BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Learning to read is a rite of passage for school-age children, but this fundamental goal can be out of reach for students with dyslexia. A Baton Rouge charter school now in its third year helps those students overcome the disability.
"Dyslexia is so much more than just flipping letters. We have to take reading down all the way to the basics, back to the sounds," said Sarah Reling, a fourth grade teacher at Louisiana Key Academy. "They're very capable of doing anything in any subject, and they are very smart, they're very creative, they just have to be taught in a very specific and systematic way."
The free public charter school opened in 2013 next to the old Piccadilly on Government Street. Initially serving kindergarten through second grade, they've added a grade each year and hope to eventually include a middle school. In addition to the core subjects, each of the 235 students gets 90 minutes of specialized language therapy every day.
"Most students who have dyslexia either have to go to a regular public school where there isn't a specific curriculum for students with dyslexia, or are paying anywhere between $30,000 and $60,000 a year for specialized instruction," said Heather Bourgeois, Director of Student Services.
Dyslexia is a neurological learning disorder that affects one in five people. Dyslexic brains are wired differently, processing language at a slower speed than most.
"It's an unexpected inability to read," Bourgeois explained. "So you have a child that in every other sense is normal, has this great imagination, has incredible intelligence, but their ability to read or write just doesn't match that level. So if you're seeing that in your child, then that's an immediate cue to you to get more information and figure out what's going on."
The school offers free screening and promotes early intervention. Open slots are available in first and second grade, but there's a wait list for third and fourth. Public schools don't screen children for dyslexia until second grade.
A group of fourth graders spent the third week of November building a rocket ship to go on display during White Light Night. It's the first time the school is opening its doors during Mid City's annual art hop.
"We still have lots of people that don't know of our school, even the name of our school, so we're still trying to get our name out there," Reling said.
"We are really excited to just share our school with the community, let people know where we are and what we do, and just raise awareness about what dyslexia is," Bourgeois added.
The school will also feature other work by dyslexic artists.
White Light Night runs Friday, November 20th from 6 - 10 p.m. along Government Street and Jefferson Highway. It's free and open to the public.