Guest Author - Valerie Shoopman
There are a limited number of special education schools around the United States. They range from small, private, very specialized schools to larger boarding or residential facilities.
These special education schools can get quite pricey, but scholarship funding is usually available for families that show a need. If the child’s traditional public school is not meeting their special education needs, you can go due process and try to get the school district to fund the tuition. This can be a long and difficult process though.
The key to success lies in finding the right school for your child’s needs. If your child has Asperger’s Syndrome and you send him to a school that has no teachers that are familiar with Asperger’s children, your child will not have much of a chance for success and you and your child will be disappointed. However, if your child is dyslexic, and you send them to a special education school that focuses on children with learning disabilities, specifically dyslexic students, then your child will have the potential for great academic success and personal growth.
Horizon Academy in Roeland Park, KS, a suburb of Kansas City, is a small, private special education school that has had many great successes in teaching students with learning disabilities to become better, more efficient learners using many different research-based strategies to augment their learning styles and differences.
Horizon’s success can be measured by many things including the fact that they have successfully transitioned over 115 students with learning disabilities back to their traditional schools. These students have gone on to make the honor roll, sports teams, and leading roles in school plays right along side non-learning disabled students.
Parents and students alike both write to the school expressing their sincere gratitude for helping struggling students learn the ways that they learn best and how to advocate for themselves. They usually say the transition back to their original public or private school is difficult, but now they have a chance for success where they did not before.
Before they came to Horizon Academy, success at a traditional public or private school was next to impossible, even with Para Professionals or a Resource Teacher. This frustration with the lack of academic success was spilling over to every single area of their life. Every family member became involved in the difficult struggle and was a potential target for an outburst of anger and frustration.
Here is an example of a particular student that I worked with closely to help transition back to his traditional school.
“Joe” was a sixth grader when he first came to Horizon Academy. He was reading on about the 2nd grade level. He had dyslexia, dysgraphia, and trouble with one of his eyes in that it periodically would “shut down” and quit receiving images to transmit to his brain. Joe’s first year at Horizon did not show great success. He was trying his hardest, but things were not coming any easier for him. He and his parents had hoped to make great gains in that first year. The fact was, he made only what is considered “normal” gains. He gained about a year in every subject. However, he was so far behind in reading and spelling, that gaining a year when he grew a year older as well, did nothing to close the gap so to speak.
Joe’s second year was not very good. He decided to shut down and not take full advantage of the opportunities offered to him. He quit doing his homework; he shut down in class, refused to participate and had some passive aggressive behaviors that occurred.
However, the next year, his 8th grade year, he really turned around. First, he decided that Horizon was a place that could greatly help him and took full advantage of all the opportunities offered and he even sought out more ways to get ahead. With his full head of steam, intense dedication, and the help of the staff and research-based programs, Joe went from reading on a 3rd grade level at the beginning of the year to reading on a 7th grade level by the end of the year.
He successfully passed the entrance exams to a well-known high school, made the dive team and went on to make the honor roll every quarter of his freshman year. Wow! What a complete turn around. In his opinion, the things that made the biggest difference for him was accepting he had a learning disability, and then recognizing that there were people who both understood him and could help him. He also said that being able to effectively advocate for himself when he went back to his regular school made a tremendous difference in how the staff there viewed him and his learning differences.
So based on Joe and the many other students I have personally witnessed successfully transitioning back to their traditional school and even on to college, I would have to conclude that special education schools do work. Sometimes, as in Joe’s case, it does take a little bit of time. However, it is always time well spent, considering the payoff that lasts a lifetime.
These types of special education schools work especially well when combined with expertly trained staff and research-based strategies and practices. So be sure and take the extra time to find a school that has a successful history and matches up with your child’s special education needs to experience the best chance for academic success and life-long learning for your wonderful, unique child.