DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Michelle Kinimaka's son and daughter, Kekoa, left, and Courtney, have been tutored by the Odyssey Project, which provides help to families who cannot afford special teaching for dyslexia. They posed last month for a picture in a classroom at Kapolei High School.
Tutors help dyslexics get the Odyssey of reading
A program provides scholarships to assist in learning language
Courtney Kinimaka struggled with the alphabet in kindergarten, couldn't remember the order of letters in words and had trouble pronouncing them. Thanks to the Odyssey Project, which helps dyslexic students, she became a presidential education award winner in sixth grade.
Courtney, now an 11th-grader at Kapolei High School, remembers wailing, "Am I ever going to learn to read?"
Mother Michelle Kinimaka paid for tutoring for Courtney for two years until she found out about scholarships for the Odyssey Project.
The new tutor warned them not to expect anything earthshaking to happen right away.
In the sixth grade, the earth shook. Courtney made the honor roll. That year she earned the Presidential Award for Outstanding Academic Achievement and was able to read at a 10th-grade level.
Switching sounds around within a word is a "red flag" characterizing dyslexia, said Sally Lambert, who recognized it in her son and was inspired to become a tutor for the Odyssey Project.
According to Lambert, dyslexics need a highly specialized, "very systematic method" of learning language.
The project was formed in 1996 by the Hawaii International Dyslexia Association to help students who could not afford the special tutoring. Private tutoring averages $45 an hour.
When her son was 7 years old, he understood dyslexia as: "I was selected to be dissed (put down)," a sign that the neurological disorder was already "affecting his self-esteem dramatically," Lambert said. He would come home crying after school, frustrated with not being able to copy a lesson off the blackboard, she added.
Her son never received help from the Odyssey Project, because she could afford to send him to the private ASSETS School (for the gifted and/or dyslexic) in the fifth grade. But because Lambert received training as a tutor for Odyssey in 1997, she was able to help drill him on lessons at home, she said.
Now 19, he reads at the ninth-grade level and writes like a sixth-grader. He realizes that the more he practices, the better he gets, she said.
"It takes incredible amounts of time and repetition. ... I know how effective it (therapy) is, but it does take a long time. The earlier the intervention, the better," she said.
Courtney Kinimaka's brother, Kekoa, a sixth-grader at Kapolei Middle, has a steeper uphill battle with dyslexia, according to Michelle Kinimaka. He started working with a tutor in the second grade twice a week, but studies reluctantly.
"I think what drove me the most was keeping up with the kids in class," said Courtney, who wants to teach and own her own preschool. "I didn't want to be one of those who don't do their work, can't read or spell. I wanted to keep up or be better than them."
Michelle Kinimaka spotted Kekoa's dyslexic traits early because she noticed the similarities in Courtney.
Kekoa, who is in special education, said his handwriting is so poor he can't read it. He often skips entire lines of text, and uses a finger to keep on track. He stumbles on "words that can't be sounded out." His memory for language rules is short, but he can recite dialogue from movies after only one viewing.
"I just sit there and hope I'm not called on" in class, he said.
He would rather go out and play sports, and "sell stuff door to door" for his Boy Scouts troop or his sister's wrestling club, said the outgoing 12-year-old.
Disadvantaged need help too, Yoshimoto says
Ron Yoshimoto started the Odyssey Project in 1997, when he was vice president of the Hawaii International Dyslexia Association and a principal of the private ASSETS School for gifted and dyslexic students.
"It did not seem right that only the more well-to-do children were receiving this kind of clinical teaching. The goal for the project was to provide tutoring services for disadvantaged dyslexic students " (in public schools), he said.
Odyssey stands for Outreach Dyslexia Special Services/Education for Youth, said Yoshimoto, who wrote a lot of the grant applications.
"Foundations were generous in supporting the project," he said.
About 100 students have been assisted by the Odyssey Project through scholarships and tutoring. About 25 students are currently enrolled, said Margaret Higa, program manager. It costs an average of $1,800 per year per student, but the amount will increase soon to raise the salaries of the tutors, she said.
For more information, visit www.dyslexia-hawaii.org.