Ceremony honors Take Flight graduates at Hempstead Hall
The ceremony held at Hempstead Hall Tuesday night was for the 60 graduates of the Take Flight program at Hope Public Schools, who received help with dyslexia-related learning disabilities. The ceremony included a speech by Prescott High School instructional facilitator and 

The program was begun in Hope in 2015 by Karen Ivers, Hope Public Schools’ Dyslexia Coordinator, who also introduced the ceremony, explaining that even before a new law was passed by the Arkansas Legislature pertaining to dyslexia programs, the Hope School District took action. 

“They took their teachers and therapists and sent them to train outside the state of Arkansas. Before the law was passed, these teachers spent 724 hours learning,” she said.  “These therapists took the road less travelled and began to embark on an adventure in a journey to take Hope to the top.” 

Ivers and Hope School District staff found in their research that the top program in the country for teaching those with dyslexia was the Luke Waites Center for Dyslexia and Learning Disorders at the Scottish Rite for Children Hospital in Dallas.  The Take Flight program is based on the educational model developed at the Luke Waites Center. 

Speaking to the soon-to-be graduates, Ivers emphasized that their relationship would not end with their acceptance of their certificates.  “We will be here for you. We want to advocate for you. We will teach you how to advocate for yourself. Parents. When you have tried all that you can try and you have said all that you can say and you are tired and weird. We are here for you. We will fight for you from the first day or until the day you graduate. We are here,” she said. 

Laura Gray then led the Beryl Henry Choir in a rendition of “I Will Fight For You,” which was much applauded. 

Parent Advocate Brittany Carr described finding that her son struggled with numbers, often transposing them. But now because of Take Flight, “Landon has never been as interested in reading as he is now.” She added that he is now writing his own book. 

As guest speaker, Eric Barbaree, Instructional Facilitator and Prescott High Computer Science/Math/Statistics teacher compared the experiences the students had to his own experience taking his first airplane flight to Disneyland.  He said now that students had been equipped by the program with tools they could use for learning, there was no limit to what they could achieve.  

Ivers then brought up four of Hope High School’s graduating seniors who completed the Take Flight program as part of their educational journey. 

The certificate ceremony soon followed with 60 students from the Take Flight program making their way across the stage to take up their certificates from members of the Take Flight staff. 

Superintendent Jonathan Crossley congratulated the students after their procession and told the story of his finding his mother's report cards when he was a ten-year-old and teasing her about the low grades. But he found that this caused his mother to become emotional, which surprised him. He would go on to experience some of his own difficulties in learning, but he would always remember his mother telling him about the discouraging remarks some of her teachers had made to her when she was having trouble learning.

Crossley said he was proud that in the Hope School District no student with dyslexia would have to hear such discouragement, but instead because of Hope's teachers they have people who will have their backs.

After the ceremony, Ivers provided some specifics about how the instruction in Take Flight works. “Years of research went into the program. It's very explicit and takes all five components of literacy, and breaks it down into smaller pieces, but incorporates it through every lesson. There are seven books that go into the Greek and the Latin, and the French, and brings in derivatives and how the English language first began and why we say and do the things that we do,” she said. 

The program is tailored to the differences in the brains of students with dyslexia. “We have two hemispheres of the brain. And a dyslexic student uses the left hemisphere most of the time. That includes our musicians, entrepreneurs, most of our actors. But language begins on the right side. So therefore, when a dyslexic student hears language, or interprets language, they have to take it through every pathway in the brain, to get it over to the left hemisphere for them to be able to manipulate it and use it.” 

The program is also based on a new understanding of how our brains develop. “We often thought that our brains were set when we were born. But we have learned through research in many of the Scottish Rite Hospital research methods that we can rewire the brain, we can give strategies, and we can teach students how to become successful, how to use their strengths. And to build their competency,” Ivers said. 

A reception took place in the Hempstead Hall lobby after the ceremony where cupcakes and apple juice were served. Attendees could also see posters which featured the comments of students who had been through the Take Flight program, all of them quite complimentary and grateful. 

One student named DeBraylee wrote, "Take Flight taught me how to write in cursive and helped me read better. I learned how each sound was formed in the mouth to help me with sounding out words when spelling. It taught me what each prefix and suffix means. Take Flight also helped me with my comprehension when reading books. It gave me confidence in and outside the classroom."