New school will cater to students who learn differently

Published on Monday, 9 June 2014 23:38 - Written by EMILY GUEVARA eguevara@tylerpaper.com

A new school for students who learn differently will open this fall in Tyler.

Bridgemark Center will serve first- through 12th-graders with learning differences, such as dyslexia, auditory processing disorder, dysgraphia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and more.

Students in first through sixth grades can attend full-day or half-day school. And students in seventh through 12th grades can attend the part-time program, which requires extensive parental involvement.

The aim of the school’s founders is to teach students how they learn using multisensory methods, a low student-to-teacher ratio and trained staff.

“We want to show them that they can have a love for learning things,” Head of School and co-founder Jaime Warren said. Wendy Baker is the chief financial officer and co-founder.

The school will be a private, tuition-based campus. Located in the Calvary Baptist Church facility, the school is not governed by the church but is faith-based.

It is open to all faiths. Each week will begin with a devotional, prayer requests and a Bible verse.

Mrs. Warren said God has been instrumental in allowing this to happen.

“How can we not be thankful and just openly say thank you to Him and honor Him through what we do for these children,” she said.

Inside the church is an unused wing of 13 classrooms that will serve as the school. That wing is closed off from the rest of the church by double-doors. It has a separate entrance, a workroom for teachers and restrooms.

The students who will attend this school have average to above average IQs, but learn in different ways.

These differences can make it difficult for them to focus or to process what they hear or see.

The school will teach these students using a systematic multisensory approach to learning, a very hands-on environment.

A lot of times in some schools students are exposed to concepts only briefly. The curriculum is 5 miles long, but 1 inch deep, Mrs. Warren said.

At this campus, the idea is to give students the time they need to learn the skills and concepts being taught.

“They will get that repetition,” Mrs. Warren said.

For example, instead of having students read multiple novels, Mrs. Warren said the teachers might take one novel and give students time to learn and develop it throughout 12 weeks.

“Those things we can take apart and teach strategies slowly,” Mrs. Warren said.

Student will have individualized plans for their educations.

First- through sixth-graders will participate in about three hours of learning activities each morning.

Every morning will include activities to wake up the brain, along with reading, word study and math.

On three days, students also will learn writing and auditory skills. On two days, they will participate in fine arts.

In the afternoon, full-day students will study history and science along with work on independent studies, assistive technology or social skills.

A time for study hall and writing skills also will be built into the schedule.

Seventh- through 12th-graders will have a more condensed scheduled with on-site classes only three days a week.

On those days, students will work on writing skills, study and test-taking strategies integrated with the curriculum. In addition, they will have a time for individualized training.

Fridays will feature a special lunch picked up by the school parents and a time for sharing as a school community.

Mrs. Warren said after two to three years at the school, a student could be ready to go back into the regular school environment.

The idea is to equip students with the skills they need to learn effectively.

“We want this to be the highest level of specialized education,” she said.

The goal was to start the school with 12 students, but they surpassed that easily. So they are aiming for 24.

Students will wear uniforms with the option of khaki, navy or black slacks, shorts or skorts and polo-style shirts in any color.

There are three teachers for the full-time first- through sixth-grade program and one part-time teacher for the seventh- through 12th-grade program.

The school is pursuing affiliation status with the Shelton School in Dallas, which serves almost 850 students with learning differences, according to its website.

To be allowed to replicate the Shelton School model, the school must meet several requirements including: its teaching methodology must match the Shelton School model; teachers must undergo extensive training and teach demonstration lessons observed and evaluated by Shelton Training Center staff; an application showing the school’s purpose, mission, vision, budget and more must be approved; and $25,000 must be paid.

Mrs. Warren said an anonymous donor is willing to contribute a large matching gift, which will allow Bridgemark to pursue the Affiliation Pending status.

Once approved, the school would then state it is “An Affiliated Program of Shelton School, Dallas, Texas,” Mrs. Warren said.

This affiliation would add not only prestige and a stamp of excellence to the campus, but also afford the school access to Shelton School resources meaning they wouldn’t have to reinvent the wheel, Mrs. Warren said.

The school is a dream-come true for Mrs. Warren and Mrs. Baker, who met through a mutual friend and realized they had the same idea.

Although they considered waiting to start the school, they decided kids need this program now. Everything has fallen into place for the start and Mrs. Warren said all of the people involved have a passion for children who need extra help.

“We’re bridging the gaps for learning, but we’re marking a new beginning,” she said.