On Friday Amanda Richard stopped off at a local radio station to do a press interview as part of her role as the chairwoman of the Masonic Learning Center walkathon scheduled for Sunday, Sept. 26.
She wrapped it up just before 8 a.m. and headed off to class at John Bapst Memorial High School where she is a member of the freshman class.
Mandy (as she is known to her friends) and her mom, Tracey Whitten, are trying to give back just bit to an organization they say may well have changed the course of Mandy’s life.
“It became very evident when she was in the third grade,” Whitten said Friday. “It just finally dawned on me that something was definitely wrong, and I went and had her tested for dyslexia.”
Whitten’s instinct was right. When she was tested, it was learned that Mandy, a smart and studious third-grader, was reading at the level of a kindergarten student.
“Despite that she had a perfect report card each quarter,” said Whitten. “There is something terribly wrong with that. She was just getting passed right along as if everything was perfectly fine, yet she couldn’t read.”
Whitten and I talked easily on Friday, almost as if in our own little support group, “Parents of Children with Dyslexia.”
After years of frustration, tears and advice from school personnel that my daughter was a “very smart little girl” who would learn to read eventually and that I should just “read to her more,” I took her to her pediatrician and asked for help.
I had no idea where else to look for assistance.
The word dyslexia had never entered my vocabulary.
Our pediatrician pointed us in the right direction and after a series of thorough tests, a doctor at Eastern Maine Medical Center came to us and said, “She’s definitely dyslexic. She’s not just a little dyslexic. She’s very, very dyslexic.”
She was a sixth-grader who had never gotten a grade below a B in school, but she was reading at a second-grade level.
When I provided the results to one school administrator he told me something must have happened because her grades and in-school testing did not reveal such a short-coming.
“It sounds as if she might have lead poisoning,” he said.
She didn’t. She’s dyslexic.
She and Mandy both completed the three-year tutoring program at the Bangor Masonic Children’s Learning Center, one of only two such centers in the state.
The centers are nonprofit and supported by the Scottish Rite Masonic jurisdiction. They provide professional treatment and one-on-one tutoring to children with dyslexia, free of charge.
Children attend one-hour sessions twice a week for up to three years.
On Friday, Mandy recalled her struggles to read.
“Today I barely notice it at all. I’m doing very well in school and I love to read,” she said.
Last week in one of my daughter’s classes the teacher led a discussion about teaching methods. My daughter spoke up, talked about her dyslexia, talked about the Masonic Learning Center and the way she learns best.
“I hardly notice it at all anymore,” she told me that day.
Seven years ago on the day she was diagnosed with dyslexia, I asked her how she felt about it. Was she scared by it?
“I think I’m relieved in a way,” she said. “At least now I know there’s a name for it and I’m not stupid.”
Some estimate that as many as 40,000 Maine children suffer from some degree of dyslexia. The two learning centers in Maine are limited to about 40 children at a time.
Without the right tutoring and attention, dyslexic children are at greater risk of dropping out of school.
Dyslexic children can learn to read with the right teaching methods — the students who graduate from the Bangor learning center are testament to that.
The work that goes on at the center, now located on the former Bangor Theological Seminary campus on Union Street, goes on quietly.
The folks who run the program don’t ask for much — they just do their best to serve the kids who need the services they provide — for free.
They are quietly changing lives.
Those wishing to support the center and its mission can join in the walk that will begin at 1 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 26, at the Bangor City Forest. Registration is $15. You can take part in a 3.1-mile walk through the forest or a one-mile loop on the bog walk.
Pledge forms can be found at www.valleyofbangor.org.
E-mail Renee Ordway at firstname.lastname@example.org and listen to her and co-host Dan Frazell 7-9 a.m. Monday through Friday on the radio at 103.1 The Pulse.