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Cheri Rae: Library Addresses Community’s Dyslexia Needs

Filled with information and resources, the Santa Barbara Public Library serves individuals in all parts of the community, even those who struggle to read.

The adult literacy program is almost legendary under the leadership of Beverly Schwartzberg, and her consistent efforts to train and maintain a full roster of tutors to address this critical need.

Recently, she’s done even more to address one of the most significant underlying causes for literacy challenges — dyslexia.

As the mother of son with dyslexia, and a longtime advocate for other sons and daughters, I welcome this focus on the hereditary neurological learning difference, which affects 1 in 5 individuals.

I gratefully assisted Schwartzberg as she applied for and received an Adult Education Block Grant through Santa Barbara City College last year to focus on training tutors in the specific approach to teach dyslexic students and adults in our community.

This is important because this time-honored reading approach — known as Orton-Gillingham — is not typically taught in schools, in this community and elsewhere.

Without consistent instruction in this explicit, multisensory, structured, evidence-based approach to reading, individuals with dyslexia struggle unnecessarily with reading, writing and spelling, and find it almost impossible to reach full potential in school.

Turns out, reading really is rocket science, requiring mastery of many skills simultaneously.

Students with dyslexia often have great difficulty, particularly with phonemic awareness and decoding, in essence cracking the code of the 26 letters and 44 sounds of the English language.

And here's what adds to the problem: Seeking help outside of school is prohibitively expensive.

Orton-Gillingham-trained educational professionals in private practice charge upward from $60 an hour, and many charge much more than that.

This makes the cost of teaching a dyslexic child to read — which may take far more than 200 hours of instruction — beyond the financial means for too many families.

Enter the library’s program to make appropriate tutoring services more available in our community since too many dyslexic students (who may not know the source of their struggles) are stuck in well-meaning after-school programs that may help with daily homework, but do little to address their lack of reading skills.

As part of the lead-up to this training, we recently hosted a panel discussion, My Life With Dyslexia.

The program featured four successful dyslexic adults including architect Paul Zink, Santa Barbara High School athletic director Joe Chenoweth, graphic designer Christine Feldman and pastry chef Jordan Thomas who shared their stories.

The generosity and openness of these role models made the evening a success, attracting a crowd of 50 parents, students, and individuals with dyslexia.

As one mother commented, “Last night was so inspiring. It was so cool for my dyslexic son to see adults who are so successful, yet who share his struggles.”

That’s part of the beauty of this collaborative work to bring dyslexia out of the shadows of mystery and confusion and into focus with understanding and research-based instruction.

For my part, I’ll be doing everything I can to support the library in this heroic effort to meet our community need to address dyslexia — and suggest you do the same.

Parents, educators, tutors and community members are welcome to sign up to take on this challenge to learn how to help even just one dyslexic child or adult learn to read, and make all the difference in their lives.

The first session of this 18- hour free training is scheduled for May 20 and 21 and June 3; two more sessions will be scheduled: For information, call 564-5619 or visit [email protected].

Cheri Rae is the director of Dyslexia Santa Barbara and the author of “DyslexiaLand.” Contact her at 455-7911 or [email protected]

— Cheri Rae is an author, writer and longtime resident of Santa Barbara’s Bungalow Haven neighborhood. The opinions expressed are her own.

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