Published: July 9, 2020  |  

Dyslexia is a neurobiological learning disability characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often not in relation to other cognitive abilities; however, many students are mistakenly told they just need to work harder or get more general help (International Dyslexia Association, 2002). 

This scenario mirrors that of Kate Snedeker, a former BVSD student who couldn’t keep up the pace of curriculum in elementary school when reading became more the focus, and teacher conferences and report cards led to demoralization, despite understanding the material. 

One family’s perspective

When she was in sixth grade, her mother, Kristen, learned about dyslexia and saw some similarities in Kate’s experience; the diagnosis of “debilitating dyslexia” should have led to relief but instead emphasized how the lack of early intervention had now created a situation of playing catch up using time-consuming compensating strategies and 504 accommodations. 

Driven to prevent as much as possible the same situation for any other BVSD student, Kristen approached Impact on Education in 2019 with the idea of partnering to support students with dyslexia using early detection and intervention. Together with BVKID (Boulder Valley Kids Identified with Dyslexia) and BVSD, we concluded that the most effective way to address the need to help these students focused on teacher training in the Orton-Gillingham approach, a multisensory, explicit, sequential and diagnostic method of teaching literacy to dyslexic students.  We just needed funding.

So, Impact on Education created the Literacy Fund in late 2019, and with the help of the Boulder Valley community, we raised $50,000 to provide summer Orton-Gillingham training for 41 BVSD teachers and reading interventionists, enough to guarantee that every single school in BVSD can identify and support students with dyslexia, and no child should have to be told to just work harder, as Kate was told.

Taking place this week, the Zoom training mirrors the in-person training in its introduction of a concept via main meeting, demonstration of the concept, breaking of participants into small break-out groups, and interactive chat sessions. And with the distribution of all the materials, interventionists and teachers can use this approach with students as soon as the first week of school! 

Advocating for others

Now an advocate for younger students with dyslexia and college senior exploring a career in social justice, Kate is “happy to know that [my] own challenges helped to inspire a program at BVSD that may make lifelong differences in the lives of other students.” And this all started because Kristen, whose brother Blake Peterson served as a Board member, realized that our mission in working to overcome or eliminate barriers to success for all students might make this a program we would embrace. 

Kristen was right! Impact on Education exists to address critical needs and achievement gaps for all students in Boulder Valley’s public schools. With the Orton-Gillingham training that we are offering this week, we are proudly making big strides towards addressing the specific needs and overcoming the learning gaps for every BVSD student, including those with dyslexia. As the BVSD Director of Reading, Michelle Qazi shares, “Not only will learning the Orton-Gillingham approach help crack the code for those who have gaps in learning to read, but it is great teaching for all students at the universal level.” 

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