Dyslexia program, one of handful in state, changing lives in Culver

Young Alina Pizur used to sit and cry, says her mother Barb, when working on her school reading assignments.

"She would know her sight words," recalls Barb, "but couldn't grasp a new word."

Alina's 2nd grade teacher, Tina Bailey, contacted Barb and discussed the specifics of Alina's struggles, eventually beginning to tutor the Culver Elementary youngster after hours, starting last December.

Barb has noticed a significant difference in her daughter's scholastic performance.

"She seems happier," she explains. "She still struggles, but she attempts it because...she knows how to attempt it now. Her self-esteem has been helped."

Alina, like many children, has a form of dyslexia, about which Bailey has become something of an advocate, becoming a fully certified screener and tutor in the internationally proliferate Susan Barton teaching method.

Second grade CES teacher Bailey has been here for some nine years now, though one little girl's difficulties a few years ago set Bailey down the path of dyslexia research. Another teacher mentioned a dyslexia tester in Kokomo, after which another child's parent approached Bailey to ask about tutoring.

"So I did more research on it," she says. "I had been doing some for the past two years, but this really caught me because I really saw a difference in students. I heard Susan (Barton) would be offering some classes, and my husband fully supported me in this. I went to Chicago and Columbus, Ohio, and became fully certified in tutoring and screening."

Just recently, Barton asked Bailey to be a beta tester for a new iPad app Barton is launching, and Bailey had already become a public speaker on behalf of Barton's method, traveling to other school systems such as Caston, where she recently outlined the method for the teaching staff.

Barton herself led an event for the public at Culver Community High School last November, after which Bailey began training tutors to assist her in regular offerings, which started in January.

"What makes (the Barton method) so different is, her system is designed thinking that a parent may also be dyslexic," explains Bailey. "Any parent who is dyslexic can also teach their child, so it's not meant for full classroom use, although aspects of it I do use in my classroom every day (but) it's designed for between one and three to one."

Bailey's classroom success is certainly evident. She had a remarkable 20 out of 22 students make Dibels assessment standardized benchmarks (and the two who didn't were a non-English speaking and a special education student, respectively).

Krystal Hine and her 9-year-old son, Zach, are also appreciative of the opportunity, one of the few in Indiana using the Barton method.

"She (Bailey) was really paying attention to (Zach) in school," says Hine, "and realized he might need some special help. She did the tutoring and ever since then, it's been wonderful. It's helped him out tremendously.

"His spelling and his math (have improved) and he's focusing more in class, listening better. He seems so much happier...I feel that she's helped him succeed this year."

The Barton method, says Bailey, gives students reasons words are spelled the way they are, rules without which these students may fail to see patterns.

"If anything is random, they struggle with that," she says. "It has to have a reason and be visual or kinesthetic. The program uses listening skills, visuals with different colors, and kinesthetics, all three at the same time...there's a lot of movement, (and) I ask a lot of questions back, (such as) 'Why did you use the 'ch' sound verses the 'tch?'"

Dyslexia, Bailey emphasizes, is often misunderstood, and quite often is paired with the lesser-known dysgraphia and ADHD in students. Contrary to popular belief, she says, dyslexia is not seeing things backwards and it's not always left and right issues, "though directional issues, yes -- it's not a visual thing." One in five students shows indicators of dyslexia, she adds.

And, she explains, "These kids can be very successful; they just learn differently. (Many) successful people -- presidents, movie stars, business leaders -- have overcome dyslexia. You will always have it, but you can overcome it and be successful by learning differently."

Bailey encourages parents to look for warning signs of dyslexia, something she explores in 30-minute conversations with parents before inviting them to meet face to face in further pursuit of help with dyslexia. Bailey's home is set up for formal, three-plus-hour screenings using 13 different tools. A 12 to 18 page report outlining precise areas of concern follows.

The earlier parents get their children help, the better off they'll be, adds Bailey. A child can be screened as early as halfway through kindergarten.

She encourages parents to investigate videos and other information detailing symptoms warning signs of dyslexia on Barton's website, www.bartonreading.com/dys.html.

Readers are also encouraged to read and sign a recently-created petition to legalize dyslexia to improve testing and offerings for dyslexic children, at dyslexia.yale.edu/LegalizeDyslexia.html.

Kristine Cormican, the parent of a high ability son in Bailey's class, had already been subbing and volunteering in that class, but has now become trained to tutor students whose parents have engaged Bailey's help. She's one of three tutors working under Bailey, including Nancy Haase and Gretchen Johnson as well.

"One student I tutored, in the two days I see him per week, the difference in confidence level from when I started to now -- he doesn't try to cover the mistakes,” says Cormican.

Only four tutors in Indiana are certified in the Barton method, with the next closest to Culver being in Merrillville, says Bailey, who currently works with 12 students from Culver, Plymouth, and the Manchester area.

Those interested in discussing the program with Bailey may email abetterchance2learn@yahoo.com, or call 574-505-1028 after school hours. Bailey, who tutors all summer, has been doing so at the Culver Public Library two days a week, and will be at the library this summer on Mondays, though she tutors out of her home the rest of the week.

"I just think she's a wonderful teacher and I'm thankful she started this program," says Hine. "She needs a lot of recognition for it."

"Especially with as small a community that we have," adds Cormican, "to have a teacher willing to go the extra step, not just for her students but for all the students in this area, is just fantastic."