The first public school in New York City focused on helping teach children with reading disabilities in now open in Mott Haven.
The South Bronx Literacy Academy, a school for second- and third-grade students with dyslexia and other reading disabilities, opened two weeks ago as the new school year began.
It resides on the second floor of the P.S. 161 Juan Ponce de Leon School building, between 150th and 152nd St., on Tinton Avenue. The building now houses three public schools: P.S. 161, P17X, and now the South Bronx Literacy Academy.
Dyslexia affects around one in 1 in 10 people, making it quite common. The disorder is characterized by trouble matching letters to sounds, and children with dyslexia in particular can also struggle to recognize the sounds in words.
Dyslexia and other reading disabilities are unrelated to intelligence; people diagnosed with these disabilities simply require alternate teaching methods to learn how to read and write.
Bethany Poolman, the principal of the South Bronx Literacy Academy, explained some of the alternate methods used to teach children with reading disabilities.
“We use an approach called structured literacy,” she said. “Our approach is multi-sensory, so they need to hear it. They need to see it. They need to write it.”
The South Bronx Literacy Academy’s opening has been much anticipated, not only because it is the first public school meant to serve children with reading disabilities in New York City, but also because of its personal importance to Mayor Eric Adams.
Adams often cites his own childhood struggles with reading when he discusses the importance of creating programs for reading disabilities and the need to screen children so that no one is left behind.
Last November, announcing the intent to screen all children in the city for the disorder, the mayor said, “We’re the first city of this size to have dyslexia screening for all our children.”
But according to city Department of Education figures collected and reported by Chalkbeat and THE CITY, only around 1,500 students across 133 schools have been assessed for dyslexia to date.
The original plan to support students with reading disabilities was announced by Adams and the Department of Education in May 2022. Among the stated goals was to have at least one school offering specialized instruction in each borough by Fall 2023.
But as of this fall, the South Bronx Literacy Academy is the only school of its kind to have opened. Its small size and limited age range is only able to accommodate a small fraction of the 1,500 children screened so far.
Principal Poolman’s description of the children’s reaction to their new curriculum demonstrates the value of expanding access to public education for reading disabilities.
“There’s something really special that happens by bringing kids who are struggling together,” she said. “Nobody can make fun of anyone, no one is better than anyone else. We all have this collective challenge, and we’re all working really hard to become better readers.”