You wake up by 5 am and hit the road by 6 am. You deal with traffic, road work and/or bad weather on your one hour (or longer) commute. You’re gone all day, work hard and get home around 6 pm, maybe later. It takes a chunk out of family time in the evening. You rush through supper, then head to bed to start it all over the next day.
This sounds like the commute for a worker in the city. You’re thinking a nurse, a police officer or a factory worker might have this kind of schedule.
However in Mississippi, many children with Dyslexia are making that commute every day just to get to a school that meets their needs—and that’s just for those fortunate enough to make the trip. There are even more that can’t get to the school that would best suit their needs.
According to the International Dyslexia Association, Dyslexia is a language-based learning disability that describes a cluster of symptoms that result in issues with certain language skills and reading. Dyslexia can be spotted in children who have difficulty in reading, spelling, writing and pronouncing words. Oftentimes, children with Dyslexia will need certain therapies and support that won’t be found in a traditional classroom.
Crystal Brewer is a school counselor for Simpson Central School (K-8), which is part of the Simpson County School District in Pinola, Mississippi. She has three children and one of them, Kinsey, has Dyslexia. She failed the state-mandated Dyslexia screening, which is conducted by approved screeners in the Spring semester of Kindergarten and the Fall semester of First Grade.
“When we went for her results and they told us that she had met criteria to be diagnosed with Dyslexia, we were overwhelmed,” said Brewer.
Dyslexia can require more than a few failed spelling tests to diagnose. The Dyslexia Center at Mississippi College offers Dyslexia evaluations. Once a diagnosis is in place, an individualized plan can be put in place to help children with Dyslexia learn to cope with and rise above the condition.
In Mississippi, students diagnosed with Dyslexia may receive the Dyslexia Therapy Scholarship. This amounts to $5,000 to be used for students to get therapies necessary to increase success in the classroom and in the ability to cope with the symptoms of Dyslexia.
The Mississippi Department of Education website states that the following school districts receive a three-year Dyslexia Grant, which supports public schools and teachers in assisting general education students with Dyslexia and other related disorders. It is important to note that not all of these schools have the services students with dyslexia need:
- Hattiesburg Public School District (9 schools)
- Jones County School District (10 schools)
- Lauderdale County School District (12 schools)
- Prentiss County School District (7 schools)
- Smith County School District (4 schools)
- South Tippah School District (5 schools)
- Tupelo Public School District (13 schools)
There are also non-public schools that can accept students using the Dyslexia Therapy Scholarship:
- Magnolia Speech School: Jackson
- New Summit School: Jackson
- North New Summit: Greenwood
- South New Summit: Hattiesburg
- Petal 3D School: Petal
- Gulf Coast 3D School: Ocean Springs
Because of the limited number of schools that are able to assist students with Dyslexia, many parents are forced to make incredible sacrifices and tough decisions, to get their students the assistance they need.
For the Brewer family, Kinsey would be best suited at 3-D School in Petal.
“They told us that she would meet criteria to attend school there and asked if we would like a tour, which we accepted,” said Brewer. “This (the 3-D School) was the best we could do for her.”
But getting Kingsley there wouldn’t be easy. There are 71 miles separating the 3-D School in Petal and Simpson Central in Pinola, where Brewer works. Brewer said that by the time the tour had ended and they were back in the car, the family had already started working together to strategize how Kinsey would get back and forth to school every day.
“We were blessed that my husband works for family and that I had a mother and mother-in-law who did not work. Between them, we were able to get Kinsey to and from the 3D school for 3 years,” said Brewer. “There were only a handful of times that I left work early or arrived late to take her or pick her up because no one else was available. We were blessed to have family who helped us make this a reality for her and the financial means to send her there and transport her.”
However, not all Mississippi families of children with Dyslexia have the same option.
“I knew of several families who had literally moved to Petal in order for their children to attend the school,” said Brewer. “One parent would stay with the dyslexic child in Petal during the week so they could attend the 3D School while the other parent remained in their hometown with the other children in their family. Not all parents can or will make those kinds of sacrifices.”
Kinsey’s story ends on a high note, unlike many others across Mississippi.
“Her years at the 3D school were wonderful. Dr. Holifield and the teachers there were so patient, caring, and knowledgeable. I watched her bloom into a kid who was not only competent as a learner but more importantly confident as a learner,” said Brewer.
After three years, Kinsey was transitioned back into the traditional public school.
“The first year there was stress and adjustment, but she met it head-on. The biggest stressor for her was the state tests, but she had extended time which helped ease her nerves somewhat. Each year she has gotten stronger and more confident,” Brewer said. “ She was on the honor roll throughout her 6th-grade year and this year I had a teacher tell me that if she didn’t know that Kinsey was dyslexic, she would never guess because of how well she is doing in her class.”
With such a limited amount of schools with the ability to cater to the needs of children with dyslexia, Brewer said there’s another way to approach the need.
“I think the 3D school is a beautiful model and in an ideal world, the state would fund these types of schools for children diagnosed with dyslexia,” said Brewer. “I do, however, believe that many of the strategies and principles that were used at the 3D school could be utilized in the public school setting with dyslexic children.”
Brewer said she’s not sure that it would happen to that scale.
“It would take funding and at this stage, the legislators do not even fully fund the Mississippi Adequate Education Plan, so unless districts have the tax base and choose to prioritize these services, the burden rests solely with the parents to seek out and secure these types of services for their children,” said Brewer.