Lesha Stallons works with five students to sound out letters and learn different spelling strategies. The students catch on quickly, repeating past lessons and writing out everything they hear and say out loud.
It is the kind of lesson that plays out regularly in this dyslexia therapy classroom at Frisco ISD’s Scott Elementary School. And it is the kind of lesson that is increasingly in demand.
Dyslexia is one of the most common learning disorders, according to Yale University. Frisco ISD has more than 1,000 students in its dyslexia program, and that number is expected to grow.
The problem is that there is a shortage of trained dyslexia teachers, FISD dyslexia coordinator Cherie Howell said.
Collin County has 9,430 dyslexic students, and Denton County has 5,225, according to the Texas Education Agency. But there are only 90 dyslexic therapists in Collin County and 52 in Denton County, according to the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation.
So FISD decided to gain the certification it needed to train more therapists. In late February the International Multisensory Structured Language Education Council gave its approval. FISD is now the only school district in the nation to be internationally accredited as an independent dyslexia therapist training center.
“This accreditation will allow us to train and certify more teachers that will serve FISD students and maybe other districts as well,” Howell said.
Students who have dyslexia need therapists with extensive training in an alphabetic multisensory program, Howell said.
In the past, FISD teachers wanting to be trained had to go through the Dyslexia Education Center at the Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children in downtown Dallas. Teachers can now get that same training through FISD, which plans to continue to use the curriculum created by the hospital.
“It’s been a long journey, and to see our program grow is very satisfying,” said Stallons, who helps train teachers to be dyslexia therapists. “To be able to extend that knowledge to teachers outside our district because there is a shortage is great.”
Megan Manganilla has two children with dyslexia—one graduated from FISD’s program and the other is still in it.
“By them being in the program and around peers on the same reading level has really helped build their confidence,” she said. “Now they are able to go into the mainstream classroom and use the strategies they’ve learned and be successful.”
Manganilla said the district’s accreditation means more teachers will be able to get the training they need.
“If this could help provide some training to general education teachers to know how to apply those strategies in their regular classrooms, that would be great,” she said.
Howell said the district will begin training teachers this summer. There will be an application and interview process for those interested in becoming therapists, she said.
“[FISD] is growing, and we have more people moving to the area for a lot of reasons. I believe one of those reasons is because of our dyslexia program,” she said.