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Barton Reading Program at Wells Middle School – Volunteers Create Reading Magic

September 27, 2011

Barton Reading and Spelling System volunteers work with Wells Middle School students

Last year, the San Francisco Giants enjoyed a rollicking ride that led them to a World Series Championship. The team’s motto was “It’s magic inside!” – referring to AT&T Park. Much closer to home, we’ve come to realize that there’s a bit of magic happening inside of Room B-13 at Wells Middle School on a regular basis. recently had the opportunity to observe the Barton Reading Program and to sit down with its Facilitator, Diana Orton Johansson.

The Barton Reading & Spelling System was developed by internationally recognized expert on the subject of dyslexia Susan Barton. Research demonstrated that a lack of phonemic awareness was preventing many students from mastering reading. Phonemic awareness is the ability to hear and to manipulate each sound in a word – in your head, without letters. The program was approved by the California Board of Education in 2003 and has gained acceptance across the nation. Through a generous grant engineered by Dublin Partners in Education (DPIE) and through ongoing support of the Wells Middle School PFC, the program was launched at Wells in 2005.

Students that benefit from Barton are not necessarily dyslexic. Rather, there are often other leading indicators that suggest an individual student could be a candidate for the program. Some of the signs include: comprehension difficulties, spelling the same word differently on the same page, poor recall of facts and difficulty planning/managing time. Students for the program are generally referred by site staff or by their families. The Barton learning system is highly technical and follows very specific rules. The work setting is strictly one-on-one (tutor/student) and takes place during first or second period two to three times per week. All Barton tutor volunteers must complete a minimum of 32 hours of formalized training. How did you become involved in the Barton program?

Diana Orton Johansson: Well, both of my children have moved through the Dublin Unified School system – my daughter is a freshman at Southern Methodist University and my son is a sophomore at Dublin High School. I am a credentialed elementary school teacher and I had worked in the Pleasanton Unified School District for 16 years. It was there where I initially became aware of Barton. I was fortunate enough to become certified in the program under Susan Barton. In addition to Wells, I support programs at both Harvest Park and Thomas Hart middle schools in Pleasanton. What does the program at Wells look like today compared to 2005 and what do you expect of your volunteers?

Johansson: Back then, we had about seven volunteers and ten students. In 2011, we have 15 volunteers and about 20 students. The training for our volunteers remains rigorous – some of them have gone on up to to 50 hours of training. But the program largely succeeds because we have volunteer tutors that are committed to the training and the building of meaningful relationships with the students. One of the volunteer rewards is to witness the transformation and growth of an individual student. It makes a very powerful difference in their lives. What are your long terms goals and what would you say to potential volunteers?

Johansson: In a perfect world, I would love to add this program to the elementary schools. We recognize that this program could yield great benefits for students at that level. For any potential volunteers – here is my contact information: or 925-699-8305 (cell). I would welcome a discussion with anyone with the willingness and commitment to join and to help our program grow.

Having learned about the Barton Reading Program, the students that it serves and about its primary facilitator, we wanted to gain the perspective of one of its volunteer tutors – Terri Dyer. How long have you been a Barton tutor and what was your experience throughout the training?

Terri Dyer: This is actually the beginning of my second year. I started last November as I moved my youngest child to middle school. I realized that I had the time to give to the program and I had also previously met Diana. Overall, the training is very good and it guides us to teach the program correctly. We also receive continuous training so it’s an ongoing process. I started with one student last year and this year I have two. In addition to supporting these students, what benefits are you personally gaining and what would you say to prospective volunteers?

Dyer: It’s really just the satisfaction of helping an individual child to grow. These are really great kids and I can see the improvement in their self-confidence, giving them the one-on-one attention and an overall feeling of giving back to the community. To those that are intrigued or inspired by this story, donate your time and motivation to make a long-term and positive effect on a child. You will be helping a student succeed and to help them move more successfully through this world.

Alas, the Giants will not be participating in the postseason this year. But for a number of Wells Middle School students and respective volunteers, they will still be able to experience “the magic inside”.

Related articles

What kind of student would benefit from the Barton Reading Intervention? Warning signs and symptoms:

Warning Signs for In Preschool Children

  • delayed speech
  • mixing up the sounds and syllables in long words
  • chronic ear infections
  • severe reactions to childhood illnesses
  • constant confusion of left versus right
  • late establishing a dominant hand
  • difficulty learning to tie shoes
  • trouble memorizing his address, phone number, or the alphabet
  • can’t create words that rhyme
  • a close relative struggled with reading or spelling

Warning Signs for Elementary School Students

  • dysgraphia (slow, non-automatic handwriting that is difficult to read)
  • letter or number reversals continuing past the end of first grade
  • extreme difficulty learning cursive
  • slow, choppy, inaccurate reading:
    • guesses based on shape or context
    • skips or misreads prepositions (at, to, of)
    • ignores or substitutes word endings
    • can’t sound out unknown words
  • terrible spelling
  • often can’t remember sight words (they, were, does) or homonyms (their, they’re, and there)
  • difficulty telling time on a clock with hands
  • trouble with math
    • can’t memorize multiplication facts
    • gets lost in a sequence of steps
  • when speaking, difficulty finding the correct word
    • lots of “whatyamacallits” and “thingies”
    • common sayings come out slightly twisted
  • extremely messy bedroom, backpack, and desk
  • dreads going to school
    • complains of stomach aches or headaches
    • may have nightmares about school

Warning Signs for Middle School Students

  • Usually reads below grade level & may have difficulty with comprehension.
  • May have poor grades in many classes.
  • May have difficulties with oral or written expression OR Verbal skills may be noticeably superior to written expression.
  • Poor handwriting: pencil grip is awkward, fist-like or tight.
  • Difficulty planning and writing essays.
  • Slow to discern and learn prefixes, suffixes, root words and other reading and spelling strategies.
  • May reverse letter sequences – “soiled” for “solid,”  “left” for “felt.”
  • May spell same word differently on the same page.
  • May avoid reading aloud.
  • May get tongue ‘tied up’ using long words, e.g. ‘preliminary.’ ‘philosophical.’
  • May have difficulty processing complex language or long series of instructions at speed.
  • May have slow or poor recall of facts.
  • May have inadequate vocabulary &/ or store of knowledge
  • May have difficulty with planning, organizing and managing time, materials and tasks.
  • May have trouble with math, especially math fact speed, word problems, and solutions requiring several steps in sequence.
  • Printed music may be difficult.
  • Difficulty learning a foreign language (except ASL)

Warning Signs for High School Students

All of the above symptoms plus:

  • Limited vocabulary
  • Extremely poor written expression
    • Large discrepancy between verbal and written skills
  • Unable to master a foreign language
  • Poor grades in many classes

Non-Language Indicators:

  • Has poor confidence and self-esteem that may manifest in defiance and defensiveness.
  • Has many areas of strength, especially nonverbal and visual.
  • Often has good “people” skills.
  • Often is spatially talented
  • Could be a nontraditional, broad, global, thinker

For more information, contact Diana Orton Johansson at (925) 829-3367 or (925) 699-8305; Email:


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