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Omaha Dusk Takes On Dyslexia With The REED Charitable Foundation

Omaha Dusk is excited to announce a partnership with The REED Charitable Foundation [www.reedcharitablefoundation.org]. The goal of their organization is to make meaningful change for students and individuals with dyslexia by providing immediate scholarships for teacher training in Orton-Gillingham (OG), which is considered the gold standard in literacy instruction for all students and vital for dyslexic students.. Most educators are not informed enough about the learning difference and able to help teach those who struggle with it — despite 1 out of every 5 people having dyslexia.

In collaboration with The REED Charitable Foundation, Omaha Dusk is featuring a line of products that keep dyslexics’ needs in mind, and include everything from magnetic shoelaces to fidget toys. A large portion of the sales from these products — as well as the featured gift sets — will go towards helping the foundation educate teachers in OG to help support literacy outcomes for all students, including those with dyslexia.

We sat down with the founding director, Jennifer Ford Knopf, Esq., who started the foundation after her son Reed was diagnosed with dyslexia in 2018 to learn more about all the ways they are helping.

Why did you start the foundation?
I have two kids: I have a 14-year-old daughter Mackenzie, who is neurotypical and not dyslexic. And then I also have my son Reed, who's now 10. Three years ago — in the middle of first grade — he was diagnosed with dyslexia. Very early in our dyslexia journey we learned what a struggle - financially, emotionally, logistically, geographically, accessibility-wise on all fronts this diagnosis was and we wanted to help improve those issues for all families. These are incredibly talented and capable children - they should all be thriving.

What was it that made you think that maybe he learned differently?
Very much like his sister, he was bright, articulate, and had a really  advanced vocabulary. People would always comment about how mature he was and how he talks like an adult. My kids’ trajectory was the same, except that in early preschool he was not learning his letters. 

One day his teacher said, you know I realized that every time we do letters, he excuses himself to go to the bathroom and he doesn’t come back until it’s over. 

Then fast forward to first grade and within a month of school starting it was hard to get him out the door. It was hard to wake him up, he was hiding his shoes, anything to stall the school day. 

And then in November I was prepping him for a spelling test and this floodgate of things that he didn’t want to say because he was so ashamed came out: he said I’m stupid, everybody makes fun of me and says “Reed can’t read”. I hate my name. I want to change it. And my teacher makes me stand up in front of class every day to read. I was heartbroken for him. I went to meet with the school and they said without a diagnosis they wouldn’t do anything differently because they considered that an accommodation. So we sought out a private, psychoeducational evaluation. and Reed was identified as dyslexic. At the time, we were reeling but now we know it is really an incredible gifting if you get the proper support.

What is dyslexia? 
I thought it meant to read backwards.  So I thought we’ll get a tutor and they’ll teach him to not read backwards and everything will be fine. And that’s not true. And it’s not only what the general population thinks. It’s also what teachers think because they don’t get any knowledge about this.

Dyslexia is really just a different wiring in the brain that makes the way we currently teach reading, writing and spelling in school difficult. But, the thing no one ever seems to talk about is the inherent strengths associated with dyslexia. These kids are the problem-solvers, the innovators, the creatives. I have yet to meet a dyslexic - child or adult - that I haven’t thought was endlessly interesting and captivating.

What are some signs of dyslexia?
A kiddo who’s not accurately remembering the alphabet, can only sing their ABC’s, inability to rhyme, inability to accurately attach the correct sound to the correct letter, inability to accurately remember sight words, studding hard for spelling tests and then bombing the test, struggling and/or inability to read  struggle to learn to tie their shoes or ride a two-wheel bike… Also ambidextrous and left-handedness is a really common thing. But also, being gifted at building with Legos, drawing, athletics, amongst other strengths are also really common in dyslexia. 

How many people are affected by dyslexia?
Dyslexia is the most common learning difference. Of the kids that are diagnosed with  what is typically referred to as a specific  learning disability (SLD), 80 percent of them are dyslexic. It’s an overwhelming number of kids. Currently the statistic is 1 in every 5 people you meet are dyslexic. 
 
After you got help for your son, what drove you to want to help others, too?
Because why in the world are we not making sure that all of our children who are capable of reading — which is 95 percent of the population — learn to read? So what started as a passion for dyslexia has really become a passion for literacy in general. As I started to research more and dig in, in the last 30 years we haven’t moved the dial on literacy. The current data from our Nation’s Report Card  is that 66 percent of U.S. fourth graders cannot read at grade level, which is a very low standard. Of course 20 percent of those students are dyslexic - but I don’t think most people know 66% of our nation’s children cannot read at grade level. That is unacceptable AND completely preventable.
 
Why is being able to read so important?
There are very few options for an individual to be successful in this word-filled world if you cannot read.  How can you get through school? Apply for a job? Read the street signs to get to the interview? Accurately read your prescription bottle? Literacy is a basic human skill that must be obtained in order to be a productive citizen. It is a fundamental human right and ensuring literacy skills for all individuals should be a priority for all of us. There is not a single societal issue we face that would not be drastically improved if we improved literacy outcomes for all.  
 
So what does the foundation do to help?
We are currently focused on providing and making OG training accessible to all teachers. This training is typically quite expensive, costing anywhere from $1000-3000 per attendee. RCF is focused on providing this training for free to public school teachers and at a significantly reduced cost to private pay attendees. We wanted to make our mission something that would make an immediate, meaningful impact and focusing on training teachers who are on the front lines for not only teaching children how to read but also identifying students that might need additional support was a wise place to start.  Once a child is in school, the one thing they don’t have is time. Every day they can’t read is another day they get further and further behind. We have to identify kids early before the struggle of reading impacts their self-esteem and self-confidence.
 
What can others do to help?
Purchasing any of the Omaha Dusk items under the “REED Foundation” tab will directly benefit the organization. People can also go to the REED Charitable Foundation’s website [https://www.reedcharitablefoundation.org/] and give directly by clicking on their “Donate” button. Also, just spreading the word about OG training and really educating yourself about the literacy crisis in this country is a great place to start.
 
By Lisa Costantini