On a Friday evening when most students have gone home, the lights are still on in Kilkenny’s CBS primary school.
The students who have travelled from various parts of the county are here to get ahead thanks to a specialised programme that has been running for the past 24 years to help children with dyslexia.
Matched up based on age and ability into groups of three or four, the students spend two hours practising vocabulary, spelling, word recognition and related skills.
The weekly workshops, run by Dyslexia Association of Ireland’s Kilkenny branch, cater for students age 7 up to Junior Cert level; and in addition to the academic benefits, they also do wonders for the students’ confidence, say the parents, the tutors and the students themselves.
The organisation’s Kilkenny branch was formed in 1988 and the workshops began the following year in the old vocational school, at a time when there was very little recognition of or support for people with dyslexia. The workshops have been held in the city’s CBS primary school for the past 12 years.
“One particular parent really got things rolling,” programme co-ordinator Susan Brophy recalled of those early years. “She had a desire for the needs of her son to be met and there wasn’t a lot of recognition or diagnosis at the time.”
Set up as a result of several public meetings, the branch was the first outside of Dublin and Newbridge, Ms Brophy said. It started with about 30 students and has grown to cater for about 45 at a time.
There are two terms – from September to December and January to April – and each child initially receives a psychological assessment to ensure that his or her difficulties are in fact caused by dyslexia and not another underlying cause.
Parent Pauline Murphy’s son participated in the workshops starting in second class, and she has stayed on board with the committee even though he is now in third-level education, because she believes strongly in the benefits that the extra help has for the students, in particular their confidence. “That is the big thing – it increases the child’s confidence and ability to do the work,” she said.
Another parent, Niamh Ann Flanagan, noted that her son has been going since second class – “and he has never not wanted to come in.”
Part of the appeal, she said, is that the students are among peers facing similar challenges. “They bond; they just click. They are all pals,” she said.
“That is the difference between school, because they are not competing with people who are way above them,” Ms Murphy agreed.
They are also not afraid to try and even to get things wrong, Ms Flanagan said. And as a result, they are not afraid to volunteer to read aloud in their classes in school.
She recalled an instance of a mother bringing her son in for the workshops and warning the tutor that he probably wouldn’t speak to anyone else – and yet within a matter of minutes he was chatting away to the others. “He just gelled,” she said.
The students participating in the workshops said that the extra guidance helped them in their English classes, and they also like that, if they didn’t understand something in class, they could bring it to the workshops. They also said it gave them more confidence in their ability to read aloud in class.
Said Ms Murphy: “That is why we continue to do what we do.”
For more information about the workshops, contact Susan on 056 7768941.