Omaha Dusk Takes On Dyslexia With The REED Charitable Foundation
Omaha Dusk is excited to announce a partnership with The REED Charitable Foundation. 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?
Three years ago — in the middle of first grade — my son Reed was diagnosed with dyslexia. Very early in our dyslexia journey we learned what a struggle - financially, emotionally, logistically, geographically, accessibility-wise this diagnosis can be and we wanted to help improve those issues for all families. All families should be able to have the support we have been able to provide to Reed. 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 Reed was not learning his letters, and that surprised me.
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 Reed went from a child who was happy and enjoyed school to, within a month of school starting being a kid where it was hard to get him out the door. It was hard to wake him up, he was hiding his shoes, sick to his stomach/headaches anything to stall the school day.
What is dyslexia?
That's a great question because there are so many myths and untruths about dyslexia. Before Reed's diagnosis, 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 dyslexia. The general definition I use is "an unexpected difficulty in learning to read, write and spell. And, it is "unexpected" because they are so intelligent. I think that most people think dyslexia has something to do with reading and writing backwards. Some people definitely think dyslexia is related to a deficit in intelligence. That is absolutely untrue.
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, we absolutely know how to improve that challenge and that is through Orton-Gillingham. What is so frustrating is that 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, studying 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, music, negotiating and creativity, amongst many other strengths, are also really common in individuals with 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% of the population — learn to read? How much better would our world be if these incredibly bright, capable human beings could 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% of U.S. fourth graders cannot read at grade level, which is a very low standard. Of course 20% 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 completely 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, because it is the gold standard in literacy instruction for ALL students. 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?
Shop here a potion of all sales from Omaha Dusk goes directly to benefit the organization. People can also go to The REED Charitable Foundation’s website 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