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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, May 26, 2005

Dyslexics help school to learn

By Treena Shapiro
Advertiser Education Writer

When Gerald Pang graduates with honors from Pearl City High School on Saturday, his diploma won't just represent his own achievements, but also the effort the school has put into making it possible.

Gerald Pang

Angelicca Pang
Gerald has dyslexia, a learning disability that affects his reading skills, and for years also affected his self-esteem. However, thanks to reasonable accommodations at his high school, Pang has been able to earn at least B's in mainstream classes.

Although dyslexia affects as much as 20 percent of the population, Hawai'i schools have not generally focused on helping dyslexic students.

"It's such a new revelation to us," said Pearl City High School principal Gerald Suyama. He has no idea how many dyslexic students Pearl City has, but said, "we suspect it's a lot in varying degrees."

Suyama said Pearl City is trying to bring more awareness about dyslexia to other public schools, and in July will host training sessions with a national expert to help teachers across the state learn strategies for working with dyslexic students.

Gerald's mother, Margarette Pang, was instrumental in getting her son and his younger sister Angelicca back into mainstream school after years at ASSETS, a school that specializes in teaching students with learning disabilities.

A dyslexic herself, she wanted to make sure it was done properly. She spent two years working with Suyama on the transition.

Until Pang stepped in, "we were not really doing anything to address dyslexia and it's such a common thing," Suyama said.

Gerald and Angelicca entered Pearl City High School this year knowing they would be guinea pigs helping the school learn how to accommodate dyslexic students. "The two people are blazing the trail for us," Suyama said.

The preparations included a tour of the school, as well as special training for teachers who were taught to provide accommodations that were fair and reasonable and leveled the playing field for the Pang children and the rest of their classmates.

Suyama likens the accommodations to giving glasses to a student that can't see. The Pangs can take tests orally, take shorter versions of tests, have additional time if necessary and have their spelling excused. Teachers were also taught to use a multisensory approach in teaching the Pangs.

The Pangs don't have it easy. "We do a lot of work," said Gerald, who often went to school early to work with his teachers. "I do just as much as I can."

Although ASSETS was a great place for Gerald to be in intermediate school, he was happy to be able to return to the public school in his neighborhood. "My friends are here and they have a better program," he said, pointing out that he could take classes such as weight training and building construction that weren't offered at the small private school. "It just feels better," he said. "There's more to do."

Angelicca has been able to take Spanish and earned A's taking tests orally. While other students are aware that she is receiving accommodations because of dyslexia, she said she doesn't feel embarrassed by it. "It's not a problem anymore," she said.