New literacy program at Drew Elementary helps kids read while teaching science


Students at the inaugural Dyslexic Edge Academy at Drew Elementary School (Photo courtesy of Krista Gauthier)

(Update, 2:50 p.m.) A new free literacy program has arrived at Drew Elementary School thanks to local nonprofit Sliding Doors, Virginia Tech and the local branch of the NAACP.

Dyslexic Edge Academy launched this week with 11 first graders at Drew Elementary in Green Valley. The aim is to help pupils who have difficulty reading by focusing on their strengths.

“People with dyslexia tend to gravitate and be very good at STEM fields; science, technology, engineering and mathematics, ” Krista Gauthier, executive director of Merrifield-based Sliding Doors, told ARLnow. “What we want to do is not only make sure children get the evidence-based education they need, but also play to their strengths. For us, trust is as important as reading.

Students meet with instructors after school in a group setting twice a week for 90 minutes. Half of the session is devoted to one-on-one tutoring using the Orton-Gillingham approach, which breaks down reading and spelling using multisensory skills such as sounds and hand movements. The other half of the session is devoted to STEM related projects.

STEM activities include everything from cooking chemistry to rockets, robotics and coding, ”says Gauthier.

It could mean making mud, building model rockets, or operating an underwater robot, she says. It is hoped that field visits to the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency and the Smithsonian could also be part of the program in the future.

As the program begins with 11 students, it is expected to have 20 by the start of next year. The pilot program will run until at least May 2023.

About 20% of the population suffers from some form of dyslexia, according to statistics from the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity. Yet many school systems have not adapted to support these students, and one-to-one tuition can be prohibitively expensive, says Symone Walker, co-chair of the education committee for the Arlington branch of the NAACP.

She believes this is one of the main reasons there is such a lack of opportunity at some schools in Arlington, including Drew Elementary.

“We really wanted to target a population that was disproportionately affected by the achievement gap,” says Walker. “We know full well how Drew has been historically ignored, looked up to in the community, and we wanted to give back where we saw the greatest need.”

Walker and Gauthier both say that the gaps in opportunity and achievement that exist in county schools have a lot to do with reading achievement and the way schools teach literacy.

Dyslexic Edge Academy will use the Orton-Gillingham multisensory approach to teaching reading, as opposed to the balanced literacy approach that is currently taught in Arlington Public Schools.

“When we talk about multisensory, we are talking about big movements,” says Gauthier. “We actually use something called” skywriting “meaning the child forms the letter in the air… they actually say the letter, repeat the letter, tie the sound to the letter . “

Plus, incorporating cool STEM-related projects into learning helps students gain confidence.

“They’re really starting to associate something that they’re struggling with, with something that they love,” Gauthier says. “It really makes them want to read too. “

As Walker points out, many NASA employees suffer from some form of dyslexia. In fact, that includes more than half of NASA employees, according to the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity.

“We want to produce more Arlingtoners who work for NASA,” she said.

About Shirley L. Kreger

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