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Proposed Academy Would Serve ADHD Kids [MN]

First-of-its-kind Charter School Seeks State Approval

Posted: 2007-03-16

Sad, but true: the needs of some special students cannot be met in the mianstream public schools and some charter schools might meet their needs better.

Kay's Comment: However sad, it is also true, that the needs of some, perhaps many, students with special needs are not and cannot be met in the mainstream of public schools. There are many who will disagree, but I have been there, and know this to be true: The few who need the most get lost when they are mixed in with the many who need less, but still quite a lot. I am not a fan of inclusion for all students and I am not a fan of all charter schools. However, if a student's needs are not being met, parents and teachers should look for a more appropriate learning environment for that student. No one has all of the answers to all of the questions that students with special needs present. What I like about this article is that all contributors give credit to the public schools for making an effort to meet the needs of students with special needs, but realize that it is not always possible to serve these students well in large classrooms with teachers who do not have special training.

Proposed academy would serve ADHD kids

First-of-its-kind charter school seeks state approval

BY MEGAN BOLDT, Pioneer Press, March 14, 2007

A charter school for students with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and dyslexia is being proposed for the Twin Cities.

Bruce Lindgren and his wife, Susan, want to open the first-of-its kind school after watching their seventh- grade son, who has been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, struggle in Wayzata schools.

"They do the best job they can. But mainstream schools are made for mainstream kids," said Lindgren, a charter school consultant and a founder of ADDvantage Learning Academy.

The academy is being sponsored by Pillsbury United Communities, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit that sponsors 12 charter schools in the state.

If it opens, the school would be one of the few Minnesota charter schools that focus on students with certain disabilities. Most charters are designed around broader cultural or academic themes, like the Hmong Academy in St. Paul or the Math and Science Academy in Woodbury.

Lindgren envisions the charter school, which is publicly funded but operates outside the traditional public school system, with small class sizes and focusing on project- based learning to keep students with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and attention deficit disorder engaged.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, about 3 percent to 5 percent of U.S. children have ADHD. Children with ADHD and ADD have a hard time controlling their behavior or paying attention and often can be disruptive in class.

ADDvantage organizers plan to apply to the Minnesota Department of Education by this summer, Lindgren said. If approved, they hope to open in the west metro in 2008 for students in grades 6-8 with plans to expand.

The group wants to model the school after Summit Academies in Ohio. These schools serve students in all grades who have ADHD and Asperger's disorder, which is a high-functioning form of autism.

Summit is gaining the attention of parents. The first academy opened in Akron in 1999. Now, there are 27 schools across Ohio.

Mark Schweitzer, Summit's director of marketing and public relations, said the focus is on small schools, low student-teacher ratios and therapeutic learning. Summit's largest school has about 200 students; the smallest, 44. There is a teacher and teacher's aide in each classroom of about 15 students.

Teachers break classes into groups for lessons. While five students get direct instruction from the teacher, another group might work on a hands-on project with a teacher's aide, and the rest would work independently on the subject. Then they rotate to give the students a variety of ways to learn.

"For the kids with ADHD, it keeps them interested and engaged," Schweitzer said.

There are concerns about segregating these children from their contemporaries.

But Bob Wedl, a former state education commissioner and special education director for Minneapolis schools, said ADHD is different from a severe disability in that most students who have it require accommodation â?? mainly reading assistance â?? and not extensive special services.

Plus, families choose charter schools, he said.

"The thing we have to remember here is no one is required to go to a charter school," Wedl said. "Parents are going to make that choice."

Plymouth resident Jodi Cook wants that kind of hands-on learning for her daughter. Cook said she has spent a lot of time switching schools and paying for tutors to help Ashley, an eighth-grader, catch up with her peers.

"Traditional public schools don't have the time to give her the resources she needs," Cook said. "I feel for the teachers. They have 30-plus kids in a classroom with so many learning differences."

Cook said she knows she's not alone. More than 200 families have already signed a petition saying they would enroll at least one child in ADDvantage Learning Academy.

"There are all kinds of kids out there who are lost," she said. "They're families that are dying to get into this type of school."

Megan Boldt covers education and can be reached at mboldt@pioneerpress.com or 651-228-5495.

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