Lance Blacksmith has made through school with the help of his friends. Lance has an IQ in the 90-percentile range but he has always had a problem reading. No one could teach him to read even though he wanted to more than anything in the world. It’s hard to remember that most of the things we do in everyday life involve reading. If you go out to a restaurant, there’s the menu, if you have to catch a bus or plane you need to read a schedule and If you need to be somewhere you have to read street names. Whole worlds such as the Internet are closed to you if you can’t read or don’t have a friend to help you.

Discouragement and poor self-esteem are leading causes in school dropout rates.

These lead to other difficulties later in life, which are related to reading failures. Tutors didn’t work out but a new program is helping Lance explore a new world that dyslexia had formally closed for him. The program is called SpellRead and Cree students came to Montreal and entered the course under the direction of the Learning Associates based in Montreal. The Learning Associates have worked with the Cree School Board for the past five years visiting schools and evaluating chlldren’s academic difficulties. People who are often described as being learning disabled, dyslexic, poor readers or underachievers are prime candidates for the SpellRead course. Dyslexia affects about 5 per cent of Natives and non-Natives and has nothing to do with intelligence. People who have trouble reading often don’t associate the 44 sounds used in the English language automatically when you read. Most people pick up this skill on their own. Those that didn’t had to learn somehow, somewhere.

Kay MacPhee, a teacher who worked with the deaf began to apply her work to non-deaf students. The results were nothing short of amazing. Some students who were stuck in remedial classes surged ahead three grade levels in one year. In November 1994 MacPhee started SpellRead after meeting Kay Reeves, a businessperson, who couldn’t spell. The only word Reeves could write before the course was her own name. l felt stupid, defeated, worthless, Reeves remembers. Reeves was one of a class of frustrated adults with reading and spelling problems. Reeves said that if the program was going to be easy, I’m going to be mad. You’re going to be mad, was the reply. After the course Reeves said she has more respect for herself and was ashamed she spent so many wasted years thinking she was dumb.

It is such a success that it is being offered for free In schools in Prince Edward Island, where it was developed. A study on the program had Neuropsychologist Wayne MacDonald comment that it was one of the most effective programs in the field of adult remedial reading and writing skill developments Human Resources Development Canada sends a steady supply of students to the school because of its success rates. MacPhee says the HRDC is amazed because they have a zero percent dropout rate.

Lance can understand this having been accommodated most of his life. Accommodation is where somebody reads the exam for you. It’s how he’s passed most of his courses to date. In SpellRead, Lance has studied two hours a day for one month. We’re proud of the students and they’ve made one to two years progress in one month. Says Learning Associates Vivian Huizenga. Lance scores for reading comprehension are in and he has advanced four grade levels in just one month. Lance will be continuing the program for another month but is applying to continue until December in order to increase his reading order.

Lance wants these reading and spelling skills so he can have an easier time when he enters EGEP. I can’t even imagine entering college without being able to access books on my own. Huizenga said all the Cree students were on time, excited and given hope by the program. They all wanted to read, she said.

Mabel Herodier, Chairperson of the Cree School Board has visited the program while the Cree students were taking it and was impressed. Betsy Matches, an educator from Chisasibi’s James Bay Eeyou School, says she has gotten a few ideas from the course that will help her teach back in the community. She was down here with Phyllis Sealhunter, one of the Cree Students. The other students were Gideon Iseroff, Ruby Mianscum, Ronald Blacksmith, Leroy Diamond, Jeremy Bishop, Mark Cheechoo, Richard Sealhunter, Saskia Cohen, and Lance Blacksmith.

Lance is hoping to become the first Cree gym teacher who isn’t a substitute and says he has and always will love school.

Lance told the Nation, I have friends who know how to read but they don’t use that skill. They just stay at home and watch TV or something like that.

It kind of makes you wonder just how much we take for granted in this world of ours.