Beth Ravelli thought she finally could rest this year after Gov. Chris Christie signed the last of a series of bills in January to address dyslexia and reading disabilities in New Jersey.
Instead, she and dyslexia advocacy groups are busier than ever as parents in New Jersey search for information on services, and people from other states and countries contact them to learn how to get similar bills passed.
“I just heard from a mother in Northfield, and she’s at least the 10th parent I’ve heard from since the screening bill was signed,” Ravelli said. “Their letters make me cry, but it’s hard for me to find time to help them. (My husband) John said they just have to learn to do what I did.”
For almost a decade, the Ocean City resident has been a tireless advocate for new laws that help children with dyslexia and other reading disorders get appropriate services. Her daughter, Samantha, 16, was diagnosed in third grade, and Ravelli struggled to find services to help her.
On Monday, she learned just how widespread the issue has become when a film crew from the Educational Broadcasting System in Seoul, South Korea, came to Ocean City to film a class at the Intermediate School and interview Ravelli and Samantha.
As the crew members talked about raising awareness of dyslexia in their country, where little is known, Ravelli said it sounded very much like where she was a decade ago when she began trying to get help for Samantha, who even by third grade could not read.
Ravelli is helping to organize a free workshop at Richard Stockton College on April 11 to update parents and educators on dyslexia, the new laws and what they mean for students and parents.
Members of Decoding Dyslexia NJ have been organizing workshops around the state and working with chapters in 45 other states to get similar laws passed.
“We’re trying to educate parents about what the laws will and won’t do and how to get them implemented,” said Liz Barnes, of Plumsted Township, a founder of DDNJ. “I really think parents will have to take the initiative to get districts to do the testing.”
A new law requires that students who show signs of a reading disability be tested by the second semester of second grade. There have been concerns about the costs, and lack of information about the testing. Barnes said some school districts have contacted DDNJ about providing information for teachers.
“We are very pleased that some districts are being proactive,” she said of another law that requires teachers to get training in reading disabilities.
Amy Hadley, coordinator of the communications disorders program at Stockton, said she is recommending her students attend the workshop and has begun testing some screening tools in local schools. Stockton’s Southern Regional Institute is developing workshops for teachers.
Yoon Nyung Lee, a reporter with EBS, said they came to Ocean City to see a school that was successfully using a program for children with dyslexia.
“We wanted a role model, to show how a proper school can help,” she said. A curriculum has been developed in Korea, and there are plans for a pilot project at a school in Seoul.
The Ravellis had moved to Ocean City, which offers the Wilson reading system, in 2006. The Korean news crew contacted Beth after reading news articles about her journey to get help for Samantha and all children with dyslexia.
On Monday, the Korean news crew filmed reading specialist Ita Laterman working with three fifth-graders. Ocean City’s director of special services, Matthew Carey, said since they started the program in the elementary school a decade ago, they have seen a reduction in the need for services in the upper grades, because students are learning to read.
“They get tested in the elementary school, but here in the intermediate school is where the intense intervention comes in,” Carey said.
Barnes said she is excited to see parents learning more and asking questions.
“Before, you felt like you were the only person going through this,” she said of trying to get services for her daughter. “We are trying to empower parents to do things for themselves in their districts. The real tragedy would be if the laws got passed, then nothing happened.”
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