Henry Winkler, aka The Fonz from 70s hit TV comedy, thrilled staff and pupils at Red Oaks school by dropping in as part of a UK tour to promote dyslexia awareness.
His visit was prompted by dyslexic Year 5 pupil Alfie Smith, who, one snowy day last winter, while the rest of his class built snowmen and threw snowballs, got down to a spot of letter writing. He had been inspired by a feature on television about the My Way Campaign, launched by children’s newspaper First News, in support of children who learn differently.
First Alfie wrote to Ed Balls, the then Children’s Secretary. Next he wrote to the Prime Minister Gordon Brown. And then he wrote an article for First News describing what it’s like being dyslexic, and more importantly how Red Oaks helps him and other children with similar difficulties. Alfie is pictured with Henry, right
Henry who himself has dyslexia, who helped launch the My Way campaign at No10 Downing Street, has given his name to a teaching award for Special Needs. He said, “the word can’t isn’t in the Fonzarelli dictionary.”
The children sang the Happy Days theme tune and listened to Henry describing his life. Although he knew he wanted to be an actor from the age of seven, he said he struggled all the time at school and was always being called stupid. “It carried right on into my adult life until my own son Jed was finding it tough to write, although he could talk and talk. A specialist told us he was dyslexic and I realised what my problem had been for all this time.
Now he has co-written 17 hilarious books for children describing what it is to live with dyslexia. “Every child has greatness in them; every one of you have it,” he told the Red Oaks assembly. “We need to find ways to dig it out and give it to the world.”
“We were in stitches all morning,” said inclusion manager Claire Owens. “Henry fully supports everything that we’re about, and talked about how finding strengths inside ourselves is the key to success. This is definitely a message that all the children get loud and clear.”
The December 2009 Link magazine reported on award-winning dyslexic author Sally Gardner presenting the school with the nationally recognised Dyslexia Friendly Quality Mark. At the end of June Red Oaks children will take part for Swindon education service to show off best practice.
“For us dyslexia is a gift not a problem, said Claire. “It’s a sign that all children learn differently. Adopting dyslexia friendly teaching practices is helpful for all learners.”