Governor, First Lady to lead Exceptional parade in Biloxi

Gov. Phil Bryant, and Mississippi’s First Lady, Deborah Bryant, will join Helen Irlen of the Irlen Institute for the MS Council for Exceptional Children (MS-CEC) Mardi Gras Parade on Wednesday, Feb. 4 at 5 p.m. in Biloxi.  The parade is an opening activity for the MS-CEC statewide conference being held at the IP Casino and Resort Feb. 4-6.

The parade will be led in true Mardi Gras fashion by the Ole Biloxi Marching Club.  A host of exceptional children and their families, friends, teachers and community supporters will complete the parade with special grand marshalls, Mrs. Helen Irlen and Gov. and Mrs. Bryant.

The walk/roll parade begins at the IP Casino Resort Spa  parking lot on Caillavet Street and will proceed south one mile to the Mardi Gras Museum, where paraders will be received with  refreshments sponsored by the City of Biloxi.

The 2015 MS-CEC conference and parade’s theme is  “Parading into a brighter future for Exceptional Children,” said Dr. Sherry Ponder, CEC’s President-Elect and Conference and parade organizer.

“We are very pleased to again host this event in collaboration with MS-CEC,” said Sherry Bell, Director of Recreation and Leisure for the City of Biloxi. “Last year was very exciting and fun for our coast communities’ exceptional children and adults.  The addition of the Governor and First Lady in this year’s parade really helps to bring home the many ways all community members can have a brighter future with inclusion of people who have special needs.”

The cause has special meaning to Governor Bryant who has shared on numerous occasions that he grew up with a reading disorder he called dyslexia.  He has within the last year been identified as having Irlen Syndrome.  Helen Irlen identified the visual perception disorder 30 years ago.  The disorder was originally called scotopic sensitivity syndrome and is correctable by using prescriptive colored overlays or tinted lenses, especially when reading.

First Lady Deborah Bryant has made Irlen awareness one of her top priorities as she goes around the state reading to children.  She has visited approximately 100 schools and speaks to teachers and administrators about reading disorders and especially Irlen Syndrome.

Irlen’s research-based statistics indicate that almost 50 percent of children who have reading difficulties and/or identified reading disorders can benefit from using prescribed colored overlays.  Mrs. Irlen’s visit to Mississippi is a huge benefit to educator’s and children and their families.    Mrs. Irlen and Gov. and Mrs. Bryant will meet for the very first time at the MS-CEC conference.

Gov. and Mrs. Bryant, meantime, have also seen that identifying troubled readers is a key component of early intervention with the implementation of the Third Grade Reading Gate legislation, where those third graders not reading at or above grade level will be retained, beginning in May of this school year.  The governor’s willingness to share his reading difficulties and recently diagnosed condition is very helpful in getting awareness to Mississippians, both children and adults, who may suffer and deal with reading problems due to Irlen Syndrome.

“The identification of Irlen Syndrome is easy, quick and low tech and having Gov. and Mrs. Bryant and Mrs. Irlen at our CEC parade and conference is sure to benefit many of our students by making educators and administrators aware,” said Ponder.

Ponder explained, “I equate identifying a third grader who would otherwise fail without the identification and use of a colored overlay to the analogy of throwing a sand dollar or starfish back into the water.  It made a difference for that one.  And that is what a prescribed color overlay does for an individual who is Irlen Syndrome.  It makes a difference, one child at a time.  It is very timely to ask how many third graders on the retention list can be saved from failure with a simple screening and use of a prescribed color”.   Mrs. Irlen is quick to say that if a child has Irlen Syndrome, it is very likely that at least one of the parents has Irlen Syndrome as well.”

Gov. and Mrs. Bryant and Mrs. Irlen also will be the keynotes at the conference’s opening breakfast session on Thursday morning at the IP.  The conference agenda also includes Dr. Carey Wright, State Superintendent of Education, as the lunch keynote speaker.

Helen Irlen is an international researcher and speaker and was a tv guest on ‘The Doctors’ this week.

For information about the parade or available seats at the opening breakfast, please contact Dr. Ponder at