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Some of the learning strategies that benefit Shelton students are now being taught to students in Mississippi. For the next three years, the Shelton School and the University of Mississippi will conduct a pilot program designed to improve literacy in the Oxford City School and Lafayette County, Mississippi, school districts.

A gift of almost $1 million from Bob and Carol Dorsey, a former University of Mississippi professor of economics, and his wife, Carol, will support the North Mississippi Literacy Project, which was introduced to the schools by UM’s McLean Institute for Public Service and Community Engagement. The university received the donation, the McLean Institute is sponsoring the project and Shelton is providing the training and supervision. Shelton School is the largest school worldwide for students with learning differences and a resource and teacher training center dedicated to making a difference by serving and empowering the lives of students who learn differently.

“So many children fall behind before they get a good start in school because they have learning and developmental challenges and need a different approach,” Carol Dorsey told the University of Mississippi Foundation. “This program will give teachers the tools to engage these students from the start so they can succeed.”

Albert Nylander, director of the McLean Institute, told the foundation that the Dorseys’ gift will be transformative. “This is a wonderful life-changing opportunity that the Dorseys are providing for young students. Over 2,000 students will be impacted by their commitment to entrust the University of Mississippi, McLean Institute, the Shelton School and our local school districts with these resources,” he said. 

Implementing a program to help Mississippi students who learn differently is the brainchild of Ole Miss alumnus Phillip Wiggins, founder and CEO of Stratford Land Co. in Dallas, whose three children attended the Shelton School.

Wiggins told the McLean Institute that when his oldest son, Davis, first started at Shelton, he read in the 20th percentile in the nation. When Davis left Shelton, his reading had improved to the 86th percentile. He went on to earn undergraduate and graduate degrees and now works in the family business.

Having served as chair of both the Shelton School and McLean Institute boards of directors, Wiggins approached Joyce Pickering, Shelton’s executive director emerita, to gauge her interest in starting a literacy program in Mississippi using a proven curriculum she wrote.

“I said, ‘Yes, that’s exactly what our outreach department does,’” said Pickering, Shelton’s executive director emerita. “We train teachers all over the world specifically in working with children who have learning differences, including dyslexia, ADHD, oral language disorders, math disorders, speech and language disorders — all of these kinds of processing problems.”

Shelton staff has trained about 120 Mississippi teachers to reach 2,100 students in Kindergarten through second grade using the multisensory structured language program “SEE” (Sequential English Education). Pre-K students will benefit from an Early Intervention Kit created to prepare them to begin SEE in Kindergarten. Intervention before children reach third grade is the key to keeping students who learn differently from falling behind their peers, Pickering said. 

Shelton faculty member John Hodges moved to an office within the McLean Institute to be the director of the North Mississippi Literacy Project, supervising the pilot program. Hodges is a certified academic language therapist and a Shelton-certified instructor of the SEE program. He is on the board of directors of the Academic Language Therapy Association and has served on the Dallas branch of the International Dyslexia Association. He also works as an adjunct professor at Dallas Baptist University.

The goal is to replicate the program in other schools in Mississippi and in Oklahoma and in Arkansas.