Lexington Learning Center Helping Local Children with Dyslexia to Read
By Karri L. Moser
The Colonial Times [Lexington, MA]
When you hear names such as Thomas Edison, Charles Schwab, Tom Cruise and Nelson Rockefeller, the phrase “learning disability” doesn't usually come to mind. However, each of these successful, intelligent and personable figures had dyslexia. It is ;timated between 15 and 18 percent of all children have some form of the disorder, making it more challenging to accomplish things that most of us take for granted such as reading and writing.
Learning Center right in Lexington
The Scottish Rite Freemasons, Northern Jurisdiction, has made treating dyslexia one of its premier missions. The Freemasons have established more than fifty learning centers across the country in order to accomplish this mission. They fully fund the learning centers with a price tag of 7.2 million dollars annually. The L exington Masonic Learning Center for Children is tucked away on the hill behind the National Heritage Museum, which is also fully funded by the Scottish Rite Masons.
This little-known but extremely important resource for children with learning disabilities has provided one-on-one tutoring for area kids in an innovative and cutting-edge way unlike any other establishment in the country. The Lexington Masonic Learning Center provides free tutoring for 25 to 30 area children twice a week, giving each child a fifty minute one-on-one session. The children are tested and re-evaluated annually to further personalize their tutoring sessions. There are four levels of learning each child must accomplish before being a graduate of the program. According to the center's director, Joyce Gillis, there are six tutors available and trainees waiting in the wings.
Local teachers work with the Learning Center
Most of the trainees and tutors are from Lexington and work in our schools. This allows them to take the knowledge they gain about how to approach teaching a dyslexic child and apply it in their own classrooms. “There is a different way that dyslexic children have to be taught because of the way their brains work,” says Gillis.
Falling through the cracks
Anyone who has overcome a learning disability or knows someone who has will tell you how it can wreak havoc with a child's self-esteem. It can cause overwhelming anxiety or frustration when a child is called upon to read out loud or make it impossible to keep up in school. Without help or proper diagnosis, these children are at a high risk for simply falling through the cracks or labeled slow or lazy. For some, an actual diagnosis takes years to reach. Once a diagnosis is confirmed, the center begins teaching tools that families say bring immediate results. When Patricia Corcoran's son Jake was diagnosed with dyslexia in the fourth grade and was put on a waiting list for the center, she finally felt there was hope for her child. “It was like all of a sudden we found a place where he and I both fit in and felt comfortable. I would see the same mothers each week and sit and chit chat. We formed a nice support group for each other and would share our resources,” Corcoran says. Another parent, Adrienne Gover, couldn't agree more. Gover's daughter Stephanie completed the four levels of tutoring at the Lexington Learning Center by 8th grade. Her daughter's success has amazed her and she credits the center with putting Stephanie on an upward path.
“The program was the best thing that ever happened to her. From the first time we walked in, we were treated with respect. My daughter realized there was nothing wrong with her and I can't imagine she would be receiving the grades and honors she is now without the center,” Gover says. “We are very proud of the fact that we are a part of this program. It allowed our daughter to blossom.”
Annual Dyslexia Walk scheduled for Saturday, October 1
These grateful families also passionately support ways to raise additional funds as well as awareness of the Masonic Learning Center's mission. One of their most effective and bonding events is the annual walk-a-thon. Joe Berlandi, Executive Director of all the learning centers, has only seen the walk to help children with dyslexia grow each year. “We tested it out here in Lexington and everyone else said that their centers wanted to participate,” Berlandi says.
This is the second year for the multi-venue walk for all 52 centers. Berlandi coordinates all the walks from his Lexington office. As for his personal involvement, “I usually start it off.” Berlandi adds with pride. This year's event will take place Saturday, October 1. As to why the walk is held in October, he explains, “October is the month to help overcome dyslexia thanks to our Governor's proclamation supporting our walk.” There is a proclamation made by every Governor whose stat participates. Last year's events raised $350,000 to help offset some of the costs for the Masons to run so many centers. Ninety cents of every dollar raised goes toward program services. There is a small registration fee and no specific amount has to be raised to participate.
The annual walk is scheduled on the same day as LexFest, the town's annual street festival celebrating diversity. Jeanne Krieger, member of the Board of Directors, sees the walk tying in into LexFest as a day of diversity. “The walk is more than an opportunity to raise money, it's a day to raise awareness. We want dyslexia to be something that is accepted. Also, through fund raising, we want to be certain kids can get into the center, if not Lexington then one of our others,” Krieger says. (There are four in Massachusetts.) The event also helps families and children put a united front forward for the Lexington community to see. Patricia Corcoran recalls last year's walk with pride, “We participated and it was rainy and dreary, but there was such a warm feeling. It was nice to see people who were interested in promoting literacy in our community. It was awesome.”
Masons with a mission
As the oldest and currently the largest fraternal organizations in the world, the Freemasons are involved in other noteworthy causes that benefit our communities. The Shrine Masons, more commonly referred to as Shriners, fund hospitals for burned and orthopedically impaired children free of charge. The Masons also sponsor an astounding number of scholarships and other philanthropic causes.
Joe Berlandi sees the Learning Centers for Children with Dyslexia as more than just a noteworthy cause for Masons like himself. Knowing dyslexia is everywhere, Berlandi feels supporting the centers also gives existing and new members a reason to be involved in Masonry. “We wanted to excite the leadership and attract new members and help children. No matter where we put a center, we need Masons to fund them,” says Berlandi. This desire to help children on a personal level also propelled Joyce Gillis to leave the public school system. After years working in elementary education, she found herself wanting to work closer with children who had reading difficulties. “I wanted to get into something useful for parents and children rather than something corporate,” Gillis says.
Local kids see results
The children who complete the free and amazingly effective program have already gone on to accomplish remarkable feats. Dana and Maryann Ham took their son Ryan to the Lexington Learning Center for three years. Ham says, “We immediately noticed results. His confidence has increased as far as reading is concerned and he is not afraid to take a chance.” Ryan Ham went on to amaze his parents by going to the State House and reading out loud for two Senators in order to promote the first walk. The Hams were amazed and realized this was quite a feat for any child to smoothly perform, especially one with dyslexia. Jake Corcoran also had his moment in the spotlight which his family says wouldn't have been possible if not for the learning center. He gave the graduation address when he completed the four-level program. “He got up and gave a speech that he wrote himself. He did it in front of hundreds of people fluently!” gushes Patricia. That speech is framed and currently hangs on the wall at the learning center as a testament to what every child with dyslexia can achieve with help.
The Freemasons, with all of their hard work and dedication, know the importance of the learning centers to everyone involved. They see the learning centers as a “key to hopefully get the community interested in children with dyslexia,” Berlandi says.
“These children are very intelligent and creative but lack self esteem. The sooner we can get them into the center, the sooner we can provide them with the tools they need to become leading members of our society.” , He explains. Adrienne Gover feels blessed by the help he received for Stephanie and still becomes emotional looking back on her daughter's struggle to succeed. She says, “We owe an awful lot to the Masons. They helped from beginning to end and we saw nothing but progress. With them and the learning center, my daughter became the person she was meant to be.”