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Decoding Dyslexia: Utah Mom, School Push For Stronger Reading Interventions In Public Schools

TOOELE, Utah — Experts said one in six children in the U.S. who are not reading well in third grade don’t graduate and one Utah mom is pushing for progress in our public schools.

If you could put resilience in a backpack, Phoebe Beacham would.

“His preschool teacher said, ‘he should really be able to count to ten,'” Beacham said. Early literacy is a bigger problem in Utah than some might think and Beacham’s 12-year-old son, Walter, started having problems early on.

“In first grade, I got upset a lot,” he said.

He and his brother Emmett have dyslexia, a brain disorder that causes difficulty reading. Getting them help has been tough.

To bridge the gap, Beacham goes to their school in Tooele and tutors them daily. But she said many kids with reading deficiencies aren’t getting the specialized help they need.

“First through third, they’re learning to read. And fourth and above, they’re reading to learn and if they aren’t reading they aren’t getting the information that they need,” Beacham said. “We know that if we catch it in kindergarten or first grade that the remediation is much quicker and easier. It would be fantastic if all teachers were trained at least to identify the symptoms.”

Overall, only 41% of Utah fourth-graders perform at or above proficient in reading, but that’s still slightly higher than the national average, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. To improve that, Phoebe heads Decoding Dyslexia Utah, a grassroots movement to improve interventions in public schools.

She said she would like to see more schools taking Edison Elementary School’s unique approach.

“School-wide interventions for all kiddos,” said Sue Damm, principal at Edison Elementary. They offer specialized classrooms with tutors devoted to reading proficiency. “We are really looking at every student, looking at where they’re struggling with reading, where they’re being successful with reading, and moving them from where they are to where they need to be.”

“A lot of these students feel a little inadequate in their classrooms,” said Heather Murri, coordinator of the Spire Reading Intervention Program at Edison Elementary. “They come into this reading intervention, they get the strategies, and recognize that they actually are successful.”

“If a student is struggling, we determine where they’re struggling, how we’re going to attack that struggle, and we give them those interventions,” Damm said.

And Damm said it’s working.

Students at Edison Elementary in Salt Lake City who struggle with reading get help in specialized classrooms.

“What we want to see is growth,” she said. “It may not take one year but one or two years, we can get you back up to proficiency.”

Walter and Emmett are succeeding, too. They’re proud to be reading at benchmark now.

It’s that kind of reading confidence Beacham hopes all kids in Utah’s public schools can achieve.

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