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Next Stop: Dyslexia-ville

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We've heard a lot recently about the increased pressures of testing and the rising use of tutors by parents afraid that their kids won't measure up against children from countries where cultures or educational systems churn out perfect testers.

What's missing in our increasing 'teach to the test' culture are educational programs and creative ways to target kids with different learning styles. There has been some headway to accommodate children with learning disabilities, giving them accommodations on standardized tests, but most of the general public doesn't know what dyslexia is. What it is NOT is something as simple as learning how to rearrange words that one initially sees as upside-down and backwards. "Dyslexic children's brains are wired differently; some parts having to do with reading may have a few glitches while other parts having to do with creative thinking, empathy, and analysis may work especially well," explains Sally Shaywitz on the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity website. The current Change.org "Legalize Dyslexia" petition set forth by The Yale Center is galvanizing a much-needed effort to ensure extra time on high stake tests -- which otherwise often become huge stumbling blocks for dyslexics.

We all have to face that we are losing potentially productive members of our society, and not only because of high-stakes testing that doesn't accommodate how dyslexics minds work, but also due to lack of educational and emotional support for dyslexics all along the way.

Peggy Stern, a Harvard Graduate and Academy Award winner who is dyslexic, is committed to helping kids reach their full potential through innovative educational and creative programming. "I am one of the lucky ones," says Peggy. "My grandmother intervened early on, and found an incredible teacher who helped me overcome my frustration, fear and self-doubt. It is from my own experience that I want to assist dyslexic children in achieving their goals."

To do that, Peggy has created the interactive web destination Dyslexia-ville, an online experience for children struggling with Dyslexia. Says Peggy: "The site is set up to give kids with dyslexia an interactive and fun experience where they can embrace their learning differences while developing strategies that allow them to enjoy reading and grow up living fulfilling lives.

A primary focus of the site is to help eradicate the shame that so many children and adults with dyslexia face. Can a website do this? Stern explains the current landscape as if "every dyslexic is alone in their house and Dyslexia-ville will bring them out of hiding and into a community filled with friends, acceptance and learning."

Like so many social causes before it, Dyslexia-ville is being developed at a grass-roots level, primarily by dyslexics. And to fund the launch, they've turned to crowd funding through Kickstarter. The goal of the Kickstarter campaign is to take the website from its current beta stage to a full launch that kids can start using. It will be chock full of resources, and as Stern explains, "The look is hip and fun but with a serious intention. Our tag line 'population millions' aims to dispel the stigma associated with dyslexia and emphasize that dyslexics are part of a large community that learns differently." Dyslexia affects every kind of person, across race and class lines. And there has been a significant disparity in terms of who gets help.

Dyslexia-ville aims to be the first stop for any struggling reader and intends to significantly decrease the number of young people who feel that they are on their own with dyslexia. "One underlying goal of Dyslexia-ville is to build a community for dyslexics beginning as early as Kindergarten and then continuing on up. I really believe community is the only way things change. When dyslexics are easily able to find each other through the site, the possibilities for serious improvement in the lives of all people with dyslexia are immense," Stern asserts.

Stern described a recent trip to Houston, Texas, to visit a teacher who pulls students in the 3rd and 4th grade out of their regular class to be together and learn reading, writing and other skills. They are all dyslexic and Ms. Collier is trained to give them vital instruction in a smaller and more manageable setting. "The exuberance in this classroom was tangible," says Stern. "They had all written poems about their dyslexia and they were published by the teacher in a hard copy book."

One student, in fact, recently won the national 3rd grade poetry prize from Scholastic for a poem called Dyslexia Blueprint. Peyton, a 3rd grader under Ms. Collier's instruction, wrote: "Dyslexia is like a blueprint that I have to finish. It's like a disease that never goes away. When I miss a word it feels like a tower that I have to destroy. Reading out loud is hard. It's like being stuck in traffic on a huge highway with angry old men honking at me. When I draw, I forget about towers and honking horns. I am in my own world of Paper Craft People and me."

It was so clear that Ms. Collier was working on so many levels to give these children a sense of awareness, pride, confidence and ownership of their dyslexia. "We like to think that Dyslexia-ville will build connections and change attitudes just like Susan Collier." Stern explains that the attitude promoted is embodied in one of the sites slogans: Welcome to Dyslexia-ville where kids teach their dyslexia how to skateboard. "I really hope that Dyslexia-ville will be the first stop that a teacher, pediatrician or parent will send a child to catch the dyslexia attitude." And she also says the site will be the best place for the general public to learn about what it means to be dyslexic.

Stern hopes to rally people from across the globe to support the launch of dyslexia-ville.com:

As a dyslexic myself, I understand the challenges dyslexics confront everyday. After working hard to put together a model site, and strategizing with a dynamic team of media makers, educators, and designers, I believe we are ready to launch this community resource Now ... We want the word to get out to parents, dyslexics, pediatricians, educators, social workers etc., to share their stories for how things can change in how people define and work with dyslexics. My goal is to start a virtual public health campaign, to take any and all stigma and shame out of a dyslexia diagnosis.

To learn more, go to: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/655630/dyslexia-ville.

For more questions about D-ville, email dyslexiaville@gmail.com

Follow D-ville on Twitter @dyslexiaville or on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/dyslexiaville.