As a first grader, Faith dreamed of growing up to be a babysitter. She loved caring for other kids and knew she would want to be around them as an adult. Now, as a fifth grader, Faith dreams of growing up to be a teacher. She still loves caring for kids, but now she has a more defined mission: helping kids learn how to read.

Faith and her two brothers all have dyslexia. So, even before she started school herself, Faith saw the struggle that Billy, who is a year older than she is, went through learning to read.

Students with dyslexia learning
At his private school, Billy is surrounded by students like himself. They do not bully or tease him for being different.

Billy had been in pre-K for two years before he started school, so Rebecca, his mom, was surprised when his kindergarten teacher reported that he was behind the other students and couldn’t keep up with them. The teacher believed it was due to ADHD, but the Conway Psychological Assessment Center said while he had some characteristics of ADHD, the main problem looked like possible dyslexia.

CPAC referred him back to the district school for dyslexia screening. The district told the family that they did not have anyone to do a dyslexia screening at the school, leaving the parents at a loss for what to do next.

“I was new to this and didn’t know what was going on,” Rebecca said. “My husband and I knew something had to give. He was so behind in reading and writing, and everything we were doing at home was not helping him.”

Rebecca connected with the Arkansas Dyslexia Support Group, which helped her find someone able to do the screening. The result made it evident that Billy is severely dyslexic and has a speech language delay.

The family was relieved that they found some answers, but it still took them from October to May to get him set up with an intervention at the school. He started intervention using the Phonics First reading program during the last two weeks of kindergarten.

They continued with the same intervention through second grade, but he was still not making any progress. By the time he was going into third grade, he was still reading at an early kindergarten level.

Billy’s parents knew something different needed to be done, but they did not agree that the schools’ push to identify him as mentally disabled or put him in a self-contained classroom was the answer. Dyslexia advocate Audie Alumbaugh helped get the correct IQ test for students with dyslexia, and Billy tested in the average-to-above-average area, ruling out the mental disability.

On top of his academic struggles, bullies targeted Billy due to his differences, going so far as to kick out some of his teeth.

Students with dyslexia learn
Now, Faith dreams of becoming a teacher so she can help kids learn to read!

By this time, Faith had also started school. Rebecca was quick to point out that she showed the same signs of speech delay and dyslexia that her brother had, but there was still a delay in getting her intervention. By the end of first grade, the school was recommending that she be held back.

Unsurprisingly, both Billy and Faith hated school. Rebecca said getting them up every morning and making them go to school was a struggle. She continued searching for help and found the Succeed Scholarship, a program that provides funding for students with learning disabilities to attend private schools.

They applied for the scholarship, and while they waited to hear if they would get it, they went through the admissions process at the Hannah School, which specializes in teaching students with dyslexia.

The process included a shadow day, where students would spend a half day on campus to see if it would be an appropriate fit. On the next day, Billy and Faith popped up out of bed on time for once and were ready to go in record time.

When the car pulled up in front of their normal district school, Billy burst into tears and refused to get out of the car. They had both thought they were going to the new school.

“They knew everyone there was like them,” Rebecca said. “Everyone there had the same issues. No one there would be picking on them or making fun of them for the way they talked. … Just knowing that they were other people out there that didn’t know to read helped.”

Billy and Faith had seen what life could be like in a learning environment dedicated to helping students just like themselves, so finishing the last four weeks at their district school was tough. Thankfully, they both received Succeed Scholarships, and were able to transfer to the new school the following year.

Now, Billy is in sixth grade and Faith is in fifth grade, and Rebecca said both are making tremendous progress with the DuBard Association Method and the Wilson Reading System that are used at the school to help students overcome dyslexia.

On the KTEA, the private school’s version of benchmark testing, Billy is testing on the same level and even above other students his age in some areas. Neither of them could read Bob Books, simple books with three-letter words and patterns, by the time they started at the private school, but now they are reading chapter books with improved fluency and comprehension.

Faith loves school and reading, especially the “Babysitters Club” and “Dork Diaries” books.

Students with dyslexia learning
Grace has learned that having dyslexia is not a disability – it’s a different ability.

Like Faith, Gracie, another Succeed Scholarship student, has dreams of becoming a teacher, but a few years ago, that would never have seemed to be possible.

Gracie’s mom, Jullie, first noticed some signs of dyslexia, like Gracie not picking up on rhyming, during pre-K. Everyone told her it was just due to age, and it would correct itself over time. Gracie struggled in some areas in kindergarten, but it was again attributed to her age. The district school said the gap would close in time.

It didn’t. In first grade, Gracie started regressing, and the harder she tried — and failed — the lower her self-confidence dropped. Eventually, she shut down.

“Gracie left first grade a broken child, made to feel she should know how to do this work but could not,” Jullie said. “She was not getting the help she needed. We call this ‘the nightmare year.’”

The struggles continued into second and third grade, with Alumbaugh helping the family get the appropriate screening. Alumbaugh also helped the family win due process, which is like a courtroom trial between a family and school over a child’s educational rights. This win resulted in changes being made to the reading curriculum at the district school.

“The first four years of Gracie’s schooling were met with hesitation, frustration, defeat, delays and the feeling of helplessness not only for Gracie but for me as well,” Jullie said. “To watch my child being destroyed by a system that says, ‘No child left behind’ was gut wrenching. I will never ever regret fighting for my child’s right to a free appropriate public education. It is not only my child who wins, but every child with dyslexia disabilities who wins. With the correct teaching, curriculum and guidance, disabilities can become abilities.”

By fourth grade, it was clear that Gracie needed a change of environment, and her parents moved her to the same private school that Billy and Faith attend.

“[This] has been the best thing we could have done for our daughter,” Jullie said. “Gracie has worked so hard this past year, and it shows. Gracie is reading, gaining confidence, loves going to school, and her self-esteem is soaring. More importantly, Gracie is thriving.”

The Reform Alliance (TRA), the education nonprofit that administers the Succeed Scholarship on behalf of the state, has heard many stories of students like these getting left behind due to learning differences like dyslexia.

“We would love for all district schools to be equipped and able to help students overcome dyslexia, but sometimes students need a different learning environment or techniques that may not be available in their assigned district,” TRA Managing Director Emmy Henley said.

“That’s why the Succeed Scholarship is so important. It gives students the opportunity to dream bigger and achieve a greater future than anyone originally thought was possible.”

Resources for more info!

  • The Succeed Scholarship is program that provides funding for K-12 students with learning disabilities to attend private schools. It is also available for students in foster care and those from military families. For more information, click here.
  • Would you like to read more stories about students overcoming learning differences? Check out our Faces of Freedom posts!