Dyslexic students embrace Odyssey

October 29, 2006|By Cassandra A. Fortin | Cassandra A. Fortin,Special to The Sun

Henry Jones was searching his classroom for items that begin with the letter "p."

He found a panda, pot, picture, pepper, pencil and a pumpkin.

Then the 6-year-old put the items on a table, sat down and began to color a picture.

When he finished coloring, his teacher, Cindy Lemieux, asked him to name all of the items he found. One by one, she held up the items and Henry identified them.

Then Lemieux picked two items - a toy train and a flowerpot - and placed them in front of him.

"Which one of these two things begin with the same sound as pig?" she asked.

Henry sounded out the words.

"T-t-train," he said. " Puh-puh-pot." He repeated both words out loud and then said, "Pot! Pot begins with the same sound as pig."

The activity is a sampling of the multisensory lessons that Henry receives at The Odyssey School.

The school is designed for children up to eighth grade who have, or are at risk for, dyslexia, a learning disability involving difficulties in language processing.

And Henry is one of five pupils enrolled in the school's newest offering, an intensive early intervention program that was added this year; it is designed for 5- and-6-year-olds who exhibit specific language and literacy difficulties.

"Dyslexia can't be diagnosed when a child is 5 or 6 years old, but early red flags for dyslexia are recognizable by that time," Lemieux said.

After years of discussing the implementation of the early remediation program that targets children without a formal diagnosis of dyslexia, the program was initiated after an increasing amount of research showed that early intervention is key to a child's success, said Martha Dewey, the director of admissions at the school.

To enroll, potential students must fill out an application and be accepted into the school; tuition is $24,660. The application must include a full psychological evaluation, referral forms and a math evaluation filled out by the child's current teacher. Also, candidates must be of average or above-average intelligence.

Further, to enroll in the early intervention program, students must have exhibited some of the early warning signs of dyslexia, including: delay in speaking; first words or phrases spoken late; frequent mispronunciations of words, such as saying "posital" instead of "hospital"; insensitivity to rhyme; trouble learning the alphabet and the sounds of letters; or a family history of dyslexia.

Applicants also must show evidence of strengths in higher-level thinking skills, such as curiosity, eagerness to grasp new concepts and comprehension skills.

The 5-year-old pupils are observed in the classroom environment by a panel of specialists, while the older students must complete a shadow visit.

The demand for the school at any level has increased since its inception in a Roland Park house in 1994. The school started with about 20 students who were on the waiting list to get into the Jemicy School in Owings Mills, which also offers a program for dyslexic children.

But once the inaugural class size quadrupled to 83 pupils, school officials decided they needed a larger facility. About that same time, Greenspring Investment Group LLC donated 42 acres to the school. They broke ground on the main school building at the Stevenson location in 2001 and opened for students in 2002.

Operating on a $4.4 million budget, the school has 66 faculty and staff members, and 162 pupils are enrolled in all the programs, said Dewey.

The school contains 18 classrooms, a library, tutoring rooms, performing arts center, an art room, a music room, two science labs, a computer lab, a lunchroom, a gymnasium, an activity room, two playing fields and a playground.

The academic lessons are presented in visual, auditory and tactile modes that are then reinforced in individual or two-person tutoring sessions.

Students move up to the next level when they are ready, Dewey said.

"Kids can stay in one level for more than one year," said Dewey. "What we try to do is help the students make a positive transition into an environment where they can advocate for themselves. We work to make every child understand that they are worthwhile and smart."

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