Gabrielle Emanuel

Part 4 of our series, "Unlocking Dyslexia."

Megan Lordos, a middle school teacher, says she was not allowed to use the word "dyslexia."

She's not alone. Parents and teachers across the country have raised concerns about some schools hesitating, or completely refusing, to say the word.

As the most common learning disability in the U.S., dyslexia affects somewhere between 5 and 17 percent of the population. That means millions of school children around the country struggle with it.

Part 2 of our series "Unlocking Dyslexia."

Our ancient ancestors were able to speak long before they were able to read or write. That history is etched in our brains.

The human brain naturally picks up spoken language. Not so for reading.

Part 1 of our series "Unlocking Dyslexia."

"It's frustrating that you can't read the simplest word in the world."

Thomas Lester grabs a book and opens to a random page. He points to a word: galloping.

"Goll—. G—. Gaa—. Gaa—. G—. " He keeps trying. It is as if the rest ­­of the word is in him somewhere, but he can't sound it out.

"I don't ... I quit." He tosses the book and it skids along the table.

When it comes to sentence structure, Rocky, a sea lion, was a stickler.

"It really mattered to her, what's going to be the direct and indirect object," says Kathy Streeter, an animal trainer.

For Sierra, it isn't the grammar that interests her. It's the vocalizations. This California sea lion loves experimenting with her vocal range, and she hates being interrupted.

Part of our NPR Ed series on mental health in schools.

Every Monday morning at Harvie Elementary School, in Henrico County, Va., Brett Welch stands outside her office door as kids file in.

"The first thing I'm looking for are the faces," says Welch, a school counselor. She's searching for hints of fear, pain or anger.

"Maybe there was a domestic incident at the house that weekend," says Welch. "That's reality for a lot of our kids."

Open up a classic mathematics textbook written by a Welshman, Robert Recorde, and flip past the preface and the table of contents.

There, you'll see the bold statement that math is "contemptible and vile."

Recorde didn't believe that himself. Quite the opposite. But, writing in 1543, he had to acknowledge that this was a prevailing view at the time — that math was profane. Not worth knowing.

That's something many school children today might agree with, but why such a disdain back in the 16th century? And not from kids, but from lots of people.

Walking to work in the Mission District of San Francisco, John Luna noticed a pattern. Just after the first and the 15th of the month, he says, he saw long lines of people.

"It's like trying to get into the most popular nightclub in the city," says Luna. But what he found at the front of the line was not a bar or lounge. Instead, the long lines led to check cashing outlets and payday lenders.

Four guys walk into a diner.

One, in a plaid shirt, sells golf equipment online. His name is Chris Regan. Two — Eric Schiffhauer and Jordan Wagner — are midway through their Ph.D.'s at Johns Hopkins University.

And the other, Jebree Christian, is a recent high school graduate from West Baltimore. His arms are covered in tattoos, most of them commemorating someone he has lost.

Each Sunday, they gather here at Jimmy's on Baltimore's harbor.

Twenty years ago, Aimée Eubanks Davis taught in a middle school that served low-income kids in New Orleans.

She didn't define success in terms of test scores. Instead, she focused on the future, wanting her students to graduate from college and find a good job.

Eubanks Davis remembers when some of her earliest students first began that process, sending out resumes and preparing for job interviews.

"Oh, my goodness," she remembers thinking. "This is the moment you want to see: your former students living their dreams."

On San Jose State University's lush inner-city campus, students in their graduation gowns pose with their families in front of ivy-covered buildings.

They're the lucky ones.

Just 10 percent of students graduate from this public university in four years. After six years, it's only a bit more than half.

Think about that — of 100 students who enrolled four years ago, only 10 will walk across the stage this year.

That sounds low, but you can find these kind of numbers at lots of universities in the U.S.

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