Holy Trinity Catholic School principal Jill Fallon felt there was something missing in most Catholic schools in the Dallas area.
A deep appreciation for her faith and for keeping families together, as well as her years of experience in early childhood development and special education, inspired Fallon to create the Immaculate Heart program for dyslexic students, which she initiated in the spring semester of 2016.
Fallon says that students with dyslexia are among the most underserved and underperforming students in Catholic schools. Parents often have to separate children with learning disabilities into more expensive programs at non-faith-based schools.
Fallon considers the program a “pilot” for more individualized education for dyslexic students across the diocese.
“My goal is to keep our academic rigor and keep the bar high, but provide the support that children with dyslexia need. Children with dyslexia are very commonly above average to superior in intelligence,” Fallon said. “Given the correct support inside and outside of the classroom, they are able to soar.”
Meanwhile, Dr. Ann Poore, associate superintendent for curriculum and instruction in the Catholic schools office at the diocese, said that many schools in the diocese offer dyslexia programs through outside agencies, such as the Scottish Rite Take Flight program, a two-year curriculum using a one-on-one and small-group model to improve reading skills and comprehension.
The Immaculate Heart program is rooted in early detection, remediation, and teacher training. Students have private or small-group therapy sessions four days a week with a licensed dyslexia therapist.
An academic language therapist offers recommendations such as modified spelling lists, audio books, or help with writing. Students also receive accommodations like study notes or extra time during tests.
“At the foundation of the whole program is keeping families together,” Fallon said. “With my experience in the diocese, there are programs that are available, but not to the degree that I want to offer.”
Fallon served as curriculum director at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic School before becoming principal at Holy Trinity three years ago. She said that after arriving at the school, which is located on Oak Lawn, and seeing students with needs not being met, things happened organically.
Last year she was able to fund services needed for dyslexic students through grants and donations from the community. She also spoke with Bill Keffler, the chief operating officer of the Catholic Diocese of Dallas, and received his verbal support.
“People really have a heart for this. As Catholics we’re all about keeping families together and serving all,” Fallon said.