Program for dyslexic students to begin this fall

The Lexington School plans to launch a program next fall to assist elementary- level students who are struggling with severe dyslexia.

Initially, the new "school within a school" would be aimed at students in first through fifth grades. Officials at The Lexington School say they plan to open the program with about eight students but could accommodate up to 16.

Backers hope the program could serve 100 or more students each year at The Lexington School and provide training for public school teachers around the area in how to help youngsters with dyslexia.

The program, which will operate as The Learning Center at The Lexington School, would be one of only a handful in Kentucky specifically dedicated to helping students with dyslexia. It's intended for students who are dyslexic, that is having trouble with reading; dysgraphic, having trouble with writing; or dyscalculic, struggling with math. Financial assistance for families would be available.

"We want to do what is right for the kids, and to do it right, you need to have a school," says Charles Baldecchi, the head of The Lexington School. "We have the infrastructure in place to do that and to give the school what it needs to be successful. Hopefully, families will buy into The Lexington School's good name and know we're going to deliver."

An informational meeting will be held at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday in the library at the school, 1050 Lane Allen Road. For details, call (859) 231-0501.

Founded in 1959, The Lexington School is a private educational institution serving students in pre-school through eighth grade.

According to school officials, the dyslexia program will be based on the widely recognized Orton-Gillingham approach.

"Orton-Gillingham is really an approach to teaching, based on the individual needs of students," said Jane Childers, director of the school's learning center. "And it works. The gains children make are incredible."

Jane Childers, who is certified in the Orton-Gillingham approach, will be the teacher for the program. She is continuing to study Orton-Gillingham and plans to be certified to train other teachers in the method.

Childers has done remedial work at The Lexington School for eight years.

"I saw students that I knew were very bright, but when they were in a regular classroom they were struggling," she said. "They weren't reaching their potential at all, and to me, that was heartbreaking."

A prime mover in developing the new program is Brutus Clay, a Lexington commercial real estate executive and board member at the school. Clay once struggled with dyslexia, eventually overcoming it thanks to Orton-Gillingham tutoring. He and his wife, Sarah, have long wanted to help dyslexic youngsters.

"About three years ago, we were talking about this with Jane Childers and Chuck Baldecchi, and we just said Lexington needs this program," Clay said. "It kind of started from there."

Leaders from The Lexington School then spent months evaluating dyslexia programs in other states before designing their own. They envision public school teachers eventually getting Orton-Gillingham training at The Lexington School, then spreading it around the area.

According to Childers, progress in the Orton-Gillingham method takes time. But after two or three years, dyslexic students usually can return to traditional classrooms, she said. Often, it's almost impossible to tell that they ever had a learning problem.

"That's why it's important to start children young; the earlier the better," Childers said.