department of Education (DOE).

“New York City schools are making sure every teacher is getting dyslexic training, which is phenomenal because every teacher is a teacher of dyslexic children,” said Griggs.

Students in grades K-2 will be screened for reading and math skills three times a year with Acadience, a method of identifying students who are ‘at risk’ for early reading difficulties, including dyslexia, said the DOE. Students in grades 3-10 will take screeners three times a year with varying options of which method to use in order to identify kids who need intervention, said the DOE.  

The city will also have an exciting reading-focused pilot program to help struggling readers. The two elementary schools participating in the pilot are the Literacy Academy Collective in PS 161 in the Bronx with Principal Brian Blough and the Lab School for Family Literacy at PS 125 in Manhattan with Principal Yael Leopold, said the DOE.  

Additionally, ‘at risk’ of dyslexia screening will take place in a pilot program in 80 elementary and 80 secondary schools, said the DOE. 

“When you can’t read it impacts everything you do for your entire life. For children it’s super granular, it’s about what’s on paper, reading the words on a screen, even in games,” said Naomi Peña, one of the founders of the Literacy Academy Collective. “From reading a menu to applying for jobs. Being literate affects you in every way.” 

Peña said that the “holistic” phonics program is based on a “balanced literacy” approach. She said the kids at PS 161 aren’t labeled or identified as dyslexic, but broadly supported and tutored if they’re having trouble reading in any way. 

Peña is a mother of four dyslexic children as well. She said she came together with other moms to start the school because of their kid’s challenges with reading and learning. In the past, she had teachers tell her that she was “overreacting” when she started inquiring about dyslexia when her son exhibited early symptoms. 

“One year in 3rd grade he had a teacher who took his inability to perform in the classroom that my son was lazy and that he didn’t care about his education and by default that I was not supporting him at home,” said Peña about a white teacher of her son’s. “She completely ignored my son for the entire school year and subsequently whenever she saw my son in the building for the next two years she ignored him as if he was an evil child and that really bothered him.”

She said it’s “unfortunate” that boys of color are treated vastly differently than other students and are often left behind or disregarded if they aren’t quick learners. 

Made By Dyslexia will also be doing extensive outreach to parents and families to raise awareness about dyslexia, she said. 

Ariama C. Long is a Report for America corps member and writes about culture and politics in New York City for The Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visiting: https://tinyurl.com/fcszwj8w

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