Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon and Senator Martin Golden Host 3rd Annual Dyslexia Awareness Day in Albany

Students, parents, advocates, & educators testify at town hall on the upcoming State Education Department’s Dyslexia Guidance Memorandum

Albany, NY – On April 19th, Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon (D-Brooklyn) and Senator Martin Golden (R-Brooklyn) hosted the 3rd Annual Dyslexia Awareness Day. Students with dyslexia, parents, educators, and advocates from across the state brought attention to this issue and the need for schools to better serve kids with dyslexia. The event featured a panel of people with dyslexia, including the Honorable John “Jack” McEneny, former NYS Assemblymember, who spoke publicly about his dyslexia for the first time. There was also a Town Hall, where attendees shared their personal stories about dyslexia and gave feedback on the dyslexia guidance memorandum that will soon be issued to schools by the New York State Education Department (SED), pursuant to legislation passed in 2017 (A8262/S6581). Representatives from SED attended the Town Hall.

One in five children have dyslexia, a language-based learning disability that makes word recognition, spelling and reading success a difficult task. A8262 instructs SED to develop a guidance memorandum for schools by the fall of 2018, consistent with the federal requirements and inform schools that they may include the names of specific learning disorders, such as dyslexia, dysgraphia or dyscalculia, in Individualized Education Plans (IEPs). Town hall participants highlighted many themes, including the need for the public, school administrators, and teachers to better understand dyslexia; the need for early identification and screening; and the creativity and resiliency of those who have dyslexia and other learning disabilities, who are often teased at school.

Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon said, “Dyslexia is the most prevalent learning disability in children, and yet, most parents, teachers, and administrators have trouble recognizing its symptoms. Identifying dyslexia on IEPs is a big step forward in ensuring that kids get the help that they need to learn and thrive. As we heard from these resilient students today, we have a long way to go to ensuring that the school system provides appropriate services for kids with dyslexia and learning disabilities. That’s why I’m so grateful that the State Education Department was here listening to these very personal stories directly from kids and parents so that they can take this feedback into account when they craft the dyslexia guidance memorandum for schools.”

"Our children with dyslexia deserve to receive adequate services from our schools. Last year, we took a big step forward toward helping our children with dyslexia. We will not stop until our children will receive the assistance with reading that they need to be successful," said Senator Martin Golden.

“As someone who struggled with dyslexia as a child, I know that allowing for a diagnosis of dyslexia, dysgraphia and dyscalculia on a child's IEP will help to ensure that the child receives the appropriate educational services that they are entitled to. Proper diagnosis and early intervention are essential to a child becoming academically successful and the dyslexia guidance memorandum that will now be issued by the New York State Education Department will ensure that happens. I commend Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon for her leadership on this issue and am proud to have supported her legislation in 2017 to make these guidelines a reality,” said Assemblymember Robert Carroll.

Honorable John “Jack” McEneny, former NYS Assemblymember, noted that he didn’t know he had dyslexia until he was 34. McEneny said, “In a pretty routine world, you have a chance to bring in a different perspective and bring in creativity and originality. You will find that you have other abilities that you're going to feel good about one day, maybe even a little bit proud of. I had to compensate in a lot of different ways. What saved me was speech. I listened to everything that went on in school and I memorized everything. I relied and still rely on verbal skills and I spend a lot of time listening to people. I was very well known for giving speeches on the Assembly floor, and people would say he’s a genius, but everything was memorized. I’d always tell people don’t ever tell me anything you don't want me to know because it will be memorized.”

Gina Vivola, a 14 year-old student at Kildonan School, gave this advice to younger kids in the audience, "Stay strong and believe in yourself and find a hobby to calm you down. If you work hard, you can get to where you want to be in life. Keep your head up because it’s going to get better. And, find people to support you." She went to public school, but wasn’t getting the support she needed and transferred to Kildonan, where she is now thriving.

Peggy Stern, Academy Award-winning film Producer/Director, Founder & CEO, SEL Company’s Dyslexiaville (Super d!) who has dyslexia, created a new social-emotional learning curriculum for public school featuring kids with dyslexia, “When I was in elementary school, I thought I was absolutely the only child who had dyslexia, but I had a grandmother who was in the field and I was lucky that she got me a tutor and I got help. But, as we all know it should not come down to luck. In spite of all this help, I felt ashamed and I’m so inspired by this next generation who are going to go forward without the baggage that some of us have had to wade through, no matter how successful we are now. My daughter, who has dyslexia, says to me, ‘Mom, be bold!’ As we say on the Super d! show, ‘shame is lame.’ ”

Noah Rosenfeld, Saint Anne’s School high school student and Brooklyn Heights resident, said, “My first experience with dyslexia was in first grade, and we’d have these spelling tests and I’d sit there terrified that the teacher was going to call on me. I felt so inferior. But then I got tested and something miraculous happened. I was diagnosed with dyslexia and someone gave me a list of names of famous people with dyslexia, and I looked at that list and I was no longer the problem. I was no longer stupid. I was part of this list of people who had achieved amazing, vital contributions for society and I realized that I was part of something and could be part of the solution. I have had to do a whole lot of work to compensate and have gone through a sometimes painful process, but once you get through it, you will have something that no one can take away from you. And now I learned what I can achieve and I feel like I can achieve anything.”

Assemblymember Patricia Fahy said, “We learn to read so we can read to learn. For kids with dyslexia, getting the services they need for literacy plays a critical role in their education success. Early intervention and screening will help kids and their families get access to resources to enable them to have a success future.”

Photos and videos of the event are available upon request. Super d! Dyslexiaville Clip for Dyslexia Awareness Day.