Pictured: Canon-McMillan Reading Specialist Makenzie Buhman helps a student learn to read.
The Wilson Reading System is a research and evidence based program grounded in Orton Gillingham principles (making reading multi-sensory) designed to systematically teach the rules of the English Language - in short, teaching children through adults how to read based on the actual science of reading. This program and the philosophy behind it are unlike any basic curriculum out there. The Wilson Reading System, along with it's underpinning and foundational programs such as Fundations, works to directly target the patterns of English for both reading and also spelling almost in a code like manner. These patterns and sequences can then be explicitly taught in a way that the typical basal program simply cannot do using multi-sensory teaching techniques. These types of intervention programs which are based on the science of reading allow Canon- McMillan to truly honor the phrase "leave no child behind."
Canon-McMillan Reading Specialist Mrs. Makenzie Buhman was offered many opportunities for graduate level professional development through a previous employer and the topics were generally rooted in reading disabilities, (which was fitting as she is a certified reading specialist) and there was a throughline that was always the same no matter what the topic was - dyslexia, the brain, and multi-sensory teaching methods. Mrs. Buhman came to understand her reading support students at that time, now ten+ years ago, in an entirely new light. She saw the tears of frustration during meetings from their concerned parents, and the behavioral and emotional frustrations from the students during her lessons,
"I heard the special education teachers, the classroom teachers, and fellow reading teachers echo the same concerns of the true and genuine desire to help, but not really knowing how." she says.
Unfortunately many undergraduate programs and even graduate programs do not discuss the science of reading. She realized that educators are in some ways underequipped, through no fault of their own, on how to reach and teach young learners how to read.
"Our brains are hard-wired through instinct for speech, however when it comes to reading....reading needs taught. Reading has to be systematically and sequentially taught....like a house of cards, without all of the important pieces in alignment, it may not reach the highest potential."
After her eyes were opened through professional development, she knew she needed to do more in order to help her current and future students. She says it was as if a "Pandora's box" opened and she took a 15 year dive into learning as much as she could related to reading disabilities, language based disabilities, and dyslexia. Dyslexia affects about 20 percent of the general population and represents 80–90 percent of all those with learning disabilities. It is the most common of all neuro-cognitive disorders, according to Yale University. Yale University also classifies dyslexia as "an unexpected difficulty in reading for an individual who has the intelligence to be a much better reader," a definition also supported by the International Dyslexia Association.
Mrs. Buhman was already Level 1 Wilson Certified, and also named a Dyslexia Practitioner, in 2012 when she was hired with Canon-McMillan. She credits and thanks Director of Curriculum Mrs. Grace Lani for being receptive to learning more about this Wilson Dyslexia Practitioner certificate that accompanied Mrs. Buhman. Over the next nine years Mrs. Buhman, Mrs. Lani and Director of Special Education Mrs. Becky Lieb worked together to bring the science of reading to Canon-McMillan. Change takes time, and over these past few years they been able to certify over 25 additional reading support classrooms and special education teachers on the science of reading and to become Level 1 Wilson credentialed teachers-Dyslexia Practitioners.
During the 2018/2019 school year Mrs. Buhman had the absolute honor of working with a Canon-McMillan student to complete a year-long Level 2 Wilson Reading System Certification, bringing her title to Dyslexia Therapist. She says that this was one of the most challenging and rewarding years of her career,
"To witness elementary age students who had previously been barely able to keep up at the core level, start to thrive, feel success, and to see their own self confidence start to soar....all because of the "right fit" with their reading intervention program."
With support of the district, Mrs. Buhman took an educational sabbatical to become a Wilson Reading System Trainer- Intern during the 2019/2020 school year. During this time, she worked as a trainer with a partner from the company to certify 12 staff members at Canon-McMillan. The certification process involves online graduate coursework as well as working through a year long practicum with a coaching model from start to finish. Mrs. Buhman said she would get emails, phone calls, and text messages from 7am to 10pm from dedicated and invested staff asking questions and wanting to grow and succeed as educators. She says the emotional aspect of teaching cannot be understated, in order to create the change educators want to see or rather GIVE to their students. Educators are by default emotionally invested in their students' success, it's a mirror of their own.
Mrs. Lani and the entire Canon-McMillan School District are very proud of having a Reading Specialist like Mrs. Buhman,
"To have a certified trainer able to certify other teachers in a district is very unique and rare and CM is very proud to have such a dedicated professional who has an unending passion to help all the students at Canon-McMillan find success in reading, especially those who might have dyslexia."
Mrs. Buhman says she is grateful beyond words, to be able to mentor and coach fellow educators on how to provide reading instruction to learners at Canon-McMillan. She says the Wilson Reading System will always have a place at Canon-McMillan because when and where there are readers, there will always be a need to provide the highest level of support.