Commentary

Nicole Fouche: Slipping through the cracks

July 8, 2014 

My daughter recently spent kindergarten through second grade in Glenwood Elementary School’s Mandarin Dual language program. Unfortunately, having dyslexia (unknown to us at the time) she was one of the few children in the program with an achievement gap – she was not learning to read.

Typically, K-3 elementary school children in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools district who are struggling to learn to read are entered into the Response to Intervention (RtI) process, where teachers and administrators develop a Personal Education Plan (PEP) for the child that includes focused interventions and goals to help the child develop stronger reading skills. The RtI process has a three-tier approach designed to meet the needs of struggling learners and (if relevant) identify the presence of a learning disability early enough to allow for effective intervention before a child starts to fall behind in school.

The sad truth about our experience was that it was as a direct consequence of my daughter being in the Mandarin Dual Language program, that she fell through the cracks.

Despite numerous inquiries on our side about the possible presence of dyslexia or another reading disability, her teachers all insisted (without data or a scientific basis to support their conclusions) that my child's reading difficulties were a result of “confusion” between English and Mandarin that would sort itself out after enough time.

The Glenwood administrators who were responsible for starting the RtI process also took a very hands-off approach, deferring to the misinformed teachers, and at no point in K, 1, or 2 was my child evaluated by a school psychologist, assigned a PEP or entered into the RtI process.

Out of desperation to help our daughter, our family was forced to seek out a private psychologist to conduct a full neuropsychological assessment (cost > $2,000) – an expense that could have been avoided if the school had evaluated her internally and which would be out of reach of families with limited financial resources. The result: significant reading delay and difficulties related to the specific learning disability Dyslexia.

At the time, my daughter was a full grade behind her peers in reading level and this was getting worse by the minute. The good news today is that, after a year of reading interventions specifically designed for children with Dyslexia, my daughter has finished the third grade reading above-grade level.

Unfortunately, this progress was hard-won. Not only did we have to take her out of the Mandarin Dual Language program at Glenwood, but we also had to hire a family advocate to intervene on our behalf with Glenwood (another expense) and finally move our daughter over to Seawell Elementary for third grade, before she and our family were given the necessary attention, support and interventions that led to this wonderful progress in her reading.

In conclusion, our personal experience was that the Mandarin Dual Language program at Glenwood is treated like a school within a school, with programs unto itself that allow strong learners to bloom, but which horribly fails struggling learners.

Nicole Fouche lives in Chapel Hill.

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