Tutoring provides children with new hope for reading

Tutors help youngsters use their senses to comprehend language.
YOUNGSTOWN -- For most of us, the words on this page swiftly submit to understanding, and we take for granted our ability to read.
But for someone with dyslexia, words are foes that must be wrestled into submission before they will surrender their meaning.
In the basement of the Masonic Temple, a grandly ornate building on Wick Avenue, youngsters are being equipped for such battles.
The Masons have 53 centers nationwide, including the one in Youngstown, that provide free tutoring for children with the learning disability.
Dyslexia refers to a condition in which people have difficulty with language skills, particularly reading.
The International Dyslexia Association estimates that 45 million adults and children in the United States have some degree of the disability.
Dyslexia has nothing to do with a lack of intelligence or desire to learn, and its cause is murky. Studies have shown differences in the way a dyslexic person's brain develops and functions, the dyslexia association says.
The tutoring provided by the Masonic learning centers is critical in helping dyslexics cope with the disability, said J. Thomas Viall, the group's executive director.
"The children we work with need extra help" beyond their school classroom, said Margaret Biggs, director of Youngstown Masonic Learning Center.
About 30 to 35 youngsters per year receive tutoring at the facility.
One of them is Will Walters, a wiry 13-year-old who attends Jackson-Milton schools.
During a recent tutoring session, Walters clutched a green felt-tip pen as he squared off against a white marker board and followed the instructions of his tutor, Beth Pickens of Boardman.
Pickens, who also teaches third grade at Struthers schools, called out words. Will swiftly jotted them on a chart on the board, placing them depending on their root sound.
"Drag, stick, stop and truck" were among the words he categorized.
Flash cards were next. Moving through the deck like a poker player dealing a hand, Pickens displayed each card and Will matched sounds with letters.
His twin brother, Joe, was down the hall with his own tutor, going through similar drills.
The tutoring sessions -- held twice weekly for an hour each time -- have been helpful, said the boys' mother, Vickey.
"I've seen a big change with their reading," she said. "They're finding reading more fun."
That's what Biggs like to hear. The learning center's goal isn't to cure dyslexia; you can't.
Rather, the tutors try to equip youngsters with tools that enable them to grapple successfully with language.
They school their charges on how to master words using their senses of sight, sound and even touch, like when they have them both sound out a word and write it in sand, rice or clay.
Typically, it takes between two and three years of tutoring to fully acquire the skills necessary to manage dyslexia, Biggs said.
The disability can be frustrating for those who have it.
"They know they know things. But they can't read about them or write about them," Biggs said.
Without acquiring coping skills, many dyslexics are chained to a grim future, one in which they frequently fall short of their potential.
With tutoring, they not only receive practical training but a vital lesson in self-esteem that can be glimpsed in the way the youngsters carry themselves, Biggs said.
When they start tutoring, they come to their sessions with their heads down. As they learn language skills, they carry themselves more confidently, Biggs said. "They're smiling," she added.
One mother of a dyslexic told Biggs that her son had always thought about being a mechanic. Now that he's been tutored, he's talking about attending college.
Parents who suspect their child has the learning disability should first consult the youngster's teacher and get his or her perspective.
Schools can have a child's learning ability evaluated, which can help determine if the disability is present.
Anyone interested in his or her child's receiving tutoring at the Youngstown Masonic Learning Center should call (330) 743-7789.

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