A recent donation to the Mississippi College Dyslexia Education and Evaluation Center from a small Catholic school in Columbus reflects the purpose and reach of the Christian University’s efforts to improve the lives of others.
Each month, a class at Annunciation Catholic School, a 235-student private academy for children from pre-kindergarten through the eighth grade, selects a cause to support for its “Jeans for Green” activity. Students can donate $1 or more to wear jeans to school during the last Friday of the month.
October was an “open month” for the program, so Cindy B. Prewitt, dyslexia therapist and program director at ACS, and Katie Fenstermacher, director of marketing at ACS, suggested the school support dyslexia awareness.
“We had just started a dyslexia therapy program (at ACS) this year,” Prewitt said. “October was Dyslexia Awareness Month, so we wanted to donate the money to the Dyslexia Center to help continue dyslexia research.”
ACS collected $477.26 for the Dyslexia Center – more than twice the amount required for every student to don their denims, and an impressive total for a program that has so recently been established at the school.
Prewitt, who obtained her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Mississippi State University and taught in Starkville for more than 30 years, said her journey into dyslexia awareness began when her own son was diagnosed with the neurobiological learning disorder.
“I had taught for many years and knew I had students that were dyslexic, but nobody knew what to do for them,” she said. “I felt like, as an educator, I needed to pursue this.”
She learned about MC’s dyslexia therapy program and charged right in, earning her master’s degree in 2012. After retiring from teaching in Starkville, Prewitt joined the ACS faculty and taught third grade for five years while providing dyslexia therapy for students before and after school. A more concentrated effort was needed to help these students, so she became a full-time therapist at the school this year.
“We really promote dyslexia as not a disability, but a special ability,” she said. “That’s one thing I try to instill in all my students. You may not learn like everybody else, but you learn in a special way. Maybe your strengths are different than the other children in the class.
“We want them to feel comfortable in asking for help or asking for accommodations when needed.”
A good portion of her instruction is helping students without dyslexia understand what some of their classmates are experiencing.
“We have a bulletin board with the names and pictures of famous dyslexics,” she said. “I go into the classrooms and explain dyslexia to other students, so they can understand why some students receive therapy four days a week from me.”
Initially, Prewitt had hoped as many as 10 students would sign up for the new program. In less than a semester, the school has exceeded that total.
“Already, we’re almost to the max of students I can take,” she said. “I only have so many hours in the day.”
Prewitt screens kindergarten students in the spring and first grade students in the fall. Anytime a student does not pass the screening, she refers them to the Dyslexia Center at MC.
Jan Hankins, director of the MC Dyslexia Education and Evaluation Center, said her friendship with Prewitt began when the longtime schoolteacher enrolled in the Masters Dyslexia Program, and it has grown throughout the years.
“Cindy has a true concern for the students at Annunciation Catholic School,” Hankins said. “She will call or email me to discuss concerns about students and to let me know about students who might need a comprehensive psychoeducational evaluation.”
“I am constantly in contact with Jan Hankins,” Prewitt said. “The center has been a very good resource for us. They are doing so much for the state of Mississippi.”
Which might explain the ACS students’ robust support for the Dyslexia Center, which has quickly earned a stellar reputation at the school.
When her daughter was found to have dyslexia, Fenstermacher brought her to the MC Dyslexia Center for an evaluation.
“When we came to MC, it was a hard thing to have to hear about your child,” Fenstermacher said. “But everybody there was so reassuring and wonderful. Most of our students who receive therapy here have gone to MC for their evaluation and have gotten their diagnosis there.
“This kind of hits close to home for Cindy and for me, so when we had the opportunity to have an open Jeans for Green month, we knew that’s where we wanted to donate our funds.”
Hankins said the donation to the MC Dyslexia Center came as a complete surprise.
“What a special gift, students giving to students,” she said. “Relationships with schools like Annunciation help develop a deeper understanding of dyslexia and the importance of identifying dyslexia early before a child fails at reading.”
The support from ACS may not be relegated to a one-time donation, either.
“This will be something we will continue to do,” Prewitt said. “In fact, I think we’re just going to claim every October for dyslexia awareness.
“We felt like we wanted to give our donation to a worthy cause, and the Dyslexia Center is very deserving.”