This week the Frisco Independent School District became the first public school system in the country to earn international accreditation to independently train certified dyslexia teachers, known officially as Certified Academic Language Therapists (CALTs).
Until now, all other institutions to receive international accreditation have been colleges and universities, or hospital systems.
"The strength of our dyslexia program and being recognized as an accredited dyslexia therapist training center is a testament to the passion and commitment of our dyslexia therapists and leadership," said Katie Kordel, Frisco ISD chief academic officer, in a prepared statement.
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Dyslexia is the most common learning disorder, affecting upwards of 1 in 5 Americans. As a result there is a constant demand in the nation’s schools for qualified language therapists.
"There is a shortage of dyslexia therapists in the state, and as Frisco grows our need for teachers grows. And so it will help us to have a pool of candidates that we have trained and that we know have the skills to help the students," said Cherie Howell, the dyslexia coordinator for the Frisco ISD.
On a daily basis, more than 1,000 students in the Frisco ISD take part in dyslexia class, a focused therapy led by a CALT who helps the students better learn to read, write and spell.
Lesha Stallons is a CALT who leads daily sessions at Frisco ISD’s Scott Elementary. After previously working as a special education teacher, Stallons decided to focus her career on students with dyslexia.
Stallons said she looks forward to helping other teachers learn the skills and techniques she has mastered over the past two years of training, which have revolutionized her understanding of what works for her students and what does not.
"And so when we train teachers that have been in the classroom for years they are often upset because they are like, 'Why did we not know this when we were in the classroom? We could’ve helped so many kids,'" Stallons said.
It is a common misconception that people with dyslexia see things differently; that they may see some letters reversed – for example, that they might read a letter "b" as a letter "d" – or that they jumble the letters of a word together – that they see the word "was" but read it as "saw."
But that is not the case, according to the latest thinking on the subject.
People with dyslexia see things the same way everyone else does. Theirs is a processing problem.
"It is a problem with understanding how to decode words they don’t know. They can’t properly connect sounds to letters," said Howell, the dyslexia coordinator.
The daily dyslexia therapy that the students in the Frisco ISD undergo is tailored to their needs, and is designed to help them make the proper connections.
"Because they have to work harder they learn a work ethic that sometimes our other students don’t always get, so they can be very resourceful and incredibly resilient," said Howell, whose young adult son has dyslexia yet went on to graduate with an English literature degree from Texas A&M University.