Former CPS teacher creates affordable literacy program for kids with learning disorders

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Learning to read can be a challenge for some. A Rogers Park literacy center is trying to change that.

"The mission of Redwood Literacy, in general, is to work with kids who have dyslexia, dysgraphia and dyscalculia," Redwood Executive Director Kaitlin Feriante said. "With the right intervention, kids who have been told they can't read, can."

All three are learning disorders that thousands of people deal with on a daily basis. Many, however, don't have access to affordable year-round schooling that can help them overcome their challenges.

Debbie Benjamin-Koller's son, Asher, has dyslexia, Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and visual tracking problems. He started at Redwood in January of 2019.

"Everywhere I've looked at has been $50,000, and what middle-class family or not middle-class family can afford that?" said Benjamin-Koller.

Feriante and her husband started the center to give kids like Asher the opportunity to learn how to read at a more affordable price.

The center offers year-round schooling, summer courses and after-school group session that cost as low as $33 an hour.

Similar programs across the city can charge between $100-$150 an hour.

Redwood also uses the Wilson Program, a multi-sensory teaching system.

"We tap out words. Like when I read a word you would tap one finger on your thumb with short words," student, Sophia Galeener said. "Then for compound words, like sunfish words, there would be like two different words that I could tap out."

Students travel across the city -- some as from as far as Oak Park -- to learn, mainly because it's a program that their parents can afford.

One family even traveled overseas so their daughter could learn from this specific program.

But now, it could be coming to your school for free. Redwood is hoping to partner with an elementary and high school for the 2019-2020 school year.

"We'll train two vertically aligned special education teams. So a 2nd grade, 3rd grade, 4th grade and 5th-grade teacher so that if kids need it for those two to three years, they can get that in their school," Feriante said.

Feriante said she wants to partner with different schools across the city each year, and she hopes the program's lessons travel with her students wherever they go.

"In a traditional school, you may feel like 'I'm behind everybody else' because these certain skills are really hard for you," Feriante said. "But as a whole individual you are super intelligent and if you work hard, you are going to be recruited by companies because you have dyslexia and because of the strengths that come with that."
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