Thursday, April 18, 2024

Phillip Rozeman: Louisiana Key Academy -Focus on Reading

by BPT Staff
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I had no idea about the prevalence of dyslexia until I became involved in a movement to bring Louisiana Key Academy Charter School to Shreveport. Everywhere I went people would talk about their personal stories and stories about friends and family with lifetime reading difficulties and dyslexia. Many of them would be well known to those reading this article as government and business leaders in our community.

The most striking story for me was when we presented to the Caddo Parish School Board in hopes of purchasing the vacant Arthur Circle School. It was amazing to me to hear stories told about friends with dyslexia from nearly every school board member.

The realtor who represented the competing group considering purchase of the building at Arthur Circle related her story about her sister and severe dyslexia – a wish there would have been a school like Key Academy for her sister!

There is a significant misunderstanding by most of us that dyslexia is defined only by seeing words backwards. However, dyslexia is an unexpected difficulty of reading for an individual who has the intelligence to be a better reader. Dyslexics have average to above average IQ with an isolated problem matching written letters to the sounds of words. This affects the ability of individuals to read, speak and spell. They can learn to read if identified and taught correctly but if not it is a barrier to education opportunities and a common cause of low self-esteem.

Because of the new Louisiana Key Academy public charter school, Northwest Louisiana now has a school with no cost or tuition for children falling behind because of reading difficulties from dyslexia – a reading disorder in 20% of the population. The school follows the establishment of previously successful schools by Dr. Laura Cassidy in Baton Rouge and the North Shore areas.

Louisiana Key Academy gives choice to families regardless of socio-economic status. It is located in the newly remodeled Arthur Circle Elementary School (261 Arthur Avenue) in Broadmoor. It has no attendance zone and is open to all families in Caddo, Bossier, Webster, DeSoto Parish and across Northwest Louisiana. Louisiana Key Academy offers a free screening process to assess whether dyslexia is contributing to reading difficulties.

Dyslexia knows no difference in prevalence by socio-economic status, gender, or geographic location. The only difference is that those who have greater means have greater opportunity to get their children added hours of help in private schools or reading centers. My grandson is at one of these schools in Dallas and pays more in tuition than public universities in Louisiana. The Louisiana Key Academy gives parents of Northwest Louisiana another choice in a public school that specializes in educating dyslexic children and charges no tuition.

The reason this unique approach of specialty school works so well is the effectiveness in having every teacher having expertise working in the same physical location. This helps these specialized teachers learn from others as they work. It is the same concept as health institutions at MD Anderson and the treatment of cancer patients or other cardiac or oncology centers. Everything done at the specialty hospital is dedicated to the best care for treatment of patients and research in the area of expertise.

Going forward, all kindergarten students will be given an accurate dyslexia screener at the end of the year. If they test positive for dyslexia, a letter will go to parents to inform them of the results. At the behest of parents, more extensive testing should then be done and can be facilitated by the Louisiana Key Academy.

In addition, recent legislation has led to all K-3rd graders having literacy tests to help schools and parents know the shortcomings of struggling students in reading. Many of these children may have dyslexia. In addition in this legislative session a bill was submitted for consideration that would fund comprehensive testing for those at risk identified by the dyslexia screener given at the end of Kindergarten.

Louisiana Key Academy serves K to 4th grade and will have a 5th grade next year. It will then add a grade per year until it is open for K-8 students. The school has been very successful in its first year.  At this time every family in this school has chosen to return to the school for the 2024-25 school year.  If certain conditions are worked out in Ruston, the Louisiana Key Academy in Caddo will likely have a learning pod in Ruston this next school year. 

The great thing is there is capacity at the school at every grade level because of the purchase of the previous Arthur Circle school. Registration and dyslexia screening is open now for this truly innovative school for children with dyslexia in grades K-5 for the next school year.  

Dr. Phillip Rozeman is a physician at Willis-Knighton Cardiology. He is a recent recipient of Lifetime Achievement Awards of NW Louisiana Medical Society and Council For A Better Louisiana (CABL).

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