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Tutoring center helps dyslexics learn to read

The volunteers at Lake Superior Tutoring Center come from different backgrounds, but they share a common goal — to help students with dyslexia.

Retired teacher Betsy Buran of Iron River came to the center with years of experience. Barb Newcomer of Lake Nebagamon, who retired from the legal field, had none. Both tutors have made an impact on young lives. For about 1½ years, Newcomer has been working with a fourth grade girl.

“Besides her doing better scholastically, she’s developed confidence,” the Lake Nebagamon woman said. “She’s come out of her shell; she’s more outgoing. She even entered a spelling bee last week.”

After a year of tutoring one Superior girl, Buran said she saw drastic changes. The student started in eighth grade as a non-reader. After a year of intensive one-on-one work, she could read at a third grade level. Now a freshman, she can read everything on the chalkboard in her English class.

“Her self-esteem has skyrocketed,” Buran said.

Becoming a tutor was a learning curve for Newcomer, who came into the program with a common misconception — that people with dyslexia “see things backward.” Not true, she found. These students are intelligent and gifted in many areas. Unfortunately, she said, they don’t realize it because they don’t learn the way other students do.

As Lake Superior Learning Center founder Monica Brilla put it, their brains are “wired” differently. Like a nearsighted child needs glasses or a child with diabetes requires insulin, Brilla said, children with dyslexia need the correct tools to learn. She encouraged parents to advocate for their children “to make sure that they are not made to feel inadequate or inferior because they are neither.”

“Right now, our No. 1 goal is to make sure every student that wants to learn how to read receives that service,” she said. The center provides free tutoring to students in Douglas, Bayfield and Ashland counties.

Brenda Meyer of Lake Nebagamon knew her son had dyslexia.

“He’s a very, very smart kid,” she said, but it was hard for him to learn to read and write through the traditional public school methods.

Meyer researched different kinds of help online, and gravitated toward the Susan Barton program. When she learned that Lake Superior Tutoring Center offered the Barton method, it was a perfect fit. Her son, 11, was paired with tutor and center executive director Melissa Miller.

“It’s hard work but he can see the results of it, that’s why he does it,” she said. “He’s definitely making strides and it shows.”

Meyer said another benefit of the tutoring center is having others to talk with about dyslexia. It’s far better than just researching online, she said, where it’s hard to separate fact from fiction. She just wishes her son could have started tutoring earlier, so he wouldn’t have fallen behind.

“He would never have had to close a gap,” she said. “There wouldn’t have been a gap.”

She applauded Brilla for bringing help to students and awareness to the community through the center.

Free training for tutors is provided by the center, and new volunteers require about eight hours of training prior to working with students.

The Barton method can be picked up by tutors of all experience levels, and tutoring is rewarding work, Newcomer said.

“You get so much more out of it than you put into it,” she said.

Hours are flexible, but tutors need to be able to commit to at least two one-hour sessions per week with each student. Currently, Miller said, there are nearly 20 students on the center’s waiting list.

For more information, to volunteer or to sign a child up for tutoring, send an email to