On the Mark Dyslexia clinic struggles to meet demand for tutors

GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) -- Since opening in 2018, On the Mark Dyslexia Clinic has been struggling to keep up with demand.

Since retiring in 2016, Pat Shafer opened On the Mark, in honor of her son who died of a brain tumor when he was 13.

“I had no idea the magnitude of the problem until we opened,” said Pat Shafer, the executive director of On the Mark. It’s a non-profit helping students of all ages who have dyslexia.

Shafer was the reading specialist at St. Bernard Catholic School for 16 years and is a certified dyslexia specialist.

Since retiring in 2016, she opened On the Mark, in honor of her son who died of a brain tumor when he was 13.

“We haven’t advertised and we had 28 students the summer of 2018 and we continued with those students through last school year. This summer we serviced 54 students and presently we have 42, with five from summer that I haven’t been able to accommodate yet.”

Shafer says she has 11 students on a wait list, because she doesn’t have enough tutors.

“I’m always looking for tutors who have a passion for helping kids so that we can accommodate more students,” said Shafer.

Shafer says many of the families who bring their kids to the clinic had nowhere left to turn after watching their child struggle with reading and writing and not finding help in the schools.

“The calls I get from parents are pretty desperate looking for help, because there’s not another place to find what we’re doing here,” said Shafer.

That was the case for Karrie Holler's son, Derek.

He has struggled in school most of his life; teachers telling Karrie, Derek wouldn’t sit still in class and had problems focusing.

“He’s been in special education from Kindergarten on,” said Holler. “They did every type of intervention possible. I have stacks of papers and interventions. Teachers were great, principals were great, endless meetings to try to help him to be able to focus. It was always, we have to get his energy in place so he can learn.”

After taking him to see a neuropsychologist twice, once when Derek was in 1st grade and again when he was in 5th grade, Karrie finally got some answers.

“They said that he had dyslexia and dyscalculia and that was just the starting point of me feeling, as a parent, finally I had a diagnosis I could work from,” said Holler.

After his freshman year of high school, Derek was still behind in class and Karrie decided to try home schooling.

They were also lucky enough to get into On the Mark and Shafer has been working with him since March.

“Currently, evidence based best practices is to use a structured literacy program. Children with dyslexia don't notice patterns in words and they need explicit teaching that gives them rules to hang on to,” said Shafer.

To evaluate where a student is at, she gives a test called ‘TILLS’ which stands for Test of Integrated Language and Literacy Skills. It gives Shafer an overall view of the student’s reading and writing skills.

“Diagnosing dyslexia isn’t always simple, you have to look at multiple factors. There’s usually a genetic component in the family and there’s usually a need to look at phonological awareness, as well as their decoding and spelling skills and writing abilities,” said Shafer.

Since doing this with Derek, Karrie has seen a huge difference in her son's confidence

“His desire to want to read, his desire to want to do work, has changed in just a couple of months,” said Holler.

October is Dyslexia Awareness Month, and there are a few fundraisers for On the Mark.

Eat at Red Robin on Oct. 8 and Panera Bread on Oct. 15 and 20% of the profits will go to the organization.

Learn more about the organization at Barnes and Noble on Oct. 26 for a chance to win some Halloween themed prizes.