Final dyslexia bill inspired by Ocean City girl heads to governor’s desk

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Samantha Ravelli, standing with Assemblyman Nelson Albano, pushes the button indicating Albano's support for a series of dyslexia-related bills earlier this summer. Samantha Ravelli, standing with Assemblyman Nelson Albano, pushes the button indicating Albano's support for a series of dyslexia-related bills earlier this summer.

OCEAN CITY — Nine years after her mission began, Beth Ravelli said she is relieved, but elated that creating the “Roadmap for Dyslexia” is almost at an end.

“It’s been an incredible journey,” said Ravelli, of Ocean City.

On Thursday, Jan. 9, he New Jersey Senate unanimously approved a bill requiring that every child be screened for dyslexia in first grade. This comes about 20 days after the bill was unanimously approved by the Assembly, and it now heads to the governor’s desk for his signature.

This is the last of four bills concerning dyslexia that have made their way through the state legislature over the last several years.

The first three dyslexia bills passed require the New Jersey Department of Education to incorporate the International Dyslexia Association definition of dyslexia into special education regulations and provide professional development opportunities related to reading disabilities; and mandate certain school district personnel annually compete two hours of professional development related to reading disabilities.

Gov. Chris Christie signed the bills on Aug. 9.

The publicity surrounding the dyslexia laws has put the Ocean City School District, Ravelli and her daughter, Samantha, in the national spotlight.

“I’ve had so many calls,” she said. “We have had 44 other states watching us. I had to take my phone off the hook; the news went right across the nation. Everyone wants to know about what happened here in Ocean City.

“Never in my wildest dreams did I think this would happen.”

Dyslexia is most commonly characterized by difficulties with learning how to “decode” words, to spell, and to read accurately and fluently. Dyslexia can also make mathematics more difficult as people with dyslexia may mix numbers up.

Many individuals with dyslexic symptoms involving reading, writing, and spelling also exhibit symptoms in other domains such as weak short-term memory and organizational skills and problems processing spoken language.

“People with dyslexia learn ‘differently,’” Ravelli said. 

Samantha Ravelli was in third grade and 7 years old when her mother began advocating for her daughter and others with dyslexia. Now she’s a thriving 16-year-old at Ocean City High School and she’s driving.

“Sammie has gained so much confidence through all of this,” said Ravelli. “She told me that she thinks every 16-year-old should have this experience, to get a bill passed.”

The journey began when Samantha went to kindergarten, Ravelli said. Unlike other children in her class at the St. Vincent de Paul School, her daughter was unable to learn to read. By first grade, she was falling behind, Ravelli said.

It took two years and $10,000 to get her daughter diagnosed, Ravelli said. After Samantha was diagnosed, St. Vincent de Paul officials informed Ravelli that they did not have the tools to help her daughter. Ravelli, who lived in Dorothy at the time, discovered that the Ocean City School District, boasting the Wilson reading program and teachers trained to teach it, did. So the family bought a condominium in Ocean City.

Ravelli contacted Assemblyman Nelson Albano, who visited Samantha at her Ocean City school. Watching as Samantha used the tools teachers taught her to learn how to “decode” words, he took her cause to the Assembly floor.

The Ravelli family had the resources to move to Ocean City, but Beth Ravelli worried about others who did not.

With the help of Albano and State Sen. Jeff Van Drew, a Reading Disabilities Task Force was created. Ravelli was given a seat at the table.

Ravelli said it makes her feel good to know that children will be diagnosed and pointed in the right direction.

“No one will have to be alone the way we were,” she said. “We’re really excited.”

The Ocean City School District, she said, did a “phenomenal job” of helping her daughter to succeed, when so many told her she should lower her expectations for her severely dyslexic daughter.

“Sammie succeeded because she wanted to,” she said. “She did the work, but Ocean City gave her the opportunity.”

Ravelli said she hopes to write a book about the journey, to help others along the pathway. She is going to work with Stockton College, hosting an open forum about dyslexia to offer assistance and help other families navigate the system.

Film director Matthew Badger, whose three dyslexic daughters died in a Christmas Eve fire several years ago, is making a film based on Samantha’s experience titled “Sam’s Story.”

“I want to be able to teach parents of dyslexic children, the teachers, the right thing to do,” she said. “Every child has a right to be able to learn to read.” 

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