“We reached out to IMSE last year because we realized we need more interventions in our toolkit,” Sassano said. “To make progress with students with disabilities, like dyslexia and other learning disabilities, we felt like we could benefit from a structured, multi-sensory approach like [IMSE’s] OG.”
Across the district’s 88 schools, Sassano said students with disabilities and learning difficulties like dyslexia weren’t meeting the mark when it came to standardized testing in reading while the majority of other students performed well.
To ensure all students received the specialized instruction they needed to succeed, Sassano said her team began researching ways to help address the needs of those students struggling.
What she found was the Institute for Multi-Sensory Education.
“We’re using many different things, but for Orton-Gillingham training specifically, we really feel IMSE puts the best training programs together,” Sassano said. “It’s very comprehensive, we love the drills that the teachers get, we love the trainers, the trainers are all great quality, and we’ve just been getting excellent feedback from the teachers.”
By the end of December, Loudoun County schools will have just over 500 IMSE-trained teachers in 82 of its schools, with another 243 educators signed-up for trainings through June, Sassano said.
It’s a welcome change for moms like Lorraine Hightower, too, whose 13-year-old son’s dyslexia has caused him to read below the level of his seventh-grade cohorts.
Hightower said she has been among those advocating for years for the district to find a way to invest more in early intervention and specialized reading programs, so when Loudoun County Public Schools announced it was working with IMSE to train teachers in Orton-Gillingham, she was “elated” and able to breathe a “sigh of relief.”
“I give Loudoun a lot of credit” for stepping up its training and specialized reading instruction, Hightower said. “Not only did they acknowledge it, but when we showed them data for how big the achievement gap was for these kids, they didn’t ignore it. They acknowledged they needed to do something about it.”
“I’m excited that our district is going to see the results of those efforts, because we know the achievement gap is going to shrink with this type of instruction.”
Though still in the early stages of training, roll-out and implementation, Sassano said she’s gotten positive feedback from teachers so far on how IMSE’s OG is making a difference among students. In fact, so many educators are eager to learn IMSE’s OG training that sessions have sometimes filled to the point of wait lists.
Among the teachers who are already seeing success using IMSE’s OG in the classroom is Tracy Weems, who teaches fifth-grade language arts and specialized reading instruction for special education students.
Each week, she works with two sets of fifth-grade students to improve their reading skills, but had found some tools she’d used in the past would ultimately lose her students’ interest. Using her new Orton-Gillingham training from IMSE, Weems said her students have already had “breakthroughs” in spelling and much more.
“I have to say, I have seen such a difference in my students,” Weems told the Journal. “It’s mostly about their attitudes and how they are motivated to learn with it, and I think it’s because they’re seeing all that independence and seeing which techniques work best for them, and being able to use that from one setting to another.”
Though at first Weems said she worried her fifth-graders might be “too old” to connect with some of the methodology, she was pleasantly surprised to discover just the opposite.
“The students are just so excited about learning,” she said. “What really grabs their interest are the tactile modes. I was afraid at first my kids were a little bit too old to do the sand and the gel boards, but they love them… they’re really excited about it.”
That excitement likely stems from the confidence her students are now feeling after finding that with these tools also comes better comprehension. In real time, her students are learning, and knowing that they’re learning, she said.
It’s a momentum teachers, parents and administrators at Loudoun County alike want to see continue.
Sassano said her goal is for all special education teachers in the district to be able to provide specialized reading instruction, a need that IMSE’s OG training largely fulfills. Come spring, she said she’s eager to see the fruits of Loudoun County Public Schools system’s labor.
Hightower said she and other parents are excited the district is putting such an investment in a segment of students with reading difficulties who need it most.
With more early intervention and subsequent specialized instruction at a younger age, more students will be on track from the get-go, she said. And, she wishes more schools around the country would get on-board with specialized, multi-sensory instruction programs, like IMSE’s OG.
“If everybody would embrace a more structured literacy approach, you wouldn’t have that many left out in the cold,” Hightower said.
“We know that all children will respond to structured literacy instruction, so I just don’t see a negative, and that’s really encouraging,” Hightower added. “Our county is unusual in that they seem sincere in that they want to remediate that.”
In the future, she hopes schools in general will also put an emphasis on aid to middle and high school students whose specialized reading instruction needs were not met as a child, like her son, who didn’t have the benefit of being taught by an educator trained in IMSE’s OG from the start.
For now, she’s proud of parents, and the school district, for stepping up in the right direction.
“It really is a beautiful thing to be here this many years later” and to see things taking effect, Hightower said. “I do really give the majority of the credit to [administrators] who listened, she listened to the advisory board and the parents and the community and didn’t ignore a very significant educational issue that had been bubbling under the surface for some time.”
Weems agreed, saying all students could benefit from the personalized, multi-sensory approach IMSE-trained educators become proficient in.
“I would love for [IMSE’s OG] to be used in all classrooms,” Weems said. “I know a lot of the stuff, the kids… would just thrive on these types of variety of modalities: the auditory, the movement, the tactile things, [all] activating their brains. I think that would be wonderful.”
Stay tuned for updates on Loudoun County’s progress through the IMSE Journal.
Learn more about how the Institute for Multi-Sensory Education’s Orton-Gillingham training is transforming the lives of school districts and families across the country.