On the fast track toward fixing reading disabilities in Port Townsend

PORT TOWNSEND — Anthony Short has been on the fast track all his life.

He races hydroplanes as a hobby. He goes “4 bying” — 4 by 4 trucking on back roads. He rides motorbikes, and enters and wins mud bog competitions in vehicles he repairs and maintains.

Now 21, he has taken engines apart and put them back together since he was 9 years old.

But in school, no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t get off the mark in reading.

“A lot of people said you need to practice reading and you’ll figure it out,” Short said. “It didn’t work.”

Short, who grew up in Port Townsend, has one of the most severe forms of dyslexia.

Adept at finding ways of coping with life without being able to read, he is now learning ways around the roadblocks that prevented him from learning in the first place.

“I was stuck until I came here,” Short said. “It made me realize what to do.”

Here is the second floor in the American Bank Building in downtown Port Townsend where Melinda Pongrey moved the SISIUTL Center for Learning from its uptown home last year.

Learning disabilities

For the past three months, Short has been meeting with Pongrey, who specializes in assessing and helping people with learning disabilities.

After only 30 hours of work, Short is now reading at the seventh- to eighth-grade level where he was able to read at only the second-grade mark before, Pongrey said.

“Melinda showed me some paths to take,” Short said.

“I’m not fluent, but I read a whole lot better. It’s really paying off.”

It was his employer, Lee Short, who set Anthony on the road to getting help.

A distant relative, he knew Anthony could not read when he was hired to work at his business, Lee’s Truck Repair on Center Road in Chimacum.

Anthony had the skills, having grown up near Four Corners, where he rescued powered weed trimmers from the nearby junkyard.

“I’d take them apart and repair anything I could get my hands on,” Anthony said.

But at school, his inability to put letters together into words put him in the special education program at Chimacum schools, where he spent 13 years before graduating in 2002.

Repeatedly told he needed to try harder, he spent several hours after school every day when he was in junior high, working with his grandfather on a phonics program.

That proved fruitless as well as frustrating, he said. But he didn’t say no when his employer suggested he try again.

“I’m game, I’ll try anything,” Anthony said.

Customer’s suggestion

A customer at the shop suggested contacting Pongrey, who set up an assessment for Anthony in January.

Lee and Bonnie Short paid for the first set of sessions, Anthony said; he’s now paying for them himself.

In addition to instruction, Pongrey also introduced Anthony to balance activities developed by Dr. Frank Belgau of Port Angeles that help people with visual processing, reading, learning efficiency and academic as well as physical performance.

They include balancing on a balance board while tossing bean bags in the air and tracking a pendulum ball with his eyes.

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