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Work with dyslexic children earns Pine woman honor

| Wednesday, March 26, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
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Maria Paluselli

Maria Paluselli is a humble woman, even when she's recognized for her life's work with dyslexic children.

“This has been my work and what I love to do for the past 20 years, so I kind of feel strange being recognized for something that I so enjoy,” she said. “It's what I love and it's been extremely satisfying watching middle or high school non-readers learn to read. That's life changing.”

Paluselli, 43, of Pine, is being honored with The Christopher Gardner Award for Excellence in the Field of Dyslexia in recognition of her work in expanding awareness of dyslexia in the Pittsburgh region.

She'll receive the award on April 5 at Dyslexia Today 2014: A Conference for Professionals and Parents hosted by the Pittsburgh regional branch of the Pennsylvania International Dyslexia Association in the DoubleTree by Hilton in Green Tree.

The Christopher Gardner award was started by his wife, Carrie, after her husband, who had dyslexia, died. It is to honor someone in Western Pennsylvania who has made a significant difference in the lives of people with dyslexia. About one in five children is affected by the language-based learning disability.

“My husband being dyslexic had no resources whatsoever growing up,” Carrie Gardner said. “Then my daughter is dyslexic and we're the in second generation and we're still struggling to get the help my husband couldn't get.”

She nominated Paluselli for the award this year. The recipient is chosen by the board of the Pittsburgh International Dyslexia Association.

“Maria was such a guiding force in everything that I had to go through and I know how many other people she's affected and influenced throughout her years working,” Carrie Gardner said.

Paluselli got her start working with dyslexic children more than 15 years ago. After receiving her master's degree in special education from Duquesne University, she began working as a learning support teacher at North Allegheny School District.

One summer she took a workshop at the University of Pittsburgh on the Orton-Gilingham instructional method, which is a phonetics-based approach to teach reading through repeating, retracing and writing simultaneously.

“I'd never heard of it before, but the description sounded like my students that I felt ill-equipped to teach as a new teacher,” Paluselli said.

After taking the summer course, the Pittsburgh Scottish Rite Masons were looking for someone to help open the Children's Dyslexia Center in Pittsburgh in 1999. Her workshop professor recommended Paluselli for the position.

Paluselli served as the director of the Pittsburgh Children's Dyslexia Center for 10 years, teaching more than 150 dyslexic students how to read and training more than 40 tutors in the Orton-Gilingham approach. She also helped form the Pittsburgh regional branch of the International Dyslexia Association in 2001.

“It seemed to be chance events, but it was pretty amazing,” she said of her decision to take the workshop that summer. “I opened that center with them and served there for 10 years as their director. I resigned from North Allegheny because I just fell in love with this.”

Paluselli now works as a learning support teacher at Eden Hall Upper Elementary.

Although Paluselli's life has been devoted to teaching dyslexic children, she says there's still a long way to go in the Pittsburgh region, calling it a “dyslexic desert” for its lack of private schools devoted to teaching dyslexic children.

“This area doesn't have any private schools trained in dyslexia and I have been able to share this with other teachers and see them get energized,” she said. “It's empowering.”

For more information about the Pittsburgh International Dyslexia Association or the conference, visit www.pbida.org.

Rachel Farkas is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-779-6902 or rfarkas@tribweb.com.

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