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Dyslexia Conference at MC to Explore Best Practices for Language-Learning Challenges

Dr. Vennecia Jackson, left, director of diagnostic services at the Luke Waites Center for Dyslexia and Learning Disorders at Scottish Rite for Children, and Dr. Elsa Cardenas-Hagan, president of the Valley Speech Language and Learning Center in Brownsville, Texas, will serve as keynote speakers for the Fall Dyslexia Conference at Mississippi College.

Some of the nation’s leading experts in learning disorders will shed new light on one of the most common – and unexpected – language-based disabilities during a two-day summit at Mississippi College.

Dyslexia is the most common learning challenge in America today. According to the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity, about one in every five children have the language-processing disability. In a typical classroom, a teacher might encounter five or more students with dyslexia.

To help inform instructors, administrators, academic language therapists, college students, parents, community members, and others about the multifaceted aspects of dyslexia, the MC Dyslexia Education and Evaluation Center, in partnership with the Mississippi chapter of the Academic Language Therapy Association, will host the Fall Dyslexia Conference Thursday-Friday, Sept. 29-30, in Anderson Hall in the B.C. Rogers Student Center on the Clinton campus. Registration will begin at 7:15 a.m. with the program to follow at 8 a.m. each day.

Jan Hankins, director of the MC Dyslexia Center, said everyone interested in exploring the most recent “best practices” of working with students who have language-learning differences and other learning disabilities is welcome to attend. But don’t expect two days of classroom lectures: the experiential forum will include breakout sessions, a dyslexia simulation exercise, and opportunities for attendees to interact with some of the state’s foremost experts in the disorder.

“People are so thirsty for any information they can find about dyslexia,” Hankins said. “What I enjoy the most about the conference is watching therapists get together and talk, or parents get together, make a connection, and realize, ‘Oh, that’s true about my child. We’ve experienced that.’”

Shirley Tipton, academic coordinator of the School of Education’s Dyslexia Therapy Program, said the diverse slate of speakers will cover a wide variety of topics.

“Educators, parents, dyslexia therapists, and other individuals are anxious for training and the opportunity to network,” Tipton said.

Dr. Cindy Melton, dean of the School of Education at MC, said she remains inspired by how the conference affects attendees each year.

“It’s amazing to see how many people have been impacted by dyslexia and how they are touched by the conference,” Melton said. “The hope and the help they receive is encouraging. We have a great set of keynote speakers, and several of those running the breakout sessions are experts in their fields.

“These families and teachers come together and, when they make a connection, are able to feel that they’re not alone in facing this challenge. The conference helps us work collectively to assist more students. It’s two of my favorite days of the year.”

The first day of the conference, conducted by the MC Dyslexia Center, carries the theme, “Let Your Dreams Soar.” Dr. Elsa Cardenas-Hagan, president of the Valley Speech Language and Learning Center in Brownsville, Texas, and a research associate with the Texas Institute for Measurement, Evaluation, and Statistics at the University of Houston, will give the keynote address, “Structured Literacy for English Learners: What Every Educator Should Know.” A bilingual speech and language pathologist, a certified dyslexia specialist, a certified academic language therapist, and a qualified instructor who has worked with teams of researchers to design assessments and interventions for Spanish-speaking English learners who struggle with reading.

“This topic has never been covered at one of our conferences,” Hankins said. “Dr. Cardenas-Hagen will be discussing research regarding first- and second-language literacy and will suggest evidence-based strategies that can be implemented to improve English learners’ language and literacy skills. This information will benefit all of our attendees.”

Also, on Thursday, Dr. Antonio Fierro, chief academic advisor for “Tolls 4 Reading,” will present “Sound Walls: A Fun Way to Help Tell a Word’s Story.”

Sound Walls is a resource for teaching phonetics: how sounds are produced, how they are perceived, and how their physical aspects are presented. Picture cards of children’s mouths are used to teach and show the correct placement of the tongue, teeth, and lips when producing the target phoneme. Fierro’s presentation will help bridge the gap between understanding sound walls and practically implementing them in the classroom.

Other Thursday presentations will include “The Effects of Anxiety and Stress on the Mental Health of Today’s Children,” be Twila Rawson; “The 411 on Dyslexia and Numbers – Basics of Dyscalculia,” by Kari Grillis East; Mississippi Department of Education small-group question-and-answer sessions with Laurie Weathersby and Jayda Brantley; “The Magic of Movement for Student Success,” by Meredith Jierski; dyslexia simulations led by Tim Busch; “Supporting Dyslexia While Teaching Writing,” by Jason Hooper; “Executive Functioning and Dyslexia,” by Teresa Mosley; and “Dyslexia Diagnosis . . . What’s Next?” by Taffie Causey.

The second day of the conference, sponsored by the Mississippi chapter of ALTA, is primary for therapists who have been working on or have received their master’s degrees. Continuing education credit will be available for attending the conference.

The keynote speaker for the second day will be Dr. Vennecia Jackson, director of diagnostic services at the Luke Waites Center for Dyslexia and Learning Disorders at Scottish Rite for Children and a staff developmental pediatrician for almost 30 years. Jackson will present “The Tie That Binds and Separates: Dyslexia and Inattention Problems.”

Other sessions on Friday will include “Spotlight on Dyslexia – A Presentation Made to the Alaska Reading Symposium,” by Jayda Brantley and Laurie Weathersby; and “Practical Techniques, Activities, and Strategies Supportive of Therapy and Useful in Classrooms,” by Mark Weakland.

While there is much to be discovered about the impact of and potential therapies for dyslexia and other learning difficulties, Hankins said the conference shows progress has been made in recent years to better understand the learning disorder.

“The science of the brain is changing all the time,” she said. “l think we have come a long way in the 10 years I have been at the Dyslexia Center at MC. People are recognizing it more and more, but there’s still a lot of work that has to be done, and a lot of understanding.

“That’s why we bring in speakers for the conference who have expertise to offer. A lot of attendees already know about dyslexia. I want them to pick up the latest facts and information so they can stay on top of what is happening.”

She said the conference is most effective in illuminating the human element of the disorder.

“I want parents who just found out that their children have been diagnosed with dyslexia to come hear from other parents, hear from teachers, and know that it’s going to be OK, that there’s help for them. Dyslexia is here to stay, but if you have the right therapy, if you have the right diagnosis, it’s something that a child can overcome and be successful, no matter what.”

The conference costs $100 for one day or $175 for both days and includes lunch in the MC Cafeteria. For more information, visit or email Tipton at tipton@mc.edu.

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