40 West Ada teachers attend dyslexia summer school training

West Ada School District educators (along with 26 charter and private school teachers) are participating this week in a five-day workshop to institute phonological reading practices that could improve literacy among all Idaho students.

The Structure Literacy workshop is conducted by the Institute for Multi-Sensory Education.

The extra summer learning was prompted by the $1.5 million lawmakers appropriated to Idaho schools to deliver dyslexia training to teachers.

West Ada plans to add three literacy consultants and grant phonics workshop training for 40 teachers by the end of August.

IMSE trains teachers in targeted interventions and core reading strategies that focus on phonemic awareness and decoding words. Galileo Elementary first grade teacher Jolynn Aldinger is a believer.

Aldinger, entering her 19th year teaching in West Ada and her second year as an IMSE advocate, relates the story of a struggling student.

“I have a master’s degree in elementary reading and writing, and I couldn’t reach her. She’d take two steps forward and three steps back. And I just could not figure out what I was doing wrong. Why wasn’t she learning?” Aldinger said. “So I started looking into dyslexia, and other learning difficulties.”

What she eventually found was Structured Literacy methodology of breaking reading and spelling down into smaller skills like recognizing letters and sounds, and then building on these skills to form a solid foundation in phonemic-based literacy. With this method, even struggling readers can learn how to read, according to IMSE and Aldinger.

“I had such wild success in my classroom. It was magical watching these kids learn how to read,” Aldinger said. “You could just see them kind of sit up with this confidence. My gosh, I had first graders spelling ‘address’ and ‘bankrupt.’ And they understood why it was spelled that way.”

IMSE training materials.
IMSE training materials.

The National Institute of Health research indicates that one in five students show symptoms of dyslexia and 1-5% of kids show severe dyslexic symptoms.

“A core belief in West Ada is that literacy is a life skill. Literacy is not a ‘want to have.’ We don’t have this goal of what we would like to see happen with our students at the end of third grade. We want every one of our students to be literate at the end of third grade,” West Ada superintendent Derek Bub said during a dyslexia presentation at West Ada’s June 12 board meeting.

In 2022, 83% of West Ada’s third graders were reading at grade level compared to the state rate of 72%, according to the Idaho Reading Indicator exam. 

“We’re extremely proud of that. What that also tells us, though, is that 17% of our students need to get there,” Bub said.

West Ada officials decided to invest in IMSE training to help the 4,275 of their 16,000 K-3 students at risk for reading difficulties.

With a combination of $200,000 in district funding and $200,000 in state funding dedicated to professional development in West Ada, the school system dedicated $50,400 to train 40 current teachers as “resident experts”  to deliver IMSE Structured Learning curriculum across its 58 schools.

This investment also came via a little nudging from Decoding Dyslexia Idaho founder Robin Zikmund, one of a group of “angry parents” that presented their case to the West Ada board in January.

“We showed up with our red T-shirts and told Dr. Bub that you need to form a task force, and I want to be on it,” Zikmund said.

Zikmund became active in the red-shirted Decoding Dyslexia organization as mother to a now ninth-grade dyslexic child.

“We can’t just pour money into the problem with no requirements of where those funds are going. There’s got to be leadership with accountability,” Zikmund told EdNews.


Matt Denis

Matt Denis

Reporter Matt Denis is based in the Treasure Valley and has served as an educator and a journalist. Prior to national digital reporting and founding an arts and culture section in Eugene, Oregon, Matt worked as an English and history teacher in Detroit, San Diego, and Milwaukee, Wisconsin. You can send news tips to [email protected].

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