MARIETTA, Ga. (AP) — Some students with dyslexia are able to mask their struggles the first few years of school, experts say, and don't typically fall behind their peers until the second or third grade.

But when their grades start to slip, it can be frustrating for both the students and their parents, says Gena Farinholt, a dyslexia consultant who worked with the Walker School to help launch a new program specifically designed for students with dyslexia. She estimates one in five people have some form of dyslexia, causing them trouble when learning to read, write and spell.

Through tutoring and one-on-one help from trained professionals, issues can be remediated and children can get the help they need to improve reading comprehension.

But what about public school students whose parents can't afford to have them professionally evaluated or enrolled in a private school? What about the families who can't pay the $65 an hour or more for the private tutoring their children need to overcome their difficulties and get back on track?

Marietta's school board recently approved a plan to have all first- through third-grade teachers trained in the Orton-Gillingham method, a multi-sensory, phonics-based approach commonly used to treat dyslexia.

Superintendent Grant Rivera hopes the training, which will cost more than $1,000 per teacher starting this summer, will boost reading levels across the district — and some Marietta elementary teachers are ecstatic about it.

Alyssa Barnes, a fifth-grade early intervention teacher at Hickory Hills Elementary School, signed up for Orton-Gillingham training on her own after her niece was diagnosed with the learning disorder two and a half years ago.

While the training is helpful, Barnes said most teachers simply don't have the extra time or money to take the courses. Since the district's announcement, however, Barnes said she's heard from several colleagues asking where to sign up.

"One thing that's interesting about children with dyslexia is they tend to have an average to above-average IQ," Barnes said. "So it's often more challenging to identify because they're able to hide their difficulties longer with compensation strategies."

DYSLEXIA PROGRAMS IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS

East Cobb resident Miriam Moore has two sons with dyslexia — one who is a junior at Lassiter High and one who is a seventh-grader at Mabry Middle.

She said while the Cobb School District has improved its programs for dyslexic students since her children were younger, there is still work to be done.

Moore, who now works as a tutor for dyslexic students, co-founded a group called the Cobb Dyslexia Network, which allows parents of children with dyslexia a chance to network and share best practices.

"The good news is things are changing," she said of the way public schools identify early comprehension issues and treat dyslexia.

"When my 11th-grader was in first grade, he was not identified and there was no support. With our second son, he was identified (as dyslexic) early and we were able to get more support through the schools because we were more aware."

Her sons learned to read with the help of a tutor, but Moore has doubts they could have mastered reading comprehension as quickly through programs offered by the Cobb School District.

"I think that's generally still the case for dyslexic kids in Cobb," she said, though she acknowledged more teachers are receiving Orton-Gillingham training. "There's definitely more awareness, but it's a big problem and there is a long way to go."

Cobb School District officials say the district's focus is on strategies rather than a single program.

"We have a team of five instructional support specialists all trained in not only Orton-Gillingham, but also a variety of other reading programs and strategies," said district spokesman John Stafford. "They look at specific, researched-based best practices to address different reading challenges. These specialists train teachers and work directly with students. In Cobb, we identify the best strategy, or strategies, to meet each individual student's need."

Moore estimates it takes an average of two years of tutoring to help a dyslexic student overcome their reading and writing woes.

"They don't always understand why they're struggling and sometimes say they feel like they are stupid," she said. "Dyslexia is a medical diagnosis, but the only cure is educational. Through proper training, we can intervene far before we see children hitting the third-grade wall."

Moore said she would like to see more teachers trained in the Orton-Gillingham method so students with dyslexia can have their needs identified and addressed sooner, adding she would like to see school districts screen students for dyslexia as early as possible and begin "remediating intensely" from then on.

As it stands, public schools cannot diagnose children with dyslexia. Teachers can, however, urge parents to have their children evaluated if they suspect a child may have dyslexia.

Barnes said one positive sign is that many districts are starting to understand how widespread the learning disorder is.

"A lot of schools are realizing just how important this is and that this is an area where we can improve instruction," Barnes said. "That's why the OG training is so important. That our teachers will have a tool kit to identify children that are struggling readers and be able to intervene at an earlier age is really remarkable."

COSTLY TREATMENT

Marietta residents Craig and Barri Culpepper are the parents of dyslexic 8-year-old twin girls who were diagnosed in the last two years.

One of their daughters attends West Side Elementary while the other is enrolled at the Gracepoint School near Town Center, which specializes in educating dyslexic children. The daughter enrolled at West Side requires private tutoring two days a week.

The Culpeppers say private school runs them more than $20,000 annually while tutoring for their other daughter costs $60 an hour.

Some families pay as much as $90 an hour for tutoring. There are needs-based scholarships available, but the threshold to receive specialized services is high and parents must still pay some out-of-pocket expenses.

"We're fortunate we have the means to pay for these things," said Craig Culpepper, who works in logistics. "What bothers me is there are a lot of families who don't."

The Culpeppers acknowledged public schools have to work within their budgets, but praised Marietta for approving a program to have its teachers trained in the Orton-Gillingham method.

"It will go a long way to help any student," Barri Culpepper said. "It is a way of teaching that helps any kid to read. For those who are struggling, it will provide them with what they need, and for those who are not, it should make learning to read even easier."

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Information from: Marietta Daily Journal, http://mdjonline.com/