Nicholas Dragan loves to suit up to play goalie for the Affton Central States ice hockey team. The fourth grader at Crestwood Elementary School is in the school's gifted program.
He does great in math, but needs a little help with reading. Scratch that. He needs lots of help, because he has dyslexia.
His mom, Diane Dragan, expressed her worries about Nicholas and other Lindbergh students with dyslexia at the November Lindbergh Board of Education meeting. A video of her appeal got nearly 19,000 hits on the Internet.
Dragan told the board that Lindbergh is far behind in offering the intense programs that correct the situation and that the district doesn't have the screening needed to diagnose dyslexia early.
"By the time they get to third grade, they are often two years behind. Once that gap forms, it never closes. You can help, but you're never going to close that gap," she said. "This is extremely frustrating for parents in the Lindbergh School District right now who have identified children."
Dragan said Nicholas fell behind in first grade, but that he kept up by spending the second and third grades at the Churchill School, an expensive private school in Town and Country specializing in dyslexia and other learning disabilities.
Nicholas spoke for himself at the Dec. 12 Lindbergh School Board meeting, in a speech he wrote with the help of his mom.
"What I need and what other dyslexics in my school need is someone who can teach us the way we learn. That's why I am here today," he said, surrounded by friends. "I need each of you to know dyslexic children in your schools are not getting the help they need.
"They are not learning to read. They are not learning to spell. They are not learning to write," he continued. "Simply telling us to try harder will not work. Dyslexics are already the hardest workers in the class. We have to be, just to keep up."
Tara Sparks, assistant superintendent of curriculum for the Lindbergh district, said the district has been holding off on screening until the state issues guidelines for a mandatory screening program for all students starting in the 2018-19 school year. That way, it might avoid wasted effort, she said.
The district has a pilot program and should be able to handle all students with the condition next year, Sparks said.
"We have students who are getting one-on-one instruction through part of this pilot right now," she said. "Our goal is to really train our current staff."
As for the video of Dragan going viral, Sparks said, "It speaks to the community and the need for an answer, and I don't think that's a bad thing."
That's not enough for Dragan.
"There's no reason why they have not already been doing screening. They don't have to wait for the state guidelines to screen for dyslexia," Dragan said. "It could have been done 10 years ago."