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First-Ever Dyslexia Grant Awarded to Donna ISD

Additional support is on the way for the Donna Independent School District’s dyslexia program, which will help identify students who may have the learning reading disability.

Dyslexia is an unexpected difficulty in learning to read despite normal intelligence and vision and access to good instruction. Today, scientists generally agree that people with dyslexia struggle to read because they have trouble linking the shapes of printed letters with the sounds of spoken language — not because they have problems with visual perception or memory.

While Donna ISD currently has a dyslexia program in place, it is not at the capacity where administrators would like it to be — that is until now. The district recently received word that it was being awarded close to $500,000 in grant funding from the Texas Education Agency to expand and strengthen its dyslexia program. Academic Director Dr. Diana Villanueva drafted the proposal and was flabbergasted when she heard the news.

“This is really big,” Dr. Villanueva said. “We have never received this kind of funding or support at this level before in the history of Donna ISD, so we’re very excited. Each campus will be able to monitor the implementation of the dyslexia program and help spread awareness because it’s going to be an extra pair of eyes and ears in support of the program.”

Dr. Villanueva said the news could not have come at a better time. “Right now students are struggling in reading and if they truly have this condition and we don’t identify it, they’re going to continue to struggle year after year,” Dr. Villanueva said. “The more they struggle, the more discouraged they get and this could lead to early drop out and an end to furthering their education. It would close their world academically.”

Currently, Special Education and Reading Language Arts (RLA) teachers manage the dyslexia program, which often times becomes challenging because they have their primary roles to attend to and other daily duties. Now, with this grant, the district will hire six dyslexia teachers and three dyslexia strategists who will be dedicated exclusively to helping train teachers and implement strategies. The focus will be at the elementary level.

“With a stronger more solid structure, we will be able to concentrate 100 percent on implementing the district’s dyslexia program with a concentration on training all kindergarten through 3rd grade RLA teachers so they will know what to look out for,” Dr. Villanueva said. “By training these teachers, they’ll be able to identify students who are at risk for dyslexia through screening and recommend further interventions.”  

If a student is identified with having dyslexia, he or she would be eligible to participate in the district’s dyslexia program and begin receiving the services. “Once they’re identified with dyslexia, we can offer the dyslexia program as part of intervention,” Dr. Villanueva said.

“We can also teach the student specific reading strategies so that they can become more familiar with the areas they’re struggling with. We will also teach them how to accommodate and teach them about their own strengths and areas of need. So, with early identification and the proper support anything is possible for these students. We want every student to be able to graduate and pursue college or other opportunities.”