Dyslexic Kids Program, 5/15/18. Photo by Melissa Fossum for Ahwatukee Foothills News.

State Rep. Jill Norgaard talked with preschoolers in the pilot dyslexic program at Kyrene de la Mariposa in Tempe last week. It’s the first of its kind in the country, she said.

State Rep. Jill Norgaard of Ahwatukee praised Kyrene School District’s creation of a pilot program to identify and help preschool children who are dyslexic.

Norgaard and state Superintendent of Schools Diane Douglas last week toured Kyrene de la Mariposa in Tempe, where they observed teachers interacting with and teaching the students.

“Watching the engagement of the student with the teachers was very uplifting and amazing,” said Norgaard, adding that she hopes such a program will eventually be in place at all elementary schools in the state.

Dyslexia is a general term for disorders that involve difficulty in learning to read or interpret words, letters and other symbols but that do not affect general intelligence.

Norgaard has taken an active interest in the development of programs aimed at identifying dyslexic children early so they can get help that will enable them to overcome the challenges of dyslexia. She succeeded last year in getting the state to adopt a handbook on dyslexia that is now available on the state Department of Education’s website, azed.gov/dyslexia.

“I am appreciative of Representative Norgaard’s leadership on this issue to bring together parents and education organizations from around the state to collaborate with ADE and develop this important new resource,” Douglas said of the handbook.

Norgaard said a comprehensive approach to identifying and helping children with dyslexia is long overdue – especially since the disorder can be diagnosed in children as young as 3.

“While visiting our schools, and looking at our reading scores, I started investigating the reasons for and discovered these students who are falling through the cracks – not only the younger students, but middle school and high schoolers as well,” she explained. “The federal government did not allow schools to discuss the ‘D word’ until December 2015.”

She said early intervention is critical, especially since 17 percent of all children are estimated to have some form of dyslexia.

“Many children go undiagnosed and struggle with reading forever,” she said. “Typically, students with dyslexia are extremely bright, and they get by, initially, by memorizing schoolwork. The dyslexia manifests itself as they get older, and have to embrace story problems where they have to do a lot of reading.”

Over the past couple of years, she said she has been working with a variety of experts and organizations on the problem, including First Things First, Read On Arizona, the Department of Education and the state Board of Education and parents of dyslexic children.

“We also reached out to ASU and are working with their Department of Speech and Hearing Science,” she said. “Their graduate students are working with our team and getting hands-on experience while the preschool students are getting the most innovation learning techniques from the university.”

The Mariposa Elementary program “is not only they first of its kind in Arizona, but the first of its kind in the USA,” Norgaard said, adding she and the rest of the team “will be objectively measuring  the results of this pilot program at Kyrene, and will develop a template to duplicate this program in ours and other districts.”

“I hope we can get the word out to parents, teachers and students to help diagnose these exceptional students so that their achievements can be fulfilled,” she said.

“We are asking for testimonials from the parents of the students that have been in the program this year,” she added. “A few parents who were there at the observation commented that ‘My child did not see this until third grade’ or ‘wish we had this when my child was here.’”

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