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New Program Aims to Target Disabilities Like Dyslexia Early

By Nicholas Rizzi | April 19, 2016 11:22am
 Chancellor Carmen Fariña toured a print-based disabilities pilot program at P.S. 57.
Staten Island P.S. 57
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CLIFTON — A pilot program targeting learning disabilities such as dyslexia is aiming to intervene early enough to help students avoid needing special education services.

During a tour of P.S. 57 in Clifton, one of seven schools in the city that launched an initiative to teach children with print-based disabilities, Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña said the classes will help students deal with their condition.

"Our goal is that kids will not need services until they go to college," she said.

"That's one of our goals with this program — intervene early, intervene specifically and explicitly and then move on to something else."

The pilot was launched in September and uses a method called Orton-Gillingham that teaches the basics of word formations before students begin reading.

Teachers try to give students phonetic awareness in class by teaching them common groups of letters in words — like dge — so they can easily recognize them.

In one P.S. 57 class, teacher Laura O'Brian had students use their bodies to make the shapes of letters before writing them down to help them remember them in the future.

"We can't have 'one-on-one' [teaching] forever," Fariña said.

"Eventually, you build a repertoire — almost like automatic repertoire for students — so that they can figure out their own knowledge."

In the summer, teachers involved in the program took part in a two-week training course.  They get extra training once a week, P.S. 57 Principal Karyn Lind said.

Since it was introduced to several classrooms, Lind said teachers have seen improvements in their students and the school hopes to expand it next year.

"The students are more engaged, it gives them that phonetic awareness with decoding," she said.

Borough President James Oddo, who joined Fariña on the tour and has pushed to open a school specifically for dyslexic students in the borough, said he's now working with local colleges to teach future teachers the skills to give these lessons.