On the Bright Side: 'Groundbreaking' workshop gives area teachers new tools

ONEONTA — Educators from more than five area school districts gathered at SUNY Oneonta over the weekend to better understand how to teach students with learning disabilities, and many of the teachers said it was an informative experience.

The conference, called the “Multisensory Math Workshop,” was organized by Kimberly More, who is in the midst of developing the Leatherstocking Dyslexia Center. When it opens in March, the center, to be located in SUNY Oneonta's Fitzelle Hall, will provide education for parents and teachers, and tutelage for area students.

More said she arranged for Marilyn Zecher, a well-known academic language therapist, to come to Oneonta for the conference to educate local teachers on concepts that will be used at the center. Zecher works at The Atlantic Seaboard Dyslexia Education Center, a nationally certified teacher training facility in Maryland that was founded to help dyslexic children and adults overcome barriers to learning. 

The Leatherstocking Dyslexia Center has already received grant funding from Otsego County and the city of Oneonta, More said, which helped organizers offer the workshop at no cost to participants. 

With Zecher's guidance, teachers at the conference used beads, string, pipe cleaners and other hands-on "manipulatives" to learn how to teach math concepts before continuing to an abstract level of instruction. Children learn better this way, More said, especially those with learning disabilities.

"In order to learn something, they need to touch it, hear it, see it and say it," More said.

More said she knows this first-hand because she has three daughters who are dyslexic. She has done a great deal of research on the learning disorder, which is often characterized by difficulty reading, and learned that 20 percent of people are dyslexic, she said.

More realized she wanted to help other dyslexic students and their parents in some way, so she contacted the State University College at Oneonta about a year ago, she said. She is now learning to train educators how to teach children with learning disabilities. The Dyslexia Center will be a place for parents to find resources and for students to find help, she said.

"We need to get the word out that these students can do it, they just learn in a different way," More said. "Dyslexic individuals are very intelligent. Some of the most brilliant people in history were dyslexic, including Thomas Edison and Steve Jobs."

According to More, the Oneonta center will also be a place where future educators enrolled at SUNY Oneonta can learn more about the disability. A few students have already transferred to the university because they want to be involved in the center, she added.

Marie McCrea, a special educator at Schenevus Central School, said she has been teaching for more than 20 years and is glad she attended the workshop. 

"It was very astounding to learn some of the multi-sensory strategies with the reasoning behind the math concepts," McCrea said Sunday. "I wish I had learned this in my undergraduate and graduate programs."

The workshop was groundbreaking, according to Lorrie Dykstra, who teaches third grade at Richfield Springs Central School.

"I came to learn strategies to help my students with learning differences," Dykstra said, "but I've learned strategies to help all of my students."

More said a reading version of the conference will be held in March when the Leatherstocking Dyslexia Center opens on campus. For more information, email messages can be sent to leatherstockingdyslexiacenter@gmail.com

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