“lzzy wouldn’t be the person she is today if she didn’t have dyslexia,” says her mom, Laura. “Her dyslexia is a gift, and I tell Izzy that it is something to be thankful for. It makes her work harder; it makes her a better sister, a better athlete, a better daughter, and a better person. She sees the world differently because her mind works differently. It really is a beautiful thing.”
Four years ago, Izzy and her parents attended an open house at Immaculate Heart of Mary (IHM) School in Cuyahoga Falls. “What we felt there was amazing,” says Laura. “The staff, teachers, and principal were so welcoming. You could tell by the updated décor in the classrooms, the beautiful computer lab, and the gym that there was a great deal of pride in the school.”
As they left the open house, Izzy told her parents, “Well, I think we all know our decision.” Because of that willingness to embrace change, Izzy began her fourth-grade year at IHM; a decision the entire family looks back on with joy and gratitude.
According to Laura, principal Kathy Friess and her staff have gone “above and beyond” in helping her daughter succeed in both school and in life. Izzy receives services four days a week in the IHM Learning Center from Tiffany Clemente, an Intervention Specialist who provides services to several IHM students. The school has also provided a Chromebook to Izzy that is loaded with assistive applications and audio versions of
Best of all, Izzy is thriving in seventh grade, both academically and socially. Her love of writing and participation in Power of the Pen, a statewide creative writing program, is evidence of the progress she has made in meeting challenges often associated with dyslexia, a learning disorder that involves difficulty in reading. “Izzy is a unique girl in all the best ways,” says her mom. “She doesn’t give up, and she holds herself to the highest standards, even achieving straight A’s.”
Izzy joins her parents in their love of IHM. “I really like my school,” she says. “I get the help I need from my teachers. Whenever I have tests, either a teacher or Mrs. Friess sits next to me to help read the tests, or I use the app on my Chromebook.”
“This is the foundation we want to give our children,” says Laura. “A Catholic education that teaches the entire child and forms them to be a better person.”
BETTER TOGETHER: EXCEPTIONAL CATHOLIC EDUCATION FOR EVERY STUDENT
Immaculate Heart of Mary is one of 47 pilot schools that launched the Better Together initiative for the 2018-19 school year. This special education program of the Diocesan Office of Catholic Education provides equal access for students to curriculum and extra-curricular activities regardless of challenges. Initial funding was raised at the 2017 Alleluia Ball, where generous benefactors donated over $750,000 in support of Better Together.
Molly Bullock, who is concluding her first year as Special Education Coordinator in the Office of Catholic Education, sees the overall impact of Better Together on supporting students and growing the number of families that are now able to receive a Catholic education. “Our Catholic faith calls us to serve one another in community, with each person being an important and contributing member.”
Teachers Aimee Gearhart and Sandy Leyden serve as IHM’s Inclusion Coordinators, attending multiple Better Together inservice days with other Diocesan representatives to learn how to best assess the needs of students, as well as strategies, tools, and techniques that can be used inside the classroom.
Principal Kathy Friess likes the direction that Better Together provides, citing more collaboration among teachers, a common vocabulary to address needs, and system-wide documentation that ensures students are not just being accommodated, but are getting the services needed for their progression. “Better Together has enriched our curriculum; it has enriched our staff and our community. We’ve always been about differentiation of students, but Better Together has empowered us even more.”
IHM pastor, Fr. Jim Singler, says the parish finance council is on board in assisting him in creating and monitoring a budget so that IHM School can allow Better Together and other special school initiatives that provide growth academically, experientially, and socially for students. “I couldn’t be happier for what our IHM Catholic School contributes to the well-being of all our children.”
To find out more about Better Together, and view a complete list of participating schools, go to www.dioceseofcleveland.org/BetterTogether. To make a donation to support students like Izzie, go to: www.catholiccommunity.org/ways-to-give/donate/better-together