Local foundation helps students with dyslexia learn

The Park School offers multi-sensory approach to reading, writing

WINTER PARK, Fla. – According to the organization Dyslexia Help, dyslexia is one of the most common learning disabilities, affecting nearly 20% of the population, but one local mom discovered finding resources can be difficult.

That’s why she started The REED Charitable Foundation. The non-profit provides support and scholarships for private tutoring, teacher training and professional development.

Jennifer Knopf says her son, Reed, was diagnosed with dyslexia two years ago after struggling in school.

“He had a bad experience in school, to be honest with you, where a teacher was really...difficult with him. And his name is Reed, and students were making fun of him and saying, ‘Reed can’t read,’” she said.

Knopf opted for private educational testing, which she says can cost as much as $2,000 locally. On top of that, she says, students with dyslexia often need private tutoring.

“The vast majority of schools do not offer the type of instruction these kiddos need and that all kiddos benefit from. So after school, instead of having after-school activities, I’d have to take Reed to tutoring and he wasn’t getting to be a little boy anymore. And after tutoring he’d need to do homework and homework can be very laborious and take a lot of time. And I thought, ‘Gosh, how do families do this?’ because even with our family, with resources, it was a struggle and everyone in the family was feeling it," she said.

Knopf’s son then transferred to The Christ School, one of two schools in the greater Orlando area teaching the Orton-Gillingham Approach. A new school serving only dyslexic students called The Park School also teaches it.

"Students are taught the rules of how to read, write and spell and they're presented in a multi-sensory fashion, meaning they're up moving. They're engaging all their senses, their sight, their touch, their sounds," said Mary-Elizabeth Langston, co-founder of The Park School.

Knopf says the change in her son brings her to tears.

"You go from a child who is struggling every day to a child who reads billboards. I think as parents we all remember that moment where our child reads something you weren't asking them to read and asks you a question, and you feel pride for them. Reed has been delayed, but it is happening now," she said.

Administrators at the Park School say often when they first meet parents, parents have been told maybe their child is lazy or isn’t trying hard enough in school. And that’s a warning sign to perhaps consider testing.

“It’s not natural for people to be lazy. I caution educators or parents to call their own child or their learner lazy,” said Jennifer Disch, founder of Engage the Brain and co-founder of The Park School. “Everybody wants to produce their best. Everybody wants to be successful at what they’re given. That to me is a definite red flag that if a teacher is calling the student lazy or unmotivated or says they need to try harder. Those to me are key words that there is more going on than those ambiguous words that have no value.”

And while Knopf says receiving any kind of diagnosis can be scary, her son found it empowering.

“There’s nothing wrong with him. Dyslexia is just a natural variation of the brain, just like being an incredible athlete, some people are going to have that skill set and some people aren’t. Dyslexia is the same way. It makes reading, writing and spelling more difficult, but we absolutely know how to help support that,” she said. “And with it comes incredible gifts and strengths. Dyslexics are responsible for the innovation not just in our country, but in the world. They tend to be super creative and empathetic. Their brains come with incredible gifts and talents and that’s what we need to be talking to our kiddos about.”

The REED Charitable Foundation is holding its first fundraiser this weekend. The event is sold out, but sponsorship opportunities are available. The group also holds free informational sessions for the community. The next one is in January. You can learn more about the foundation here.

The Park School is currently enrolling for next year. If you’d like more information, click here.

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