Nestled behind the busy corner of Beach Boulevard and San Pablo – just a short walk from Castaway Island Preserve – is one of the best-kept secrets in Jacksonville. It's Northeast Florida's first school for dyslexia, and it's been here since 1982.
In front of the school is a wide, open playground where kids get fresh air and sunshine on every beautiful day, visited by the occasional wood stork. When it's warm, students may be in the side yard tending winter herbs and vegetables as part of gardening class, or maintaining DePaul's butterfly garden at the nearby preserve. When the sky opens up, they may be in the media center playing math games to sharpen their multiplication skills, practicing spelling words in shaving cream or using fractions to measure flour for a fresh batch of cookies.
Either way, DePaul's creative educators are immersing these unique students in multisensory learning experiences crafted to match how these kids receive and process information.
DePaul School of Northeast Florida is a parent-founded school solely for children with learning differences, such as dyslexia, ADD/ADHD, sensory processing disorders, dysgraphia and communication difficulties.
DePaul is accredited by the Associated Independent Schools of Florida (AISF), and it goes beyond simple classroom accommodations to engage children in active, practical academics. Every child who enters DePaul is assessed for ability in literacy and math, then sorted into learning groups on their level. For example, a fourth grader may spend the morning working in kindergarten reading and fourth grade math before rejoining same-age friends for homeroom, science, social studies, resource classes and lunch. DePaul deliberately keeps class sizes small (about 10:1), and targeted curriculum is taught to mastery. Once a student completes one grade level in a subject, she is promoted to the next grade level in that subject, even in the middle of an academic year.
"Our mid-year measurements indicate that our students with learning differences are progressing more rapidly than their peers in traditional settings," said Dr. Amber Oliveira, DePaul's Head of School. "Watching these kids flourish and exceed expectations is what motivates our incredible staff. Their progress is our joy."
DePaul is like a family environment: full of laughter, lessons in drama and lively debate, support for areas of weakness, and encouragement for strengths and critical thinking. It's a vivid, multisensory culture created for children who did not flourish in static learning environments. The school uses many research-based techniques like auditory drill and visual tracking practice to strengthen the way the right and left parts of students' brains communicate. A variety of enrichment resource classes give students creative outlets and help them apply what they've learned to everyday life. Staff members are certified in the Lindamood-Bell programs that address sensory-cognitive processes that underlie reading and comprehension.
This type of school not only benefits parents and students, but the community as well. Life with a learning disability can negatively affect a child's future if left unaddressed. Research indicates that as many as 70 percent of incarcerated adults are dyslexic. One in five children have dyslexia, and despite intense effort, many fail in school, which causes lasting issues with their self-esteem.
DePaul is designed to help kids get unstuck and move forward, alleviating the "one-size-must-fit-all" pressure of traditional education. The best part? Learning is fun again. Year after year, students enter DePaul, fit in with their peers and fall in love with learning for the first time — and that changes everything for them.
For a window into the DePaul world, follow them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/depaulschool, or visit www.depaulschool.com to schedule a tour or a sample school day.