Two Sacred Heart University students are contributing to the local community while furthering their own education this semester. Seniors Cassidy MacNamara and Cassidy Lombardo of the Isabelle Farrington College of Education & Human Development have been screening children in Bridgeport schools for signs of dyslexia as part of their spring semester internship.
“I’m very excited that I get to be a part of making a difference by identifying risk factors for dyslexia,” said MacNamara.
Children ages 4 through 6 are screened at A.J. Lewis Academy and St. Anne’s School using a program called Early Bird. A series of tablet-based games, Early Bird provides an engaging assessment of the child’s ability.
According to a press release from the university, Lombardo said, “Some of the responsibilities I have include creating a safe and comfortable environment for students.”
Accordingly, MacNamara said, “We support the students as they complete the screener and assist when needed.”
Katie Cunningham, an Associate Professor of Elementary Education, arranged the internship with The Southport School, which specializes in working with children with dyslexia and language-based learning disabilities. She invited her students to participate in the school’s goal to screen the children in Bridgeport schools.
This initiative is also a personal one for Cunningham. “My youngest son has dyslexia and is a student at The Southport School,” said Cunningham. “The Southport School has changed his life in immeasurable ways academically but also socially and emotionally. When a child has
difficulty with reading and writing and their instructional needs aren’t met, life can unravel for that child.”
The screenings supply information crucial in tracking a child’s progress and can lead to further testing if needed. The data collection allows them to identify those with dyslexia as early as possible and provide them with the necessary tools to succeed at a young age.
“We have a ‘wait to fail’ model in schools,” said Cunningham. “Catching readers before they fail gives schools an opportunity to provide immediate intervention.”
MacNamara said, “This is the window when intervention is most effective.”
Junior Kayla Goncalves is a social work major and knows how vital these programs are. “If Sacred Heart builds bonds with other organizations within the community, then the community itself becomes stronger,” said Goncalves. “As someone whose education at Sacred Heart is built around working with other communities/organizations, I get to see firsthand just how great these bonds can be.”
According to a press release from the University, FCEHD Dean Michael Alfano said, “The ‘Cassidys’ are doing amazing, innovative, and incredible work to make a difference in Bridgeport schools. These two students are true Pioneers.”
While serving the community, the experience has been invaluable for MacNamara and Lombardo.
“This opportunity has been a great learning experience,” said MacNamara. “I can take what I have learned at SHU and apply it in the classroom.”
Cunningham expects more students to become screeners next year and praised McNamara and Lombardo’s service.
“They will change the lives of countless children in their careers thanks to this experience,” said Cunningham. “I am so proud of the work Cassidy and Cassidy have done as the first ambassadors of this initiative. They have paved the way for future SHU students to have the same hands-on experience.”