Schools aim to serve special-needs students - East Valley Tribune: News

Schools aim to serve special-needs students

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Posted: Monday, September 1, 2008 6:32 pm | Updated: 11:24 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Two schools designed for kids with learning disabilities are coming to the Scottsdale area, starting to fill what officials say is a need for an underserved group.

Totem Learning Center and Day School is offering full-time classes for the first time this fall, while Lexis Preparatory is hosting an open house next week and plans to open next year.

For about seven years Totem has offered one-on-one services to kids who attend normal classrooms but need extra help, said Sandi Mahan, the school's executive director.

This year, the school has been approved to offer full-time classes for the first time, Mahan said. The goal is to get kids ready to re-enter a normal classroom.

About four kids were signed up for the full-time classes last week, but several pending applications. Totem wants nine to 15 students this year and could eventually expand to 25, Mahan said.

"We opened the (full-time) school because we had several parents and students tell us there was a need," Mahan said.

That's the same reason Lexis Preparatory is looking at spots in Scottsdale and the East Valley, said Jeff Poole, senior vice president of American Education Group, which owns a Florida school that Lexis will be based on.

Poole said his group wants Lexis to open in fall 2009. The school will ultimately serve 150 to 200 kids, he said.

Leaders from both schools say they're designed to find the best learning methods for kids who "learn differently," citing conditions like attention-deficit disorder, autism and anxiety disorders. Students in kindergarten through eighth grade are served with classes of three to eight students and a variety of learning techniques.

The key is for instructors to find a learning method that works for each child instead of expecting every student to conform to one method, said Walt Karniski, executive director of the Tampa Day School, the Florida school Poole's group owns.

"Some of the children who have high potential, very bright, very creative, great kids, may look at a problem differently. Those children can learn just as well as another child if they're in the right environment," Karniski said. "I really think it is up to every parent to search out the best learning environment for their child."

For instance, some kids may need to use their hands to learn, like tapping their fingers a certain number of time to correspond to numbers in math lessons, said Debbie Watland, director of education for Totem.

Others need a lot of repetition in highly structured lessons, Mahan said.

Due to tight budgets, public schools can't usually offer a variety of instructional methods tailored to different students. Instead, they have to make the curriculum they have work, Watland said.

It's also hard for teachers in classrooms of 25 kids to identify one child's specific learning problems unless that child speaks up, Watland said.

With more screening tools for learning difficulties available than there used to be and laws requiring kids with learning disabilities get help, the demand for schools that serve such populations is on the rise, said several leaders at Totem.

"Parents are finally becoming aware that not only do they have to be helped, there has to be accountability," Watland said. "You can't just put them in a special-education program and forget about them."

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