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The Eplings: WPS Education Grant Story of Impact

“Looking back on it, the clues were always there we just didn’t realize it. The twins hated doing homework, hated reading out loud to us, and when they wrote letters and numbers, they were always backwards. But each year, the teachers told us, “Don’t worry! Kids grow out of that.” And, as parents, we just always chalked it up to them being tired after a long school day.

Last Fall, Adam and I walked into a parent-teacher conference with the sweetest first grade teacher, Mrs. Eimer. She started the conference by saying, “First of all your twins are absolutely adorable, and yet are fabulously failing first grade and have qualified for Title 1 tutoring.”

I remember looking at my husband in shock, totally speechless as the word “failing” flashed through my head on repeat and a series of questions peppered my thoughts:

  • “How is this possible?”
  • “How can they be failing when their vocabulary is better than mine?”
  • “They understand the inner workings of a cell better than I did in Biology class at Auburn, how could they require tutoring at this age?”   

We are good parents, and my kids’ favorite bedtime story is the Smithsonian Kids Encyclopedia… something was not adding up. The teacher agreed. She went on to explain how something was off about their test scores. She had recently started taking Orton-Gillingham training classes offered at Madison City Schools and was noticing similarities between what she was learning in class and my kid’s schoolwork. She asked if we had ever considered testing for dyslexia. 

She then explained how verbally our kids were above average in their ability to follow along in class, answer questions during story time, and explain a problem out loud.  However, when it came time to read and write, my kids were significantly behind their peers. As she was discussing this, she began showing examples of their schoolwork.

One child was so far behind for the first nine weeks of school she began simply refusing to complete a single worksheet.  Mrs. Eimer said, “It is the most bizarre thing I have ever seen in my nine years of teaching. Your daughter Abby just sits there quietly as the rest of the class works.  I have never had a student flat out refuse to do work but not disrupt a class.”

When I asked her at bedtime that night why she wouldn’t complete any work she looked at me with her big blue eyes and said, “Mom, you only told me I had to work hard in Kindergarten and I did that for Mrs. Rogers.  You never said I had to complete schoolwork in first grade.  Plus, the bad kids don’t have to go to recess for fun Friday and I don’t like fun Friday because it’s too loud. And, I don’t like reading and writing so I figured out a way out having to do all three things.”

This thoughtful logic applied to getting out of fun Fridays is not what you would expect from two children failing an entire grade level.

We also had noticed when the kids would write letters or words, they were often missing the mark. For example, if the word was cat, they would write “tac” and the “t” would be upside down, the “a” would be backwards, and the “c” would be backwards. But as six-year old’s, all the pre-school and kindergarten teachers would just say when I would question it, “Kids will write letter backwards until 2nd or 3rd grade. They will probably grow out of it.”

In October, our twins started SPIRE tutoring as their teacher also completed the Orton-Gillingham training provided through the Community Foundation’s Women’s Philanthropy Society grant.  Simultaneously, we reached out to Greengate School for Dyslexia at Randolph to have them officially tested for dyslexia for which both of them received a diagnosis.

From January to April, I am proud to report the twins DIBELS® score (standardized testing of elementary aged children) increased by 90 points each.  They went from a kindergarten grade level DIBELS® score to benchmarking for passing first grade as an average student. If you think about it, we had the girl’s teacher teaching the same method that was taught in daily SPIRE tutoring and the same method which is taught twice a week by a private tutor.  The consistency and repetition to help “rewire” their brains so that each of these lessons would finally stick.

If it wasn’t for this grant through the Community Foundation of Greater Huntsville, I am not sure this teacher would have been able to recognize the dyslexia in my twins given their intelligence level in other areas of the classroom and recommend we get them tested.

The school principal now tells me that she has a long list of teachers begging to be able to participate in this training because they have heard from their peers the results it has had inside the classroom and confidence it has given to students who are extremely struggling to read.

Dyslexia affects 1 in 5 students and affects more children than all other childhood disorders. Children at risk for dyslexia can be identified as early as age 4.   So, if you go out in the community and hear your friends talk to you about their elementary aged kids or grandkids fighting them to do homework or hating to read stories or loving learn by dislike writing, please take use family’s to encourage them to ask their school to screen them for dyslexia and/or pay for Greengate’s private testing.

We don’t wish for any parent to struggle at the kitchen table doing homework with the tears and fights over simple kindergarten and first grade homework sheets as we did. The reality was that their brains were not wired to complete a typical homework worksheet in five minutes like a neurotypical child. I wish we would have realized this two years earlier, but are so thankful for those that helped us on our journey of learning.

I am beyond grateful for Lee Shaw’s advocacy to create this partnership between the Community Foundation of Greater Huntsville, Greengate School for Dyslexia at Randolph, and Madison City Schools following her personal experience with her child’s diagnosis. Her foresight to start this program to helps many families like ours. I remember seeing this grant announcement on social media, not realizing at the time that this money would directly impact my family and my children’s educational future for years to come. Thank you, Lee Shaw, the Community Foundation, and the Women’s Philanthropy Society for your work to help all children in Madison City Schools.  Abby and Charlotte truly thank you for helping make their educational journey a little easier for years to come.”

Michelle Epling, Executive Director,  Madison Chamber of Commerce