The Reading Center, a Rochester gem, helps those with dyslexia

February 14, 2019

Nicole Blegen, a Mayo Clinic administrator, knew something was getting in the way of her daughter learning to read. “She always loved books, and loved being read to,” Blegen says. “But it was challenging to do the reading herself.”

Her daughter’s teachers advised patience. “We watched her struggle,” says Blegen. Reading did not get easier.  

When her daughter was 6 years old, Nicole and her husband, Patrick, contacted The Reading Center in Rochester, Minnesota, a resource for children and adults with dyslexia. Testing showed their daughter did have dyslexia, a neurobiological condition that runs in families and makes reading difficult.

Medical condition with education solution

 “Dyslexia is a medical diagnosis with an education solution,” says Cindy Russell, executive director of The Reading Center, which opened in Rochester in 1951. The Reading Center staff and volunteers teach students using the Orton-Gillingham approach. This research-proven method focuses on a structured and sequential instruction of the sounds associated with letters, spelling, vocabulary development and comprehension.    

Contributions from Mayo Clinic are making it possible for more people with dyslexia to use the services of The Reading Center, one of two centers west of the Mississippi that is nationally accredited for the Orton-Gillingham approach. It’s estimated about one in five people have some degree of dyslexia. 

“The Reading Center is a gem for Rochester, for Minnesota, and a resource for Mayo Clinic employees and patients,” says Brooks Edwards, M.D., a Mayo Clinic transplant physician who benefited from tutoring through The Reading Center. “I was a struggling elementary school student, reading below grade level and seen as not very smart,” says Dr. Edwards.

Mayo pledges $180,000 to Reading Center   

Dr. Edwards, along with his wife, Terri Edwards, M.D., a retired pediatrician, and Joe Powers, owner of Powers Ventures, Rochester, are co-leading The Reading Center’s capital campaign. Mayo Clinic has pledged $180,000 to support a new facility in Rochester, which will expand services to reach more people with dyslexia. The new building will more than triple the space available for testing, tutoring students and training tutors. 

The Reading Center also is expanding its reach by offering personal video-chat tutoring to students anywhere. And The Reading Center collaborates with the Rochester Public Library and the Boys and Girls Clubs of Rochester, reaching at-risk students.

With the new building and outreach, “Our goal was to reach 50 percent more tutoring students than we did in 2015,” says Russell. “We have met and exceeded that goal, doubling the number of tutoring students to 306 in 2018.”  Through all its programming, The Reading Center reached more than 720 students in 2018.    

Dr. Edwards is pleased that more families will have access to The Reading Center’s testing, tutoring and follow-up services. His three children were tutored there. He has shared his experiences with dyslexia with friends and colleagues, some who then sought help for their children at the center.  

Blegen, who served on The Reading Center’s board of directors for six years, agrees that the demand is there. “Finding out our child had dyslexia was a shock and a relief,” she says. “I want to make sure that other people with dyslexia have access to the same life-changing services The Reading Center offered our family.”

And her daughter? Now a graduate of The Reading Center, Blegen says she is “doing really well” in seventh grade. 

The need for literacy services is great

  • An estimated 15-20 percent of people have a reading disability. Of those, 85 percent have dyslexia.
  • Almost 5,000 children, ages 7-18, who live in Olmsted County, have some degree of language learning difficulty.
  • While The Reading Center is expanding, it is currently reaching only about 14 percent of those with dyslexia in Olmsted County.

Poor literacy skills linked to life challenges

  • 85 percent of young people in juvenile court are functionally illiterate.
  • Young people with dyslexia experience unemployment three times higher than the average unemployment rate.
  • 43 percent of Americans with the lowest literacy skills live in poverty and 70 percent are under or unemployed.  

Source:  The Reading Center