NEW YORK (PIX11) — In what he called the country’s largest initiative ever for students with dyslexia, Mayor Eric Adams on Thursday announced a systemwide change to how literacy is promoted in New York City’s public schools.
Adams, who has dyslexia himself, was joined by Schools Chancellor David Banks in announcing a set of programs aimed at helping to identify students with dyslexia, and to find ways to promote their success. Adams and Banks also said that the changes will help all other students by improving literacy overall.
“All students will be screened for dyslexia,” the mayor announced at a news conference at P.S. 125 in Harlem.
“We’re going to do this in a multi-pronged way,” he continued. “First, students will continue to be screened for literacy. Those who repeatedly struggle will be offered a specific screening for dyslexia.”
“We’re going to identify it early,” Adams said, “give them the support early and ensure that they can have the right support as they move throughout their education.”
The program will include literacy screenings three times per school year, as well as citywide teacher training to help identify and support students with dyslexia. The initiative will also create two pilot in-person programs that students with dyslexia can attend: one at P.S. 125 in Harlem and one at P.S. 161 in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, the latter of which is where the chancellor had attended school when he was coming up through the New York City public school system.
Banks emphasized one more key aspect of the new program. “Over the next year,” Banks said, “all schools will be asked to switch to a phonics-based literacy curriculum.” The educators and legislators on stage with Banks and Adams applauded.
One of those people on stage was Debbie Meyer, who leads the literacy advocacy and research organization Decoding Dyslexia NYC. She later spoke with PIX11 News in an interview about what the city’s curriculum change can do for students.
“We have about 250 symbols and combinations of letters that make one sound in the English language,” Meyer said. “We need to learn to decode our language. That’s what phonics does.”
Carolyn Strom, a clinical assistant professor at NYU and director of the children’s literacy program at the university’s Steinhardt School, said that the city’s new literacy curriculum is a big move forward if it’s done right.
“It’s amazing that we’re finally following the science,” Strom said in an interview. “What has unfortunately happened in schools in New York City is that they’ve used a patchwork curriculum” up to now, she said, “some of which don’t follow the science.”
“So the fact that they’re finally kind of embracing phonics is great,” Strom continued, “but embracing the science of reading also means embracing other components of reading, like vocabulary building and spoken language.”
“But phonics has been proven over and over to not just be effective for dyslexic kids, but to be effective for all kids,” Strom said.
After the mayor and chancellor led their morning news conference, they also made presentations at the city’s Dyslexia Awareness Day online advocacy seminar.
Before that local, virtual event, the mayor made another announcement at the news conference about a similar event on an international scale.
“We are proud to be hosting the World Dyslexia Assembly next year,” Adams said, to applause.
“All over the globe,” he continued, “people are coming here to see what the dyslexic mayor is doing to prevent dyslexia, and bring the knowledge and information to New York City.”