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Experts: Students with dyslexia benefit from proper instruction
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Dyslexia is a complex topic, and for those who experience it, reading in general might be even more complex.

Minnesota statute defines dyslexia as “a specific learning disability that is neurological in origin. It is characterized by difficulties with accurate or fluent recognition of words and by poor spelling and decoding abilities …”

According to the International Dyslexia Association, 15 to 20% of the population has a language-based learning disability, and dyslexia is the most common cause of reading, writing and spelling difficulties.

Russ Kennedy, a Faribault resident with dyslexia who has advocated for increased awareness of the topic for a number of years, has connected with a variety of experts to shed light on the best ways to teach students with dyslexia — and any student learning to read. Based on his own experience, and what experts say, students with dyslexia would have an easier time reading with a different sort of instruction than what’s commonly taught in schools.

“The reality is that when we talk about the way teachers are taught, they’re taught using a whole-word method of instruction,” said Kennedy, referring to an approach that teaches reading by sight and pairing words with images. “It’s not their fault because they’re not given the proper instruction, but the reality is the proper instruction is out there.”

Sue Keesey, an associate professor of Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, Kentucky, said, “You can’t teach what you don’t know, and teachers don’t really know.”

Keesey previously worked in Faribault as the director of the former Academic Skill Builders company she founded with Kennedy. She conducted teacher training as well as tutoring and opened a school for seventh through 12th graders while also working at Carleton College as a disabilities coordinator. Wanting to make a bigger impact on teacher educators, having witnessed a huge gap in the skills they had versus the skills they needed to best serve students with dyslexia, she left Faribault to further her education.

Keesey said many children with reading struggles are smart, but they need explicit instruction to understand why the letter “C” makes one sound in the word “city” and another sound in the word “cat.”

“It becomes helping them use cognitive skills rather than the idea of ‘If you just practice, you’ll get it,’” Keesey said. “… Especially today when you have so many diverse students, English Learners, those skills are so important.”

Meeting students where they’re at is a skill Keesey emphasized. It involves backing up and looking at a students’ specific skills and building on that foundation in an individualized manner.

To be inclusive of students who struggle with reading, Keesey recommends teachers do flexible grouping activities so students can work with other children at a similar reading level. She also recommends co-teaching in which a special educator and general educator work together to support all learners, since special education teachers have a different skill set that could benefit the classroom as a whole.

Not a curriculum, but a skill

Cindy Russell, executive director of the Reading Center Dyslexia Institute of Minnesota in Rochester, assists students and adults affected by dyslexia and specializes in tutoring using the Orton-Gillingham approach, which Kennedy himself found very helpful. She described the approach as “very structured, sequential and systematic.” Students learn the sounds letters make in phonics by connecting the sound and symbol relationship, and they learn about suffixes and prefixes as well as word origins. The approach, Russell said, isn’t a curriculum, but a skill.

“There is a science of how the brain learns to read,” Russell said. “It’s so important for dyslexic students to be taught in that way, but it also happens all new emerging readers learn to read so much better if they’re taught what we know [about the Orton-Gillingham approach] … The problem is what scientific research has learned about what the brain needs to learn to read has not been transferred to educational practices. That’s not an approach a student is going to learn in a school.”

Russell said students often come to the Reading Center feeling “traumatized and beaten up from the educational experience because they were viewed as stupid or not trying hard enough. Sometimes parents were even accused of not disciplining their children properly or not reading with them enough. But Russell has learned that dyslexia doesn’t go away with increased reading time.

“Reading with your child is not going to help them learn to read, especially if they have dyslexia,” Russell said. “If they don’t know how to decode language, if they don’t know how to read those words, that reading time is not really productive.”

Russell pointed out that students in general struggle to reach reading proficiency standards. According to the 2019 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), reading scores for fourth graders in Minnesota public schools were 222, but NAEP proficiency is 238. Nationally, the average score for fourth graders was 219.

The philosophy of allowing students to discover words on their own, by finding patterns in the words, goes against what science says about the best approaches for students with dyslexia, according to Russell. Encouraging children to guess words based on pictures is another ineffective method, since removing the picture doesn’t help the child know the word.

Russell pointed out that many children will learn how to read regardless of the method teachers use, but for students who struggle with reading due to dyslexia or other reasons, these methods are unhelpful.

Making progress

Progress is being made. Russell said a parent-run advocacy organization called Decoding Dyslexia has been working with the Reading Center to seek changes that will impact schools across the state. Minnesota laws in recent years have also turned the tables little by little — one statute requires screenings in schools and another requiring teacher preparation programs in higher education to provide instruction on dyslexia.

Amy Schulting, Dyslexia Specialist and Clinical Psychologist from the Minnesota Department of Education, is the first dyslexia specialist in Minnesota. Her role was created through legislation in 2017.

“My role at MDE is to work with school districts and teachers to support their understanding of the statutes that we have in Minnesota relating to dyslexia and reading instruction in Minnesota and working with higher education and supporting how pre-service teachers are receiving education,” Schulting said.

Schulting emphasizes the necessity of identifying students as early as possible so their needs can be addressed. Some early indicators can be identified as early as preschool, usually around oral difficulties, she said.

In the Faribault Director of Teaching and Learning Tracy Corcoran said the Faribault district set up a system to identify students at risk in the area of reading, specifically using the Fast Bridge Assessment tool for students in kindergarten through sixth-grade. The schools don’t diagnose dyslexia but use the screening as a primary tool in identifying who might need reading support.

The district offers interventions depending on students’ needs, including special education interventions that may support students at a more intensive rate if they’ve been diagnosed with dyslexia. Students may then participate in reading interventions or special services, depending on their identified areas of concerns, and the district monitors their growth over time to make further decisions about how to help.

MDE also created a list of recommended screening tools and has been working with districts to provide professional development to teachers.

One resource is LETRS (Language Essentials for Teaching Reading and Spelling) training, which informs teachers of how to best support students who struggle with reading and have characteristics of dyslexia. LETRS includes training across all five pillars — early oral language and phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and reading comprehension.

“Reading comprehension is not a single construct,” Schulting said. “It depends on the students’ ability to read accurately and fluently as well as to understand the language of the text they’re reading. So for students to be proficient readers, we need to ensure they can read words accurately and fluidly as well as understand the language of the text, and both of these components are essential.”

MDE often refers to the approach that best helps students with characteristics of dyslexia as “explicit systematic reading instruction,” similar to the Orton-Gillingham philosophy.

“We know that all students benefit from specific systematic instruction in foundational reading skills consistent with our ELA (English Language Arts) standards in Minnesota,” Schulting said. “The only difference is that struggling readers and students with characteristics of dyslexia might require additional practice to master these skills.”

Corks & Pints owner has plans to transform former Peterson building
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Even as winter approaches and the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, Corks & Pints owner David Hvistendahl is developing short- and long-term plans that will enable him to grow his tap room/wine bar.

Hvistendahl, a Northfield attorney, bought the former Peterson Art Furniture building in 1996 with the goal of transforming the historic building complex in downtown Faribault into an entertainment complex.

The building was built in 1886 for the Faribault Furniture Co. One warehouse was added in 1906 and another in 1913, along with a lumber room and kiln. In 1954, a one-story concrete block addition was added. In 1961, the furniture factory closed and was sold to the Nielsen Millwork Co., now known as Foldcraft, which was there for six years. Before Hvistendahl bought the building it had other tenants, including Cannon Engineering and Northland Plastics.

Since 2018, Hvistendahl’s son Jake has owned and operated 10,000 Drops Craft Distillers in the space alongside business partners Rob Kruchoski and Pat Jacobs. Initially, 10,000 Drops sat across from F-Town Brewery.

F-Town’s apparent success helped to convince Kruchoski, Jacobs and Jake Hvistendahl that their business plan could work in the building. However, F-Town closed at the end of 2018 after years of financial troubles and was liquidated to pay off debt. Before F-Town shut its doors, Hvistendahl was drawing up plans to open up the beer and wine bar in its place. Hvistendahl believed that a beer and wine bar, even if smaller than F-Town, would complement 10,000 Drops’s offerings.

Corks and Pints opened up February 2019, with a focus on providing Minnesota craft beer and wine, food trucks and live music. Its hours are identical to 10,000 Drops’s next door, and the businesses are connected through a separate room and outdoor patio.

Just a little over a year later, the COVID-19 pandemic would bring an abrupt — if temporary halt — to the businesses. Now they’re back, but only with the state’s social distancing, masking and capacity requirements in place.

Even with the setback, Hvistendahl is continuing to plan for a future where the business will continue to grow. Earlier this year, he reached out to Faribault Community Development Coordinator Kim Clausen regarding his long-term plans. Hvistendahl’s buildings are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, which will enable them to access Historic Preservation tax credits. However, as they are not part of the city’s downtown district, review by the city’s Heritage Preservation Commission is not required.

Nonetheless, Hvistendahl invited the HPC for a tour of the complex Monday night, highlighting areas that could potentially be renovated. For now, he says he doesn’t plan on proceeding with any indoor renovations so long as COVID remains a factor.

“You’ve got to make sure each part of the business is busy and paying for itself,” he said. “And the big uncertainty coming out of COVID, is whether people will come back.”

If the business does come back stronger than before, Hvistendahl’s first aspiration would be to utilize a large room currently located behind Corks and Pints. That area includes a 40-foot cooler left behind by F-Town that could potentially provide hundreds of beers on tap.

“It’s a really nice thing to have,” he said.

Hvistendahl also showed the HPC a large area upstairs currently used for storage that could also be transformed into a ballroom. Hvistendahl referred to that idea as “the big project,” big enough that applying for Historic Preservation tax credits would make sense.

In the short term, Hvistendahl will work to acquire funds for basic building maintenance, enabling him to replace old, non-energy efficient windows. Such funding is available under the city’s Downtown Rehabilitation and Exterior Improvement program.

Hvistendahl also hopes to keep the show going when it comes to outdoor seating — even during the Minnesota winter. To do that, he’s planning on installing a large natural gas heating tube on the side of the building and heating barrels on the patio.

While it won’t be open this year, Hvistendahl is also working to install a patio on the First Ave building, in a small, mostly enclosed area behind the concrete building that he rents out to Mighty Fine! Coffee.

Once it’s open next spring, Hvistendahl said the small area would include a stage, ideal for solo acts. As the building’s roof system funnels water into the area, it will also include an eye-pleasing fountain, an idea Hvistendahl credited to City Councilor Janna Viscomi.

The courtyard area will be notably smaller than the front patio, though doors will be installed to easily link it to the rest of Corks and Pints. Hvistendahl said that creating gatherings spaces of all sizes and shapes is key to his long-term vision.

“We want to be able to accommodate a lot of different sized events,” he said.


Waterville-Elysian-Morristown’s Mikaya Schuster hits a serve during Thursday’s 25-13, 25-8, 25-11 victory against New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva in Waterville. (Martin Schlegel/southernminn.com)

'Multi-pound' marijuana dealer charged with multiple drug felonies
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A man believed to be dealing large quantities of marijuana and found with more than 23 pounds of marijuana and related products has been charged in a pair of Rice County cases, according to court documents.

Charles Michael Eltonga, 40, of Northfield, was charged last week with a total of five felonies for sale and possession of marijuana, marijuana concentrates, edibles and other products containing tetrahydrocannabinol/THC, the psychoactive compound found in marijuana. The charges are a result of an investigation by the Cannon River Drug and Violent Offender Task Force, which identified him as a “multi-pound dealer.”

On Friday, Task Force Commander Paul LaRoche estimated that the drugs and other products confiscated from Eltonga his two area residences would worth about $57,500, though LaRoche admitted that’s a conservative figure.

Agents executed several search warrants Sept. 10 after reportedly watching Eltonga drive around Northfield, stop at an apartment building and walk toward it carrying a large bag, briefcase and box. Inside the bags, agents reportedly found several large packages of marijuana, a plastic bag containing about 12 grams of psilocybin mushrooms and four jars filled with a concentrate used to make marijuana edibles. Inside the briefcase and box, agents reportedly located paraphernalia, marijuana wax and edibles.

Inside an apartment in the building, which Eltonga reportedly told agents he was renting, agents say they discovered additional controlled substances, paraphernalia, evidence of drug sales and an enclosure with a ventilation fan hooked to the window that agents believe was used to grow marijuana. Agents allegedly found three large bags of marijuana, as well as several smaller bags inside the enclosure and THC edibles in the apartment’s kitchen freezer.

During a search of Eltonga’s residence west of Northfield, agents located more controlled substances as well as other evidence of drug dealing: multiple containers of marijuana, marijuana wax and wax residue; heat-sealed bags with marijuana and marijuana residue; additional quantities of marijuana edibles and gummies; $1,610 in cash and a money counting machine.

Eltonga was taken into custody Oct. 13 in Rice County after agents followed him from Mankato, where he made several short stops reportedly consistent with drug deals.

According to court documents, agents immediately noticed the odor of marijuana coming from Eltonga’s vehicle. Agents searched the vehicle, reportedly finding 66.66 grams of THC gummies as well as $1,081 in cash.

Judge Jeffrey Johnson set Eltonga’s bail at $50,000 with no conditions. His next appearance in court is set for Dec. 16.