Seth Mayfield is a ninth grader reading at an eighth grade level at Dunlap High School. That may not seem too significant, except that when he started seventh grade, he was reading at a second grade level. His success came from a free after-school tutoring program twice a week for 50 minutes in the basement of the Westlake Masonic Lodge. For parents of children with dyslexia, miracles happen in this basement.
Seth Mayfield is a ninth grader reading at an eighth grade level at Dunlap High School. That may not seem too significant, except that when he started seventh grade, he was reading at a second grade level.
His remarkable progress came following years of frustration, anger and misery for him and his family. His success came from a free after-school tutoring program twice a week for 50 minutes in the basement of the Westlake Masonic Lodge.
For parents of children with dyslexia, miracles happen in this basement. It's the headquarters of the Valley of Peoria Learning Center, sponsored by the Supreme Council of the Scottish Rite of Peoria, which pays all costs affiliated with the program.
Most public and private schools do not diagnose dyslexia, a neurological learning disability that affects reading and writing. Estimates of the number of children with some degree of dyslexia range from 10 percent to nearly 20 percent.
Because it is so often undiagnosed, parents and children desperately try a litany of programs that frequently end in failure. Without a diagnosis, children think they are dumb, and parents think their child is not trying. Behavior problems erupt. The prevalence of dyslexia in prison populations is testimony to that.
Seth's track record with failure made him reluctant to try yet another program. He wanted to stay home and play video games.
"He came kicking and screaming," his tutor said, speaking figuratively.
Seth, 15, said, "I used to give up. If an answer didn't come to me in 30 seconds, I was running away from it."
His mother, Lori Kinoshita, said, "We were always fighting over homework. Before we came to the Masonic program, Seth could barely put a sentence together, and it was gibberish. Now, he's writing paragraphs and entire papers. It's a joy."
But Kinoshita said it shouldn't have taken years and years to find help.
The Masonic program is based on the Orton-Gillingham curriculum, which has a proven track record for giving children lifelong tools to compensate for dyslexia.
Center director Gina Cooke taught the Orton-Gillingham curriculum at a Masonic program in Chicago before moving to Peoria to open the center here in 2006.
Cooke said the center provides the "highest quality clinical intervention available for children with dyslexia." The program, developed by American doctor Samuel T. Orton and furthered by psychologist Anna Gillingham, uses phonics and a visual, auditory and kinesthetic learning approach.
"One in five children has some degree of dyslexia. We have this program right here in Peoria, but we need the community to want to sustain this resource," she said.
Board member Nick Graff said, "We're concerned with funding for this program. Our rent is going up. Money is tight, but these kids are our future. We're trying our best to keep this center open."
Learning centers based on the Orton-Gillingham curriculum became an official charity of the Masons nationwide in 1996, Graff said. Peoria Masons tried to bring the program here in 1999 but couldn't afford it.
The program now operates on about $125,000 a year. Children stay in the program an average of two years, and about 30 students are enrolled each year.
"Being part of Masonry is about charities. Our challenge is to give this to the children of Peoria. Everyone has to be able to read," Graff said.
Illinois Rep. David Leitch, R-Peoria, is investigating sources of help for the learning center.
Becoming a tutor
Cooke trains tutors for the program. The training is available to four-year college graduates who attend 26 semester hours in the Orton-Gillingham approach. Trainees then work for six weeks with a child.
Once tutors complete the training, they work with students for a 50-minute one-on-one session two times a week in the afternoons after regular school is dismissed for the day. Some trainees are teachers, but others have never taught. There is a 12- to 18-month waiting list for children to get into the program.
Dyslexic children are often above average in intelligence, but years of school failure erode their self-confidence, Cooke said.
Louise Worth saw that pattern emerging in her son Ben, 10. At the time she started noticing the problem, the family was in Singapore with Caterpillar Inc. When they moved to Peoria, they were one of the first to enroll at the Valley of Peoria Learning Center.
"I had given up in school. I couldn't keep pace. It's like your eyes don't work fast enough. Then it took until 10 at night for my parents to explain it to me," said Ben Worth. "I would go into fits because I couldn't even find out what the homework was."
Ben started the program when he was 7 and now, at age 10, he has the skills to compensate for his dyslexia.
Louise Worth said, "It was wonderful when we finally got the diagnosis of dyslexia. Ben thought he was dumb. Then we came to this center and realized we were not alone. . . . It lifted a huge emotional burden."
Job transfers require the family to move a lot, so Worth decided to become a tutor. One of her students is Seth Mayfield.
At first, Seth said he didn't try very hard at the center.
"Then something happened. I found that my schoolwork was easier, and maybe, just maybe, everyone had been right. The program was working," he said in a speech about the program.
"Now, when I go to the Masonic (lodge) for that 50 minutes, all I think about is the lesson in front of me. I want to take advantage of my time there. The Masonic Learning Center is changing my life."
Clare Howard can be reached at (309) 686-3250 or email@example.com.