Literacy Push: Partnership provides dyslexia screenings

Thomas Lynn | The Valdosta Daily TimesKiana Williams, a Valdosta State University graduate student, and Karen Noll, VSU assistant professor, help administer a dyslexia screening for a kindergartener at S.L. Mason Elementary School. 

VALDOSTA — Kindergarteners at S.L. Mason Elementary School were screened for literacy difficulties by Valdosta State University graduate students recently as part of a new partnership.

With the help of the Scottish Rite Foundation of Georgia, all 700-plus kindergarten students in the Valdosta City School system will be screened for literacy difficulties such as dyslexia. Valdosta State University, Scottish Rite and Valdosta City Schools celebrated their new partnership at the VSU Speech and Hearing Clinic across from the hospital.

Dr. Matt Carter, VSU assistant professor, said the partnership will allow the clinic to stretch beyond its walls and into the community.

The clinic has served thousands of people throughout its 57 years of activity but will now be able to test kids for dyslexia, a specific type of reading disorder that is thought to affect 5-20 percent of the population. 

Dyslexia will affect about 35-140 of the 700 kindergarteners that started school this year, education officials said. 

"Through the generous contributions of the Masons, we will be able to extend our roots, and join one of the great pillars of our society, the public school system in their endeavor to academically prepare the next generation," Carter said.

A new law signed by Gov. Brian Kemp back in May mandates every school screen all kindergarten students, plus any first through third graders exhibiting signs of dyslexia, starting in 2024.

The partnership puts Valdosta City Schools five years ahead of schedule, Carter said. Plans are already underway to expand the initiative every year as funds become available. 

Scottish Rite is committed to fundraising and the Department of Communication Science and Disorders and Special Education is pursuing grant funding.

Not only does this program provide a much-needed community service, it also gives VSU students experiential learning opportunities as they will be the ones administering the tests, education officials said.

Mike Kessler, president of the Scottish Rite Foundation of Georgia, said funding the program is a no brainer for him and his organization. The Scottish Rite has a national charity of Rite Care Clinics that provide services for children with communication disorders.

"Quite frankly, it's a labor of love to meet the kids," Kessler said. "An opportunity to get involved and help identify these children with dyslexia is really important to us." 

This partnership is an extension of services already provided by VSU’s Speech and Hearing Clinic, which was founded in 1962 and offers hearing evaluations, communication and cognitive evaluations, and therapeutic services to men, women and children from the South Georgia community each session of the university’s academic year, university officials said. 

Thomas Lynn is a government and education reporter for The Valdosta Daily Times. He can be reached at (229)244-3400 ext. 1256

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