10 years of helping decode dyslexia - Philadelphia Inquirer - The 32° Masonic Dyslexia Learning Centers

By Rosalee Polk Rhodes
Philadelphia Inquirer Suburban Staff

July 25, 2004


Sherry Garwood knew when her daughter entered first grade that there was something wrong.

"I noticed that she was struggling and having a hard time," Garwood said.

Paige was having trouble reading. She hated books. When it was time for homework, Paige would hide under the table.

Garwood said that her 6-year-old's reading assignments called for her to read for about 20 minutes each day from books given to her by her teacher. But Paige would hide the books.

"She didn't want to read them," Garwood said.

A frustrated Garwood approached the guidance counselor at Wilbur Watts Intermediate School in Burlington City, asking for help for her daughter, who was doing poorly in all areas of study.

After testing at the school, it was determined that Paige had dyslexia, a learning disorder that impairs a person's perception or decoding of words.

Garwood, 38, said the counselor referred her to the Masonic Learning Center in Burlington Township, a program that specializes in individual tutoring for children with dyslexia.

Once Paige started the program, there was a remarkable difference in her school performance.

"It's been absolutely wonderful. They give her the specific tutoring that she needs," Garwood said.

The program is now in its 10th year, and Burlington Township's is one of six sites in the state. Others are located in Northfield, Hasbrouck Heights, Newark, Scotch Plains and Tenafly.

Joseph Berlandi, executive director of the Lexington, Mass.-based centers, said the program is sponsored by the 32d Degree Masons. It has an annual $8 million budget, provides the after-school tutoring programs for free, and training for teachers who handle the special needs of dyslexic children.

Berlandi said there are 47 centers in 15 states. Six more centers are expected to open across the nation in September.

"We've changed the lives of so many children and their families," Berlandi said of the nonprofit organization. "They get frustrated. It's amazing how quickly they learn to read and regain self-esteem. It brings tears to your eyes... helping those children."

Kathy Bostock, director of the Burlington learning center for seven years, said the demand for services is astounding.

"There's so much demand. We have up to a two-year waiting list," she said.

This year, 31 children, ranging from third grade through high school and from communities throughout South Jersey, attended the program. With the addition of two new teachers this fall, the staff will increase to four teachers. Student enrollment is expected to increase to 40. About 150 children have gone through the program.

Teachers are brought up to speed on the current levels of research, receive special training, and are certified to teach dyslexic children at Fairleigh Dickinson University, she said.

Bostock said the program simply teaches the "sound of language and the patterns of language" through two main methods: morphology, the meaning of language and words; and phonology, the decoding or sounding out of words.

"The children that we serve do not know how to decode words," she said.

Bostock, who has three children with dyslexia, said about 20 percent of the general population has a problem with decoding, but that only 7 percent to 10 percent are classified as dyslexic.

Most children are referred to the program by child study teams or are brought by parents searching for answers to their child's learning problems. And many come through word of mouth, Bostock said.

Bostock said early signs of dyslexia are delayed language development; trouble rhyming and putting words in order; and trouble changing letters in words.

"They shy away from books. They withdraw or act out," she said.

Garwood said dyslexia is something that Paige, now an 11-year-old honor student advancing to fifth grade, will always struggle with. She said the program, which Paige attends for an hour twice a week, has put her on steady footing.

"She loves going. She's happy to go there," Garwood said. "I can't say enough good things about the learning center. They have helped her a lot."