Academy for Literacy, Learning and Innovation Excellence (ALLIES) is a school in District 49 that provides intervention and accommodations for children with characteristics of dyslexia. The program was started four years ago within Odyssey Elementary School, under the direction of Rebecca Thompson, Director of Academics at ALLIES. “My passion for this program started around eight years ago when a mother came into Odyssey to enroll her son who had a diagnosis of dyslexia, but only if we would continue the Orton Gillingham intervention that he was receiving,” says Thompson. “Since we didn’t have a program like this in place, we decided to start offering an intervention for dyslexic students. A few years later, I attended a training in Chicago where I learned to screen for characteristics of dyslexia — and realized what a hidden population this is and what an incredible opportunity we have to accommodate for and embrace these students.”
It took a bit of time for Thompson and colleagues to mold the program into what it is today, but with the support of the zone superintendent and district chief education officer, it is now a full-fledged, five-day-a-week program that utilizes Take Flight: A Comprehensive Intervention for Students with Dyslexia. Take Flight covers five components of reading: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and reading comprehension. It also utilizes the Orton-Gillingham structural approach, and all of the teachers in the program are trained to teach children with characteristics of dyslexia.
The daily schedule for students enrolled in the ALLIES program consists of the aforementioned Take Flight intervention; a standard English language arts class; a standard math class; an innovation class, which includes project-based learning and maker spaces; a discoveries class that is intended to develop the gifts that dyslexic children have — whether in the area of art, music or physical fitness; and a online learning class guided by a tutor. The online class features a reading program called Lexia and a spatial temporal program called ST Math — both developed for dyslexic children. ALLIES will have its very own building in the 2018-2019 school year.
According to the International Dyslexia Association, approximately 15 to 20 percent of children are dyslexic. Many of these children fall under the radar, and parents are left to wonder why their child is having such trouble reading, sounding out words and spelling (for example, as no two cases of dyslexia are identical). The ALLIES program has spurred tremendous growth in student’s early literacy skills and reading proficiency. This dynamic improvement is measured by the DIBELS Composite Score, among other data-driven assessments.
Thompson recalls many instances of parents calling up and crying with gratitude because they have found the solution to their children’s learning challenges. Often for the first time, parents get to witness their children’s excitement to go to school, and to be surrounded by other kids who understand the difficulties they face. One mother texted her Take Flight therapist a photo of her son on the couch reading a book, and captioned it with “For the first time ever, my child picked up a book in the evening and is reading it.” Another mom shared, “Before we came to this program my child was a wilting flower, she has blossomed again and we are so happy.” While there is the numerical data that proves the program’s success, perhaps even more touching is the emotional response from overjoyed parents and children.
“There are many private schools with intervention programs for dyslexic students throughout the country. I know of one in Texas where parents pay about $20,000 per year — but ours is the only one that I know of that is incorporated into a free public school,” Thompson says. Instead of having to pay that private school tuition, or spend $40-$80 an hour for after-school tutoring, parents can enroll their children in the ALLIES program right in District 49.
The program attracts and enrolls students throughout Colorado Springs and surrounding areas. Thompson even had an email from a family in Kansas who was looking to relocate if they can get their child enrolled in ALLIES. “It’s been incredible to bring this hidden disability to light, and to witness the success and happiness that this program produces for children with characteristics of dyslexia and their families,” says Thompson.
Space in ALLIES is filling up quickly. To complete the application for enrollment consideration of an upcoming 2nd, 3rd or 4th grade student, visit www.D49.org/chooseALLIES.