Reading Matters Westerville’s help enables IEP navigation

Marla K. Kuhlman
ThisWeek group

Although Reading Matters Westerville started as a Facebook group in May 2018 for parents of struggling readers and students with dyslexia to share information, the 155 members have become a supportive community, especially during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.  

“The need for Reading Matters Westerville has increased with today’s remote-learning environment due to the pandemic,” said Mary Lou Hittle, who co-founded the group with Julie Rader.

Reading Matters Westerville’s mission is to promote awareness and understanding of dyslexia among parents, teachers and school administrators in the Westerville City School District.

“While our focus is on supporting families of struggling readers and students with dyslexic profiles, any family navigating the special-education arena will benefit from our individualized (education program)-related articles, dyslexia expertise and parent coaching.”

Hittle, whose daughter is a middle school student with dyslexia and language-learning struggles, said the group regularly shares information via social media that is relevant and timely to help parents successfully navigate the IEP process. 

She said Reading Matters Westerville’s mission is to promote awareness and understanding of dyslexia among parents, teachers and school administrators in the Westerville City School District.  

“We seek to bridge and close education and achievement gaps that students with dyslexia and related learning disorders are experiencing by advocating for their specific needs,” Hittle said. 

“Going to school remotely during a pandemic is hard on families,” she said. “When you add an IEP to the mix, it’s 10 times harder.” 

She testified before the Ohio Senate Education Committee regarding House Bill 436 related to screening and intervention for children with dyslexia on Sept. 16.

Advocating on behalf of families of children with dyslexic profiles, she testified, “HB 436 will help provide the much needed and long overdue funding for all school districts, throughout the state, to fully embrace the changes that are needed to provide appropriate and federally mandated reading interventions for all students with dyslexic profiles. ... They deserve access to the tools they need to thrive.”

Building community

Megan Vennemeyer, a member of the Reading Matters Facebook group, said having the ability to go directly to other parents in the same situation is a reassuring thing.   

“Reading Matters Westerville has been an invaluable source to our family as we have navigated how to best serve our daughter after we discovered she struggled with reading and writing about 2 1/2 years ago,” she said. “We began attending meetings shortly after we received a dyslexia diagnosis from a clinical psychologist because a teacher suggested she may have deeper issues than not being able to focus.  The encouragement and support from the newly formed RMW were just wonderful as we navigated our new diagnosis.” 

There are so many different areas a parent has to educate themselves on besides the dyslexia diagnosis, Vennemeyer said. 

“Reading Matters helped us to understand the school process and supports our daughter may have needed, references and suggestions for outside tutoring and what technology and tools are available to dyslexic children just to name a few of the areas covered in this group,” she said. “A very instrumental meeting for our own family was a situation where Reading Matters provided two advocates for us to ask questions. We were able to use that information to help us understand the right kind of supports for our daughter.”   

Amy Adams said she developed a friendship with Hittle through their sons, who are in high school. 

“They aren’t our struggling readers,” she said. “My struggling reader is still in elementary.” 

Adams, however, learned about the group through that friendship. 

“Knowing her as an advocate has been tremendous,” she said. “She has poured her heart and soul into it. It’s nice how robust the content is that she puts out there.” 

Adams said Hittle does a good job of connecting across school districts for best practices.  

“It starts in Westerville, but through the connections she has made, the reach is greater than Westerville,” she said. “What it does for people in Westerville is inform them what is going on in other districts for best practices and things being done that can be implemented in Westerville.”

Parent Mary Hoag, whose child has had an IEP since 2013, said everything changed for the better the day she met Hittle at a children’s playdate.

“Using the resources that can be found on Reading Matters Facebook page and having many evening conversations with Mary Lou, we have learned ‘what to look for’ in our child’s IEP, how to organize that data, how ask for additional assessments and/or an IEP, how to amend our child’s IEP to better address areas of need and received information about programs available to help our child succeed.”

She said Reading Matters has been an essential resource during this year’s remote-learning adventure.

Thanks to the group, Hoag said, her child has started middle school with a completely new and improved IEP. 

“For the first time since 2013, we are confident this will be the year of success and growth,” she said. “We couldn’t have accomplished any of this without RMW and will be forever grateful.”

For information, go to Reading Matters Westerville on Facebook or email readingmatterswville@gmail.com.