A newly formed nonprofit organization is giving hope to children who struggle with reading, spelling, writing and reading comprehension. The Orton-Gillingham Center of Charleston was established by Mount Pleasant mothers Renee Byrd McCaslin and Lindsey Propes Ballenger, both of whom were seeking change in the way struggling readers are being identified and taught to read, write and spell.
Orton-Gillingham is a multisensory approach to learning with each lesson personalized and structured for an individual student’s needs and goals. It incorporates phonemic awareness and both reading and spelling are taught together.
This teaching approach was developed by Samuel Torrey Orton (1879-1948), a neuropsychiatrist and pathologist who was a pioneer in focusing attention on reading failure and related language processing difficulties. Anna Gillingham (1878-1963), a skilled educator and psychologist, worked with Orton to train and publish instructional manuals.
For more than 50 years, the Orton-Gillingham Approach has become the most widely used intervention designed expressly for remediating the language processing problems of children and adults with dyslexia.
Locally, the Orton-Gillingham Center of Charleston is committed to elevating the Orton-Gillingham Approach in the Lowcountry by training more professionals and ensuring completion of the accreditation process. The center is located on the campus of Coastal Christian Preparatory School, 681 McCants Drive in Mount Pleasant, but is an independent entity from Coastal Christian Prep.
The Orton-Gillingham Center of Charleston is working to train more people in the Orton-Gillingham Approach and, with a training fellow on the team, can ensure those who are trained complete a 100-hour practicum through the Academy of Orton-Gillingham Practitioners and Educators. The center also provides a space for student instruction and resources for parents.
McCaslin has an extensive background in education while Ballenger has worked in nonprofit fundraising and business administration. Both have been trained in the Orton-Gillingham Approach.
“This is our ministry,” Ballenger said. “This is what we’ve been called to do.”
McCaslin says she is most excited about tying all her professional and personal experiences together, and bringing together educators, experts and families to impact the community.
The organization is awaiting final approval of its federal nonprofit status, so it can begin fundraising to support teacher training in Orton-Gillingham and to provide scholarships for students who may not be able to afford the private instruction.
Parents can get in touch with the Orton-Gillingham Center of Charleston to schedule a parent meeting and informal assessment to see if their child might benefit from the Orton-Gillingham Approach. The center does not provide an official diagnosis; that must be done by an educational psychologist. Learn more at www.ogcharleston.com.
Educational forums for parents and educators are being planned for early 2019. The center is bringing together professionals from a variety of background to offer families comprehensive support. A parent mentor also will be available to help families navigate resources for their children.
Part of the center’s mission, Ballenger said, is to educate the public about dyslexia. It’s more than just seeing letters backward, as so many people think.
Dyslexia is a neurological, lifelong condition. People don’t outgrow dyslexia, but, with the right instruction, it is possible to minimize the effects. Dyslexia is also hereditary and occurs on a spectrum from mild to profound.
One in five people have some form of dyslexia, meaning the need for early intervention is critical. Ballenger said research shows that offering specialized instruction to children with dyslexia in kindergarten and first grade can close the achievement gap. It’s why she’s so passionate about helping other parents recognize the red flags and signs of dyslexia early.