This morning, Voices’ board member Phil Jacobs (Founding Partner, Pendleton Consulting Group) testified in front of the Senate Study Committee on Dyslexia. The committee, created by SR 761, will work throughout the year to study community-based solutions to better identify and meet the needs of Georgia’s dyslexic students.

Dyslexia affects 1 in 5 Georgians. More students are affected by dyslexia than any other learning disability. Without proper intervention, children who are poor readers in first grade will continue to struggle into adulthood.

Phil was one of those kids, and he shared his personal experience with the committee.

“I am very fortunate to have enjoyed a successful business and personal life over the past 45 years. However, success was not something I experienced during the first 8 years of my academic life. From the time I entered first grade, until well into my 8th grade year, I struggled mightily in school. My teachers, friends and even my parents came to accept the notion, as did I, that I was simply not a very bright child. In fact, I had come to believe that I well below average when it came to academics.”

Phil has had an extremely successful business career. He spent 34 years at BellSouth/AT&T, serving as President of Small Business Services for AT&T’s Southeast region and President of BellSouth’s Georgia operations. He currently serves as the board chair of the Woodruff Arts Center, and sits on the boards of the Georgia Aquarium, the East Lake Foundation, AdvancED, the Emory Global Health Institute and Voices for Georgia’s Children.

Drawing on his experience, Phil presented the following recommendations to the study committee. The recommendations were developed by Voices, in conjunction with the Georgia Statewide Afterschool Network and Literacy for All.

We know that identifying any learning challenge early and intervening immediately is the best way to mitigate the effects of dyslexia and other barriers to learning. That’s why we should assess children for reading difficulties earlier than first grade, before children fall behind their peers.

While reading specialist teachers are trained in our state colleges and universities on how to identify reading difficulties and on ways to teach students how to read, we should provide training for ALL new teachers through the schools of education, relating to identifying dyslexia/reading problems and knowing how to teach students reading skills. There are many ways that children learn to read. Utilizing the techniques that teachers use to teach people with dyslexia to read can be used to effectively teach ALL people to read. For teachers that are currently in the classroom, Georgia can embrace the Cox Campus’ “Read Right from the Start” program that provides instruction to existing teachers on how to teach reading, free of charge, and use that model for teachers’ professional development.

Additional recommendations include:

Work with the new Sandra Dunagan Deal Center for Early Language and Literacy to ensure training for teachers on identification of dyslexia and how to teach dyslexic students. The Sandra Deal Center anticipates working with the schools of education to prepare teachers in the early grades, but this training should be included for all new teachers. Similarly, the Center is preparing online training for teachers who are working in K-3rd grades, that, once developed and online, should also be available to all teachers.

Literacy coaches are a great way to help children of all ages who have not been diagnosed and missed early intervention. Greater state and local investment in public school literacy coaches could really make a difference.

Finally, quality afterschool and summertime programs can not only support children in academics, but can also build life skills and self esteem that enhances learning and the drive to understand, explore, and engage in the world around them. Increasing state support of afterschool and summer programming for early education as well as school-age kids could really change the playing field.

Voices for Georgia’s Children will continue to follow the Senate Study Committee on Dyslexia and post updates on progress the state is making to identify and intervene with our state’s youngest learners to ensure they have a solid start in life.

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