EDUCATION: Specialty school reaching out to area children with dyslexia
Children in the Sandhills region who struggle with dyslexia may soon be able to find specialized help a little closer to home.
Longleaf Academy in Southern Pines is establishing a satellite program of the Durham-based Hill Center, which has been recognized for its work in helping people deal with dyslexia — a learning disability which makes reading difficult and sometimes nearly impossible.
Jill Dejak, the school's principal and reading specialist, said that to relieve local parents of the long drive to Durham, she's working on partnering with public and private schools in Lee, Moore and possibly Cumberland counties to let students go to their home school for half the day and to Longleaf Academy for the other half.
Dejak said she knows better than most how dyslexia affects students, since she has a severe case herself.
"At 22, I was reading at about a sixth-grade level — but my comprehension was at a college level," said Dejak, who now has a master's degree in reading education. "... They tested me and said, 'If we read Shakespeare to her, she can understand it and get the references, but she can't decode it."
Struggling to overcome her own reading issues got her interested in helping others deal with the disorder, which she said is often under-diagnosed and can lead to students dropping out of school and getting into trouble. That, she said, is why she's interested in teaming up with schools in the area. Not all the partnerships are official yet — including with Lee County Schools — but Dejak said several students from Sanford's Grace Christian School have already signed up.
Anne Sessoms, Lee County Schools director of exceptional education, said the district doesn't track how many students specifically have dyslexia. They're grouped into the broader count of students with disabilities, although she said dyslexia is quite prevalent among that group. Lee County Schools wasn't officially on board as of Wednesday, but Sessoms said that's mainly because she's busy wrapping things up at the end of the year and hasn't had the chance to have an in-depth discussion with Dejak yet.
"I see no reasons not to take part in the partnership," Sessoms said.
She said the public schools have programs in place to help dyslexic children tackle whichever specific issue or issues they have, but this partnership could help as well.
And although the children are legally included in the exceptional education program, Dejak said that doesn't mean she and other educators go easy on them. In fact, she said, students must have at least an average IQ to enroll in Longleaf Academy, which specifically deals with learning disabilities.
"We don't water down the curriculum," she said. "We just teach it in a way so they can grasp the concepts."