When Reading Is
A determined teacher and local Masons combine to create a center
to teach Silver City children with dyslexia.
by Debra Sanders
In 1999, Jake R. sat in the front row of his eighth-grade science class. He listened to everything his teacher, Mrs. Ogilvie, said. He was a smart boy who had never demonstrated any behavior problems in the classroom.
So why, thought Tamara Ogilvie, is he sitting there with his hoodie pulled over his head and refusing to pick up his pencil and work on the test?
When she kept Jake after class to talk with him, his answer stunned her.
With his hoodie still shielding his eyes and a single tear slipping down his cheek, Jake told the teacher, "I can't read it. I can't read the words."
How could an eighth-grade boy have gotten this far in school without anybody realizing he couldn't read? she wondered. How did I miss this before now? How did we all miss this?
These questions set Ogilvie, a veteran teacher with the Silver Consolidated School District in Silver City, on a mission of inquiry. She would learn that Jake, like an estimated one in five children, struggles with a complex reading disorder called dyslexia, which has nothing to do with intelligence or motivation, but has everything to do with how the brain processes information. What started out as a question and concern over one student would morph into a passion that would drive Ogilvie's every waking hour, leading her toward becoming a founding member of the only place in Silver City established to help children with this disorder: The Learning Center for Dyslexia and Academic Success.
Many people, when hearing the word "dyslexia," think of a child who reverses letters or reads words backwards. While reversals are common to people with dyslexia, it is not the defining characteristic. The fact that a person perceives and processes information differently in the language centers of the brain, despite average or better intelligence, is what defines this disorder.
What this means is that even though a person's vision is fine, when looking at words on a page, the text might appear to jump around. Or, a person might not be able to tell the difference between letters that look similar in shape such as o, e and c. Letters and words might appear to be all bunched together, or jumbled and out of order, with some words appearing completely backward, so that instead of seeing:
The dog and the cat ran into the garden.
they see something like:
Thepog andthetac nar into the gdenar.
Or a person might perceive the letters just fine, but despite having plenty of phonics instruction, they cannot connect individual letters to their corresponding sounds.
No matter how smart a person is, no matter how much intelligence they have been blessed with, when language-based information is not perceived or processed accurately, reading is hard, if not downright impossible, to master.
What was most important to Ogilvie, as she learned about dyslexia, was finding out that with good instruction and early diagnosis and treatment, people with dyslexia can overcome the challenges it presents. What was needed, she knew, was someplace in Silver City where this early diagnosis and instruction could be found. But as the years rolled by, no such place existed and she continued to recognize students in her classes who were struggling.
Richard LaVoie, a nationally known expert in understanding and teaching children with learning disabilities, offers parents and teachers profound insights into the world of these children. In a workshop called "How Difficult Can This Be?," he waves around a check for $100 and offers it anyone in the workshop who can successfully perform a task. Whether the task involves reading or visual perception, it proves impossible to complete without some sort of direct instruction or additional information. In a reading passage, a significant number of words are omitted, and others are blurry, squished together and contain an inconsistent pattern of letter and word reversals. In a visual perception task, it is impossible to see what the picture is until LaVoie places an overlay over the page that clearly outlines what before was just a blur.
"Are you motivated?" LaVoie asks his stunned (and uncomfortably embarrassed) audience. "Of course you are. But no matter how motivated you are, you still can't perform the task, can you?"
With his audience now engaged, LaVoie goes on to make one of his most important points of the workshop. After explaining that too often parents and teachers blame the child for not succeeding, he states, "Motivation only enables us to do what to the best of our ability, we are already capable of doing."
As participants grasp that often it is not a matter of won't, but a matter of can't, practically visible light bulbs go off in the heads of every person there. For the first time they begin to understand that the sons, daughters and students who have so frustrated them are not unmotivated; they are not just being lazy or uninterested. There is something else going on that explains why they are not making progress in reading; why their handwriting is so terrible; why they know something one day, but not the next; why they have sequencing problems, trouble rhyming words, and mix up their right and left hands. There is an explanation that has nothing to do with motivation or intelligence for why they seem so easily distracted, can't spell to save their life, can't tell time (unless it's digital), and why they can't seem to master basic phonics.
And the explanation has to do with how they perceive and process, or don't perceive and process, information.
If you've ever blown out a knee, had a cancer scare, a concern about your heart or liver, or sustained an injury to your brain, it is likely your doctor prescribed an MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) to get a detailed look inside. When it comes to the brain, however, an MRI can't give you a real-time log of brain activity; it can't tell you how brain activity changes as you engage in various tasks. But something called a functional MRI (fMRI) can. An fMRI can show what parts of the brain are active when you are reading and writing, and it can show if there is a disruption in the neural processes needed for those tasks.
There are three neural systems involved in reading. Dyslexic readers show a pattern of activation in their brains that is very different from what is observed in fluent readers. In dyslexic readers' brains, when given a passage to read, the anterior system is overactivated, while the two posterior systems are underactivated. This pattern of underactivation of the left posterior reading system is now referred to as the "neural signature" for dyslexia, because it is so consistently measured in the brains of individuals with this reading disability.
Although dyslexia is not something a person outgrows, fMRIs have been able to demonstrate that the provision of specific, research-based reading intervention at an early age facilitates the development of the neural systems needed to be a fluent reader.
The day that Tamara Ogilvie watched Jake cry because he couldn't read the test questions set her on a path of learning that continues today. Since that time, she has obtained a master's degree in teaching reading, completed a two-year intensive program in teaching students with dyslexia, become certified in testing for dyslexia and enrolled in a graduate program to receive her degree as an educational diagnostician.
And in 2008, armed with information, strategies, and a clear sense that she was being called upon by her Higher Power to reach out to these children, Ogilvie resigned from teaching in the public schools. She opened Building Success, LLC, a tutoring and education service specializing in teaching children with dyslexia.
In a small office on Pope Street, Ogilvie began to get the word out that she was available to tutor students. Fiona Bailey, a teacher and the parent of a daughter with dyslexia, discovered Ogilvie when her daughter Margaret was in the fourth grade. Prior to that, with no tutors or teachers in town specializing in this disorder, Bailey had to act as both advocate and tutor to her daughter. Margaret had been diagnosed in the second grade, only after Bailey finally took her to Las Cruces for formal testing.
|Many famous people are known to have dyslexia. Ron Davis, author of the bestselling book The Gift of Dyslexia, believes they are not geniuses in spite of their dyslexia, but because of it: What is at the root of a person's difficulties with the written (and sometimes spoken) word is also at the essence of their creativity and brilliance in other areas.
Just a few of the well-known people with dyslexia are: Albert Einstein, Pablo Picasso, Steven Spielberg, Cher, Thomas Edison, Agatha Christie, Winston Churchill, Walt Disney and John F. Kennedy.
Finding Ogilvie, a teacher highly skilled in teaching dyslexic children, was "a godsend," says Bailey. "It was such a relief to finally feel like we weren't in this all alone. I had been tutoring Margaret for so long, and she really just wanted me to be her mom, not her tutor. Tamara gave Margaret her mommy back and brought her up to grade level in reading."
As awareness of her approach to teaching grew, more and more kids found their way to Ogilvie's office. In 2010, in addition to the intensive one-on-one instruction Ogilvie provided during the school year, she offered a three-week summer program that targeted students' deficit skills, but in a more social setting. She recruited two other teachers and that first summer, the Building Success Summer Program served 15 students. By 2012, Ogilvie had secured a team of teachers, all with master's degrees in reading and extensive teaching experience, to provide intensive skill development to what had by then grown to 50 summer students.
Ogilvie's dream of helping students with dyslexia had manifested, but she felt like it wasn't enough. There were too many students needing services and just her to offer after-school intervention during the school year. She needed funding; she needed time to write grants and seek donations; she needed a bigger building. She needed her tutoring services to be so much more than just tutoring.
"What I need," she thought, "is a miracle."
Just about the time that Ogilvie was spending sleepless nights wondering how to accomplish her mission of providing comprehensive services to children with dyslexia, George Lundy, a longstanding member and leader within the Silver City Masonic Lodge, was looking for a focus and a mission.
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