When “Read” Is a Four-Letter Word : News Room : The Van Drew Team for Change : Jeff Van Drew, Bob Andrzejczak and Bruce Land
When “Read” Is a Four-Letter Word
Anyone who meets Samantha Ravelli would not be able to tell right off the bat that she’s not your typical 6th grader. And it’s not that she does anything out of the ordinary for a child her age – she’s active in school and makes the honor roll. What makes Samantha different is that she’s on the verge of changing the way an entire state teaches kids like her. Samantha has dyslexia, a neurological disorder in which the brain has difficulty decoding words and sounds. Researchers estimate that roughly 20 percent of the population suffers from some form of dyslexia that makes it difficult to read. But for those with severe dyslexia, like Samantha, words that most people take for granted as easy – words as simple as “cat” or “dog” – appear to a dyslexic as if they are written in a foreign language. Bright kids risk falling behind their classmates in other areas as their inability to read suffocates their self-esteem. Luckily, the Ravellis found a specialized program in Ocean City that has helped Samantha overcome her dyslexia and regain her love of school. But not all parents have the same options, as not every school has the capabilities the Ravellis found in Ocean City. I first met Samantha three years ago, when her mother contacted my district office to ask why this disparity could not be fixed. It’s a question that needs an answer. Having the ability to read is vital to succeeding in school and getting a good job later in life. Ensuring every student access to the tools they need to be successful in the classroom will increase the likelihood that they will become successful, contributing adults. As a result of my meeting Samantha and witnessing firsthand the progress she made in school, my colleague Assemblyman Matt Milam and I, along with Senator Jeff Van Drew, drafted legislation that would promote best practices for teaching students with reading disabilities and difficulties with language skills. The bill (A-880) would create the New Jersey Reading Disabilities Task Force to study how New Jersey can better diagnose, treat and educate students with reading disabilities. The task force also would examine how state educational laws and regulations impact students with special reading and language skill needs. Approximately 85 percent of students in New Jersey’s special education classrooms are language- or reading-deficient. Yet, many of these students are not receiving proper training to overcome their deficiency. This is not the fault of teachers, but of a system that hasn’t focused on ensuring every school has the same access to the latest practices and strategies to provide greater educational benefits to special needs students. The legislation while working with my colleague Assemblyman Milam overwhelmingly passed the full Assembly this winter. With the help of Senator Van Drew the Senate Education Committee just passed the Senate version of the bill. Special education teachers need the full support of state leaders who recognize the need for every classroom to implement the best and most successful practices. And parents need to know that their local school is well-equipped to providing a dyslexic child with the specialized teaching they need to be successful. Thanks to her school’s program, Samantha can now read, write and do pretty much everything else you would expect from a sixth grader. But her story must be the norm in New Jersey, not the glorious exception. Students like Samantha exist in every school district, and they deserve the same chance to excel. We need to redouble our efforts to ensure that every child is able to read and to overcome difficulties that can lessen their future prospects for success.
Assemblyman Albano, of Vineland, represents the First Legislative District.