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Austen-Coley focuses on dyslexia

By Richard Yeakley
Sept. 26, 2012 at 10 p.m.


After two years, Longview's only school that specializes in working with dyslexic students is growing.

The Austen-Coley Academy, a private school that opened this past fall, has grown from two to 10 students, each with dyslexia or a similar learning disability.

<p style="line-height: 11.25pt; margin: 0in 0in 0pt; background: white; vertical-align: baseline;">Named for the sons of the two founders, Austen Radigk and Coley Matthews, the school divides students into three cores that allow them to excel in the areas in which they are gifted while not being left behind in the areas in which they struggle.

"In a public school setting there is a set of standards that a student has to meet, all taught in one way for all the typical learners... if you are identified, they pull you out one hour a day, and they try to work with you on reading," said Carla Matthews, chairwoman of the board for the Austen-Coley Academy. "With someone with dyslexia, they need to be taught everything differently."

The school's head, Terrie Springer, who has 25 years of teaching experience and 23 years of that with students who learn differently, said the value of a specialized school lies in its unique instruction methods.

Austen-Coley uses the Slingerland approach to education - a multi-sensory method of teaching language that Springer has spent her career teaching to fellow teachers.

The method allows students to learn from simultaneous and multi-sensory stimuli to help form connections, Springer said.

"All learning takes place with involvement of auditory, visual and kinesthetic-motor processing. It is in the linkage of these channels that dyslexic children often have difficulty. The Slingerland Approach starts with the smallest unit of sight, sound, and feel - a single letter," according to the Slingerland Institute for Literacy.

Springer said it is important to recognize students with dyslexia or related learning disabilities are not unintelligent - they just form connections in ways different from their counterparts.

For Nichole Harrison, mother of 6th grader Avery Harrison, schools like Austen-Coley have been a blessing.

The Harrisons lived in Kansas where there was a similar school, but she was concerned Avery wouldn't do well when they moved to East Texas.

"I think, unfortunately for this area, the understanding for dyslexia is not where it needs to be," Harrison said. "We are very blessed in Northeast Texas to have a school like this to understand how they learn, I call it a learning difference."

With only 10 families connected with the school, every parent is a volunteer and Harrison said the community is strong.

 Longview is also home to The Crisman School, which provides education to students with a wide range of learning disabilities, including but not exclusively dyslexia and related learning disabilities.

<p style="line-height: 11.25pt; margin: 0in 0in 0pt; background: white; vertical-align: baseline;">What's more, Austen-Coley is working to spread the word and information about dyslexia and related learning disabilities this year.

"One of my goals for this year is to do some community information nights," Springer said.

Springer is able to administer a test to any student struggling with traditional schooling and see if the Slingerland approach would be beneficial for them.

Her diagnoses is not whether a student has dyslexia, simply whether they would learn well through Slingerland.

Harrison said unlike traditional school, Avery does not have to worry about being ridiculed for being slower in some areas. The classmates uplift each other.

"These kids love on each other, and encourage each other. They truly care about each other, a wonderful environment," she said. "My heart is really full and excited about what the school means for us.

"Get those skills that she needs, but then find her strength," Harrison said.

The school is faith-based and offers Bible as an elective; however, it is not associated with any church and is not named as a Christian school.

Springer said all the families currently enrolled in the school are Christian, but they are accepting of any family that needs the help.

And many do, say school officials.

Springer said students with dyslexia and their families don't get sufficient help.

"We are really excited because we have two students that are seven," Springer said.

Students often must be several years behind in school before they are considered in need of serious educational help.

Austen-Coley offers a rolling enrollment for students to move throughout the year.

"Sometimes kids might get in the regular school and the parents may realize it's just not working," Matthews said.

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