We Can Do Better

October 21, 2019


My name is Pleasance Silicki. I am the mother of Saylor Silicki and a former DCPS teacher, and charter school administrator. I completed my Master’s degree in Education and attended hundred of hours of training and professional development during my years as a passionate full time educator.

I am giving you this background to know that even with all of this experience in the classroom, professional experiences and learning circles, I was not trained in looking for signs of Dyslexia.

I knew when Saylor was young that something was not quite on target with her retention of the basics,( letters and numbers) but I could not quite put my finger on it and figured she might grow out of it. We DID have her tested at the early intervention center at age 4 and they told us she was average, on a “normal” track and not to worry.

In Kindergarten, reports came in that all was well and on target and there were no issues academically or socially. “She is a delight! “ the teachers would tell us.

In first grade, the teacher was frustrated and confused by her learning progress, calling me at 9pm on a Sunday to tell me to “read to her more” so she could start to get the hang of it. This teacher, not knowing that my specialty in graduate school was early childhood literacy and I had been reading to my daughter daily since day 3 of her life. This caused tension between us all, and I was deeply confused around the mixed messages I was getting.

A few months later, while putting a bunch of dots and tough conversations together, I requested further testing and the school performed tests which came back, “ below level” and when I said, “ oh, she’s dyslexic!” giving us all some information, relief and deeper understanding of her as a learner, they said “ we don’t use that language here.”

I was very confused, stunned actually. My husband is also dyslexic. We have not seen his dyslexia as harming or shameful, rather just more information about how his brain works and where his strengths are.

We want the same for our daughter, but sadly, without using clear language or specific brain research or science, the “labels” and the learning have become very confusing.

Saylor is a very pleasant, easy- going, well behaved and polite classroom citizen.

This works very well with her relationships with her teachers, as they continued to tell me more about her charming personality rather than her learning styles over the years. This was a red flag to me, as I know, that the louder, more disruptive children tend to get the attention and the deeper questioning, but for many years, her teachers told us how sweet she was, confusing temperament with learning progress.

Here is my experience with having a dyslexic child in DCPS, it is countless hours of phone and email conversations regarding advocacy, regular check in on IEP accommodations that teachers forget about, inappropriate assessments and testing, advocacy on every level, Not because anyone is trying to hurt or disregard our child but because there is a systemic lack of understanding, identifying, intervening, education, training and awareness.

We have a plethora of information on ways that ALL classroom teachers in every school, and every parent with a child in DCPS can have more information and basics understanding of how to help ALL our children thrive in these settings. There is NO reason to be in the dark about dyslexia, especially with the wonderful resources we have access to- the pre screenings in some states, the Yale Center for Dyslexia, the wonderful educator and activity Jonathan Mooney talking so openly, I could go on and on-

The truth is, having a student with dyslexia in DCPS has been extremely time consuming and stressful. The amount of hours I have spent in meetings with teachers and on email with all her support teachers and out of school tutors over the past 5 years has been taxing on our family. I have cut back my work in order to make space for advocacy for Saylor. I know this is not a privilege all DC families have, and this is what makes our time here today so much more valuable. What about all the kids sitting in classrooms right now who are lost and feel like they don’t fit in? What about all the kids who are scared to say they reading and writing and spelling are not coming as fast as everyone else and who feel left behind. What about kids who RIGHT NOW are saying to themselves, I’m not smart?

Saylor told me last week she can “ smile and fake it” and most teachers don’t notice.

What about all the children who don’t have the privilege and luxury of a former educator as a parent who is willing to research, and who can afford extra tutors, therapists, books, online programs, hundreds of dollars and hours?

We must have pre screening, early interventions and system wide information available to all teachers and families.

This is truly not something to be scared of or seen as a weakness, just yet, another way we as humans are vastly different and beautiful.

While my daughter’s spelling may always be difficult for her, I wish you all could see her put together these incredibly challenging puzzles and lego sets, create scenic dioramas from clay, and ask questions about history and current events.

We all have unique strengths and talents and it’s time for DCPS to put some energy, money, training into these students.

All students deserve to feel seen, heard and appreciated in our academic settings.

Thank you.

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Pleasance Shamirah

Elemental Healing & Trauma Resolution, Life Design, Author, Speaker, Rising Kohenet, Creatrix, Weaver, Ancestral Healing. Grief/Death Support. Community Care