Going back to school can be an exciting time for students and parents. But for children with dyslexia, the start of a new school year can be stressful. Marianne Jylha, Executive Director of Great Minds Learning Center in Grand Rapids, offered some advice as students head back to school.

Basic Information

According to 2018 Minnesota Statutes, 125A.01, Subd. 2, “‘Dyslexia’ means a specific learning disability that is neurological in origin. It is characterized by difficulties with accurate or fluent recognition of words and by poor spelling and decoding abilities.” The definition further explains the potential consequences including, “problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede the growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.”

The dyslexia team within the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) is working to support schools in screening and identifying “students with characteristics of dyslexia and develop teacher capacity to provide evidence-based reading instruction.”

Jylha hopes to see a shift in reading curriculum to include structured literacy.

In the article, “Here’s Why Schools Should Use Structured Literacy,” by Loise Spear-Swerling, PhD, “Structured literacy (SL) approaches emphasize highly explicit and systematic teaching of all important components of literacy. These components include both foundational skills (e.g., decoding, spelling) and higher-level literacy skills (e.g., reading comprehension, written expression). SL also emphasizes oral language abilities essential to literacy development, including phonemic awareness, sensitivity to speech sounds in oral language, and the ability to manipulate those sounds.”

Spear-Swerling further states that SL method is more successful compared to other practices, particularly in regard to students with dyslexia or other literacy problems.

“I dream of a day when every elementary teacher and student can identify what a closed syllable is- when every teacher can explain why you spell some words ending with a ‘k’ instead of a ‘ck’ and be able to explain how to divide a longer word into syllables to determine what vowel sound to use,” Jylha said. “Every student will benefit from this, but dyslexic students will benefit enormously.”


Here in Grand Rapids, Great Minds Learning Center offers help to parents of children who are struggling with reading. Jylha provides screening which can determine if dyslexia is a cause of the difficulties. Parents can then meet with Jyhla to discuss the screening results. Great Minds Learning Center also gives recommendations to parents for school accommodations, intervention, ongoing support and further testing.

“At Great Minds we provide 1:1 intervention tailored to individual weaknesses and learning style. The dyslexic brain uses an inefficient approach to language tasks. Students with dyslexia benefit from highly structured, multisensory instruction with the opportunity to master foundational reading and spelling rules,” Jylha commented. “Our tutors strengthen the brain pathways and put in a freeway where the brain used to take country roads. We help the brain to get there faster with less wrong turns.”


While the start of a new school year may bring stress for those with dyslexia, Jyhla encourages students to focus on how they learn and what will help them be successful.

“Children with dyslexia need to understand that your grades do not define you. Dyslexia is a hidden disability,” Jyhla said. “Others may not realize how hard you are working. Be empowered and ask for what you need!”

Furthermore, she noted that not every skillset is reflected on one’s report card.

“Computers can read, compute math problems and spit out names and dates. Computers don’t have intuition, creativity, inventive problem solving skills and great people skills. Computers can’t think outside the box,” Jyhla said.

Additional Information

For more information about Great Minds Learning Center, visit gmlc.co, email gmlc@gmlc.co or call 999-5525.

“The consequences of reading failure has a painful impact on families and communities. Studies have shown that approximately 80% of prison inmates are functionally illiterate,” Jhlya said. “We know what dyslexia is and how to help, but most people have not been diagnosed. We must learn more and do better.”


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