SALT LAKE CITY — Natalie Pollard couldn't understand why her son, Aran, was having an especially hard time learning to read in first grade.
Aran had a good teacher. He had supplemental instruction. He studied long hours after school with his mother.
But his progress was slim. In fact, many times he seemed to be losing ground.
"I was at a loss as to what to do," Pollard said.
The summer before Aran entered second grade, the Pollard family met a dyslexia eduction specialist who had moved into their Layton neighborhood. Not long after, an answer emerged: Aran had moderate dyslexia.
"I was grateful to know the reason behind the struggle but wondered what to do next because the school did not have the resources to help him," she said.
Pollard purchased a research-based reading program to use at home to help her son, who is almost 9 years old. They continued to work long hours outside of school, and he has since made "significant gains," she said.
But Pollard wonders what would have happened had she not stumbled upon a solution outside of school, where her son's teacher wasn't equipped to provide the type of assistance he needed.
"She felt very bad about it," Pollard recalled. "I know she would have helped had she had the knowledge."
Lawmakers recommended a bill Thursday that would give more teachers training and resources to help children with dyslexia.
SB117 would implement a three-year pilot program where $650,000 in one-time funds would be set aside to train teachers on how to recognize and intervene for students with dyslexia. The money would also purchase research-based curriculum materials for children with the disability.
Schools would apply for the funds through the Utah State Office of Education, which would award up to $30,000 per school district.
Another $100,000 would be used to track the program's effectiveness throughout the three years of its operation.
The bill was unanimously favored by members of the Senate Education Committee.
Bill sponsor Sen. Aaron Osmond, R-South Jordan, said more than half of all students in special education are classified as having a specific learning disability, and 80 percent those students have dyslexia.
Most students who qualify for special education do so in the third or fourth grade, long after intervention is needed, he said.
But the the program outlined in SB117 would help reduce the number of children who have to enroll in special education to find additional help.
"We have a growing problem," Osmond said. "This is an issue that is facing the state of Utah's education system and consuming an enormous amount of resource within the special education budget."
At East Elementary in Tooele, curriculum materials for dyslexic students are already making a difference. Last fall, 172 students at the school — 38 percent of the student body — were reading below grade level, according to principal Shanz Leonelli.
The school began using phonic materials and instructional kits to help all struggling readers, not just those with a diagnosed learning disability. Since then, 73 of those students are now reading at grade level, Leonelli said.
"That's pretty significant," Leonelli said. "We've been able to put those students into that systematic intervention without having to qualify" for special education.
Pollard said she hopes the bill will pass and provide families with resources to help students with dyslexia overcome discouraging learning barriers, just as such programs have for her son.
"Most important, he enjoys reading now," she said.
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