South Korean news team visits Ocean City to film documentary on dyslexia

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Reading specialist Ita Lanterman is filmed as she teaches the students. Reading specialist Ita Lanterman is filmed as she teaches the students.

OCEAN CITY — When she started advocating for her severely dyslexic daughter nearly a decade ago, a state education official warned Beth Ravelli “not to open that can of worms,” she said.

But Ravelli didn’t listen and now her efforts have gained national attention. On Monday, Feb. 24, a team from the Educational Broadcasting System in South Korea filming a documentary on dyslexia visited the Ocean City Intermediate School to meet Ravelli, her 16-year-old daughter, Samantha, and school officials to see a viable program in action.

The reporters are hoping South Korea can create a program to assist students in their own country suffering from reading disabilities,  

Jung Hun Kim, a South Korean teacher, reporter Julie Yoon Nyung Lee, cameraman Woochul Cho and producer Felix Kwon interviewed Beth and Samantha Ravelli, as well as Ocean City Superintendent Kathleen Taylor and special education director Matt Carey for their documentary, which is scheduled to air in two weeks on EBS.

“Sammie was a symbol, the poster child for dyslexia,” Ravelli explained to Kim, who nodded in agreement as she explained her daughter’s long saga.

Kim, who is also dyslexic, said he understood.

“No one knew what dyslexia was. No one cared. It was the ‘D’ word. It didn’t exist. It was ignored,” Ravelli said.

Kim said people in South Korea are unaware of dyslexia. EBS employees read newspaper stories on the Internet chronicling Ravelli’s journey.

“So we wanted to meet her, and learn more about Ocean City’s program,” Kim said. Filming what Ocean City is doing to help students with reading disabilities will allow them to share it with all of South Korea, he said.

Unable to read, Samantha Ravelli was a struggling third grader when she arrived in Ocean City nine years ago. Diagnosed with severe dyslexia, she was attending St. Vincent de Paul School in Mays Landing, and the small Catholic School could not provide the services she needed.

Beth Ravelli, who was living in Dorothy at the time, discovered that Ocean City had instituted the Wilson Reading System, a 12-step, multi-sensory program to help children with reading disabilities.

So they moved to Ocean City. Once situated at Ocean City Intermediate School, Samantha Ravelli’s improvement was astounding, her mother said.

“Fifty percent in one year, 50 percent!” she said of her daughter’s progress.

By fifth grade, Samantha Ravelli was reading on grade level. Astounded by what the public school program had done for her daughter, Beth Ravelli sought help from state legislators. She wanted every student to have the opportunity that Samantha did.

With help from legislators, she created a state reading task force, and last year saw “Sammie’s Law” signed. Every student in New Jersey must now be screened for dyslexia by first grade and, if they have a reading disability, be offered an appropriate program with a trained teacher.

Dyslexia is most commonly characterized by difficulties with learning how to “decode” words, to spell, and to read accurately and fluently. It can also make mathematics more difficult. Dyslexia is a lifelong condition that cannot be reversed, but studies have shown that appropriate remedial instruction can help dyslexic children overcome their difficulties.

“Reading is so basic. If you can’t read you can’t do anything,” Ravelli said.

To showcase the Wilson Program, school officials brought in fifth graders Peter Bautista-Rodriguez, Shamira Hampton and Faustino Rodriguez. Reading specialist Ita Lanterman, who also taught Samantha Ravelli, guided them through an exercise.

“You can tap if you need to,” Lanterman told the students.

“We focus on one syllable at a time. When they master that, we go on to the next one,” she said.

The Wilson program is designed to be a support system for children with reading disabilities.

Samantha Ravelli smiled as recalled sitting in the same desks, tapping out the sounds. She said she barely remembers not being able to read. Now a junior at Ocean City High School, she drives a car and works a summer job.

Beth Ravelli said after nine years fighting for her “Roadmap,” she had hoped to relax for a while, but the calls kept coming. Now people across the country sought her assistance.

“I am so happy that we can help someone else,” Ravelli said. “I was going to slow down, I thought we were done, done, done, but the whole thing exploded in a different way. It’s nice to help people.”

Ravelli is writing a book, “Sammie’s Story,” about her experience.

“Life takes you on a different path,” she said. “Nine years ago, Sammie sat here shy and barely able to read. Now she’s confident, coming out of her shell. She’s blogging, comfortable with herself. It’s very, very fulfilling.”

Ravelli said she still tears up when she hears her daughter reading; she said she was moved that South Korean reporters traveled so far to see Ocean City’s program.

“It wasn’t just us,” she said of the effort to get dyslexia recognized on a state level. “Everyone played a part. It takes a village.

“Sammie did the work. Parents have to understand that. You can get them help, you can get the program, but the child has to want to learn to read and work very hard.”

Matt Carey, director of special education for the district, said the program “constantly evolves.”

“(Teachers) are trained in Wilson, but they are learning specialists. They see what works and what doesn’t, and sometimes mix in other nuances. Each year, through professional development, they get better and better,” he said. “We’re seeing less and less intervention at the high school. I credit that to the intervention we have here.”

Students are tested at the primary school, but the real intervention is at the intermediate school, Carey said.

Lanterman, he said, was the expert. Intermediate school Principal Geoffrey Haines concurred.

“She has a great rapport with the kids,” he said.

During her filmed interview, Lanterman explained the various tools she uses to help students, including iPads.

“It’s a team effort, to help them be successful,” she said, adding that teachers in every subject area assist. “I work on one piece, they work on the others.”

Lanterman said the key is to “catch the problem early.”

Bingo, Ravelli said.

 “It’s not just learning to read,” Ravelli said. “It’s reading to learn.”

Ocean City student Peter Bautista-Rodriguez, who has a reading disability, showcases what he has learned for a South Korean documentary filmed at the Ocean City Intermediate School Feb. 24. The fifth grader said he has gained a lot of confidence from learning how to read. Ocean City student Peter Bautista-Rodriguez, who has a reading disability, showcases what he has learned for a South Korean documentary filmed at the Ocean City Intermediate School Feb. 24. The fifth grader said he has gained a lot of confidence from learning how to read.

Felix Kwon, Julie Yoon Nyung Lee and Jung Hun Kim discuss Ocean City's reading program. The three are filming a documentary on Ocean City's implementation of the Wilson program and interviewed school officials Monday, Feb. 24. Felix Kwon, Julie Yoon Nyung Lee and Jung Hun Kim discuss Ocean City's reading program. The three are filming a documentary on Ocean City's implementation of the Wilson program and interviewed school officials Monday, Feb. 24.

Beth Ravelli and her daughter, Sammie, share a lighthearted moment during a visit to the Ocean City Intermediate School Monday, Feb. 24 to be filmed for a documentary. Beth Ravelli and her daughter, Sammie, share a lighthearted moment during a visit to the Ocean City Intermediate School Monday, Feb. 24 to be filmed for a documentary.

Beth Ravelli, at right, discusses dyslexia with Julie Yoon Nyung Lee, a South Korean reporter, and Felix Kwon, a producer with the Educational Broadcasting System in Seoul. The broadcast network visited Ocean City Intermediate School Monday, Feb. 24 to interview Beth and Sammie Ravelli and school officials about dyslexia and the Wilson Reading Program for a documentary. Beth Ravelli, at right, discusses dyslexia with Julie Yoon Nyung Lee, a South Korean reporter, and Felix Kwon, a producer with the Educational Broadcasting System in Seoul. The broadcast network visited Ocean City Intermediate School Monday, Feb. 24 to interview Beth and Sammie Ravelli and school officials about dyslexia and the Wilson Reading Program for a documentary.

Beth Ravelli, at right, with her daughter, Sammie, explains the “Roadmap to Dyslexia” to South Korean reporters visiting the Ocean City Intermediate School Monday, Feb. 24 to film a documentary on dyslexia. Beth Ravelli, at right, with her daughter, Sammie, explains the “Roadmap to Dyslexia” to South Korean reporters visiting the Ocean City Intermediate School Monday, Feb. 24 to film a documentary on dyslexia.

Samantha Ravelli, at left, is reunited with her reading specialist, Ita Lanterman. Lanterman helped teach Ravelli, who is severely dyslexic, how to read when she was in third grade. Samantha Ravelli, at left, is reunited with her reading specialist, Ita Lanterman. Lanterman helped teach Ravelli, who is severely dyslexic, how to read when she was in third grade.

South Korean reporters interviewed Ocean City special education director Matt Carey, former intermediate school student Samantha Ravelli, who has dyslexia, and Superintendent Kathleen Taylor. South Korean reporters interviewed Ocean City special education director Matt Carey, former intermediate school student Samantha Ravelli, who has dyslexia, and Superintendent Kathleen Taylor.


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