Kindergarteners work together during a reading intervention session in Katie Hoiland's kindergarten classroom at Aragon Elementary in Fountain-Fort Carson School District 8 on Jan. 23, 2019. Aragon is one of the schools that showed drastic improvement in reading levels after using READ Act funds to overhaul teaching techniques. (Mark Reis, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Tammy Kennington and the four children in her cozy therapy room prepared to sound out the word “April.”

“Divide before your first medial consonant. Accent the first syllable,” Kennington said, her fourth graders quietly echoing her words.

“A vowel in an open-accented syllable is long. Code it with a macron,” they said. “A vowel in a closed syllable is short, code it with a breve.”

Methodically, Kennington and her students narrated each step of the decoding process as the children penciled in slashes, accents, circles, or stress marks on all 13 words in the sentence. Three minutes and 20 seconds later, they put it all together: “For her birthday in April, we gave her a blue and white apron.”

This is what learning to read looks like for the 122 second- through fifth-graders who attend the Academy for Literacy, Learning & Innovation Excellence in Colorado Springs. Run by School District 49 and commonly referred to as ALLIES, is the state’s only public school for students with dyslexia. Private schools with the same mission can run $30,000 annually.

ALLIES, now in its third year, is ascending at a time when lawmakers and education leaders are raising big questions about why so many Colorado children can’t read well and what the state is doing to remedy the problem. There’s also been a growing push among parents and other advocates to better serve students with dyslexia, a learning disability that can make reading, spelling, and pronouncing words difficult.

Recent activism helped spur a new state law that called for a pilot program for dyslexia screening and a work group charged with recommending policies to support students with dyslexia. In addition, advocates around the state plan to open additional public schools for students with dyslexia over the next couple years.


Senior reporter — Chalkbeat Colorado. Email: Twitter: @annschimke