Windy Row helps children with dyslexia become stronger readers

Last modified: Sunday, December 23, 2012
PETERBOROUGH — Through interactive games and dance skits that incorporate a step-by-step approach to reading at the Windy Learning Center, children with dyslexia are learning how to read better and are doing so with greater confidence, said Greenfield Elementary School second grade teacher Sandy Aborn on Monday.

Aborn, a former Windy Row tutor, credits the educational programs at Windy Row with providing local children with dyslexia — a neurological-based learning disorder that makes it difficult for a person to read and interpret words — with the one-on-one training they need to succeed in the classroom, and in life. Windy Row tutors spark children’s interest with hands-on activities that give them the skills they need to read on their own, Aborn said.

But Windy Row’s doesn’t just provide after-school and summer tutoring sessions for children; the nonprofit agency offers specialized training for teachers, too. Aborn said she completed the teacher’s program a few years ago and, since then, has been able to better assist her students with dyslexia in the ConVal School District to recognize letters, the sounds they make, words and word sequences.

“I was a struggling reader, too, so I understand what [the children] are going through,” Aborn said. “It took me a long time to get to this place in my life and I want to make it easier for them. I want them to become better readers because being able to read opens doors.”

Established in 2003, Windy Row is the only one-on-one tutoring program in the Monadnock region for children with dyslexia and dyscalculia, the math equivalent of dyslexia. Windy Row’s supplemental education services are available to students in kindergarten through tenth grade throughout the Monadnock region.

Sharon Bailly, chair of Windy Row’s Board of Trustees, said in a recent interview with the Ledger-Transcript that approximately 10 percent of a given population is dyslexic and that symptoms of dyslexia typically exhibit themselves in second- or third-grade children. “Up until the second grade, they are learning to read, and after that they are reading to learn,” Bailly said, explaining that when children aren’t able to retain information questions about dyslexia arise.

Marilynne Hedstrom of Greenfield, who has been a tutor at Windy Row for eight years, said Wednesday that if children aren’t reading at grade level by the third grade they are likely to fall further and further behind their classmates.

“I see children who are not solid on letter sounds or how to write them,” she said, adding that distinguishing between certain letters, such as B and D, is often a difficulty she sees.

Hedstrom and Bailly said Windy Row has had great success in its use of visual, auditory and kinesthetic, or tactile, techniques taken from the internationally renowned multisensory Orton-Gillingham method, which was developed in the 1920s and 1930s by Dr. Samuel T. Orton and educator Anna Gillingham.

“One [Windy Row] tutor discovered that a child was much better able to read if the words were printed on yellow paper,” Bailly said. “Just a simple change like that enabled the child to better see the differences in the letters. It’s about knowing the child and encouraging out-of-the-box thinking.”

Having a systematic approach to teaching reading to students who are struggling is important, Aborn said. In one-on-one lessons with tutors, Aborn said children learn to decode text in traditional ways, such as, reading words off a page, as well as not so traditional ways, such as tracing letters in shaving cream or sand as they pronounce the words aloud.

Olivia Briggs, 12, of Sullivan, who now attends Surrey Village Charter School in Keene, told the Ledger-Transcript on Dec. 13 that tutors at Windy Row helped her sound out words and learn to spell better, after she had spent years struggling to read.

“I had trouble because I would look at the beginning of the word and not the full word,” she said. “I got my Bs and Ds mixed up.”

Olivia’s mom, Tiffany Briggs, said three years ago Olivia was in the fourth grade and still reading at a kindergarten level, but with the help of Windy Row she’s made great progress.

“She kept getting moved along in school, but she was missing chunks of what she needed to learn to be able to read,” Briggs said. “The teachers and aids that I met with said she was bright, that they’d done intelligence tests on her, but didn’t know what was wrong.”

But with one-on-one training with Windy Row tutors, Briggs said Olivia has more self-confidence today, and the resources she needs to read when she’s faced with challenging texts in the future.

Alyssa Dandrea can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 228 or adandrea@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter at @alyssadandrea.