Paul Orfalea
Paul Wellman (file)

Advocates for struggling schoolchildren are coming together for Dyslexia Awareness Month, now unfolding across Santa Barbara Unified School District, with a highlight on October 13 as Kinko’s founder Paul Orfalea speaks at Dos Pueblos High School. Orfalea has credited his entrepreneurial success with setting his mind to overcome the challenges associated with dyslexia, which is estimated to affect 20 percent of the general population to some degree. At the public school level, studies have shown that poor readers are much more likely to drop out of school, end up in jail, and struggle to find and keep meaningful jobs.

“It’s helpful for parents who want information about what to do, and it’s inspiring for kids to see [dyslexic] people who have done very well,” said Margie Yahyavi, executive director of the Santa Barbara Education Foundation, which hosts the annual event. Past speakers include authors Victor Villaseñor and John Rodrigues and Emmy-winning filmmaker Harvey Hubbell V, who directed 2009’s Dislecksia: The Movie, a documentary about his own difficulties with dyslexia.

In related news, state law AB 1369 has categorized difficulty with phonological processing as a learning disability. Dyslexia is in that category. Starting next year, the legislation requires the state to create dyslexia-focused teaching guidelines for school districts.

“There is no mystery: Kids with dyslexia can be taught how to read,” said Cheri Rae of Santa Barbara’s Dyslexia Community Foundation. “But they need a very specific approach,” one that includes one-on-one instruction from properly trained teachers. Therein lies the financial rub, she added, especially when dyslexia is likely affecting thousands of students at Santa Barbara Unified alone. The foundation ​— ​headed up by Rae, Brynn Crowe, and Christine Feldman, all of whom have dyslexic children ​— ​has been working with Santa Barbara’s Central Library on a grant-funded program to advance specialized teaching techniques, such as the Barton Method.


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