Dyslexia is defined as a condition whereby the phonic decoding of the brain is weaker therefore generating problems with reading and writing. Children diagnosed with Dyslexia are just as capable of learning as any other student; they just need to do it differently than mainstream academia allows for under current guidelines.
Estimates show 5.5 % of the population has dyslexia and some studies put the number as high as 20%. A few examples of successful people with Dyslexia include: Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Steve Jobs, and many other high profile individuals.
For one Pittsburgh businessman years ago, the fact that the Pennsylvania Department of Education could not accommodate his difficulty in learning because he had dyslexia set him on a course that would change his community’s learning landscape.
With two dyslexic children of his own, Curtis Kossman knew all too well the trials and tribulations of raising kids with a learning disability. The stress threw his family into crisis. As he struggled to ensure his children had the resources necessary to receive a solid education, he realized that not every family had the financial means to do the same.
At a price tag of over $20,000 out-of-pocket expense per year / per child to supplement the necessary instructional remediation, Curtis sought a different course; not so much for his kids, but for those who were simply unable to meet the financial burden. In addition, the emotional toll that dyslexic children endure on a daily basis as they are humiliated not just by their peers, but in some cases their teachers, is perhaps the most tragic fallout of all.
As a successful and respected businessman, Curtis began the arduous process of opening up a Charter School for Dyslexic children in 2015. As expected, the path was filled with obstacles, some real, some a result of hardliners trying to prevent the new school from becoming a reality. Given his experience in real estate, Curtis was familiar with bureaucracy and red tape, all of which required a measure of perseverance to overcome.
The effort paid off and Pittsburgh’s first school exclusively for Dyslexic children was opened in 2015. The school was christened Provident with grades 2 through 6 and currently has a student body of over 200 children with a waiting list. The teachers are all very dedicated and they choose to be there even though they could earn more elsewhere – they chose to make a difference.
When the school began and the curriculum was being developed, Curtis suggested a martial arts program as part of the curriculum. After his own son had enrolled in a Tae Kwon-Do class as a child, Curtis noticed an improvement in his cognitive skills. The physical demands of each class helped to create order for his son. He also saw an improvement in his son’s confidence as the peer-to-peer instruction and mentorship raised his boy’s self-esteem. Not surprisingly, Curtis made a pitch for martial arts to be part of the Provident curriculum. Of course, martial arts are not a regular part of education in America, so Curtis had to sell the school’s CEO, administration, and staff on the idea. The possibility gained traction and it was decided to use Tae Kwon-Do on a part-time basis as a way to help provide a fresh, holistic approach to solving the Dyslexia puzzle.
When the call went out for a Tae Kwon-Do teacher, a Pittsburgh –based Master instructor was selected, Robert Zang of Zang TKD. A 7th Degree Black Belt, Master Robert Zang started Tae Kwon-Do training when he was 4 years old. He has nearly 38 years of experience and has been teaching for more than half that time. Along with achieving a 7th Degree Black Belt, he also is Kukkiwon certified. Master Zang is a 14-time U.S. Open Grand Champion and has achieved many other titles over the years.
Master Zang became part of the Provident staff with the full endorsement from owner Curtis Kossman and the then CEO, Brett Marcoux; both gave him wide discretion in the development of the program parameters. Master Zang drew on his deep experience and crafted a unique system of instruction and mentorship for his new students.
The program was designed with a combination of traditional methods and specific protocols for students with Dyslexia. Safety had to be a priority as one of the major challenges for the Provident kids was self-control and class discipline. Zang’s job was to create a positive experience, mentor the students, and rebuild their self-esteem which was likely shattered from years of being harshly criticized. Some traditional elements remained such as ceremonial bowing as a greeting, the chain of command and belt system, as well as a code similar to the Tae Kwon-Do tenets. The Provident version is called PCS: Perseverance, Compassion, and Self-control.
Master Zang realized he needed to think outside the box and find better methods of instruction. He developed two non-traditional practices of incorporating music and a cadence for use during class drills.
Zang found that contemporary, non-verbal music along with a consistent cadence helped his students maintain focus and order when executing various martial art techniques. Above all, Master Zang replaced the normal contact found in a martial arts class with a large measure of discussion directed to helping his students become better people – to encourage pride, self-confidence, and the ability to confront the world on an equal footing.
The program includes regular testing of students, as well as frequent demonstrations. In addition, the Provident program has sponsored internal tournaments and has also supported some students in the open martial arts tournament circuit. Master Zang believes competition is effective in growing student confidence provided it is done right and coached accordingly.
The Lesson Plan
Each class follows a regular structure, one that the students can expect and strive to excel at every day. The typical lesson is as follows:
Every curriculum starts with expected results and desired outcomes to determine the effectiveness of its specific programs. The Tae Kwon-Do program at Provident was designed with clear goals in mind:
Outcomes to Date
Most of the expected results for the Tae Kwon-Do program are difficult to quantify; however, after two years, the subjective (collaborative) evidence is clear. The kids have responded with improvements in self-confidence, discipline, and self-control.
Teachers are surveyed to comment based on in-school demonstrations as well as classroom performance in all other courses. Their conclusions reaffirm the obvious – the students are benefiting in a very positive way.
The overall consensus indicates that the Tae Kwon-Do program at Provident has added to the holistic approach envisioned by the founder, Curtis Kossman, by helping students with Dyslexia learn using unconventional, but effective methods. Master Zang is integral part of the Tae Kwon-Do program’s success. While many instructors may be technically qualified, few possess the caring attitude that is part of his character.
He is dedicated to improving the lives of his Provident students and committed to mentoring them so they have a positive school experience - an experience the same as any other student and certainly one they deserve.