I was asked this week if Just Right Academy was just for special needs students. One answer is no. A child does not have to have a diagnosis or difficulty in school to apply and attend. Some parents may choose this option because they are tired of the pressure and demands of homework or hate the direction that end-of-grade tests are taking our schools. They may feel that their child needs more movement or a hands-on way of learning. Other parents may appreciate the teaching-to-mastery philosophy for reading and math. Others are drawn by the small class size and student-to-teacher ratio. Many of our students have been bullied and are looking for a safer environment.
But then, a different answer would be, yes, JRA IS for special needs kids. Because aren’t ALL kids special needs? All children have their unique learning style; sometimes that fits in a mass production model, often it doesn’t. They have their interests and needs. At JRA, a child doesn’t need an IEP to make sure she gets the individualized instruction needed. This week we started math pretesting to make sure each student is ready to start at his level; some will need a great deal of remediation; others will require more challenging material. Reading pretests will follow in August.
Our philosophy is that sometimes the school needs to be willing to accommodate the student instead of always expecting the student to be the one to change or try to fit in. If you have a student who would like a a different environment, let’s talk!
Today, after dropping my teen off at her camp counselor job, I made the rounds of the Pittsboro thrift stores and hit the jackpot. There were an amazing number of great books and I bought $40 worth. I was agonizing over spending our limited funds (insert shameless plug to hit that donate button!), but then I realized that I had just gotten over $400 worth of books for our money.
There will be lots of books at Just Right Academy. There will be books in the library. There will be books about science and math in that classroom. Books about Egypt fill the Ancient Egypt center. Gecko books will sit next to the gecko cage. I’ve even found a Lego series to go by the Lego table. As I look, I keep our students in mind; I know one child loves Pokemon, so there will be plenty of those books. Another likes animals and I’ve stocked up on animal books for him. Having enough books, especially high interest books for struggling readers, is so important. We have received boxes and bags of books as donations and I am constantly buying them as well. It’s hard to have too many books.
Today, one of the older builders at the school was watching as I moved books in. “I wish I could go to your school,” he said quietly. I started to laugh and then realized he was serious. “Why?” I asked. He hung his head and whispered, “I can’t read.” My heart broke.
I believe that every child can learn to read, and that will be a goal for our students at JRA. We have well-trained reading instructors who have had great success with all kinds of students. No adult should have to live with the shame of being a nonreader. And if we have anything to do with it, none of our students will.
The other day I talked to a potential student who has failed in several schools despite his obvious intelligence. He worried that we would try to turn him into someone he was not. I thought a lot about his comment. We say we are Just Right, but obviously there are some behaviors that cannot be allowed, either at our school or in society. How do I help him understand that?
Inside this fearful, angry child is an amazing, intelligent human. But he has developed habits that prevent his real self from being seen. Rude comments and constant interruptions hide his thoughtful ideas, keen intelligence and love of animals. Being a computer expert is who he really is. Being kind to younger children is who he is. Antisocial behaviors are like torn clothing that keep people from seeing the royalty underneath. The same is true for those with academic problems. Our society uses reading as an intelligence test and those who struggle are seen as less bright, even though that is often not true.
Our mission as a school is to guide students toward their true selves and to help them present that self to the world. Teaching social skills and helping students learn to function in different and difficult situations do not make them into something they are not, but allow who they really are to shine through. Teaching them to read and write and spell is not changing them, but giving them a skill that will allow them to use their unique gifts for good things.
Part of our mission is to have a significant percentage of low-income children. To do that, we need to get the fundraising part of our nonprofit going. So as a jumpstart, we introduce the 101 Club. We are asking 101 people to donate $101 each to help take us through the summer. Of course we will take a smaller or larger donation, but this just seemed like a cool number to go with.
Paypal is available on the website. If you are local, I’ll be glad to pick up a check. Or you can mail it to Just Right Academy, Inc., PO Box 3523, Chapel Hill, NC 27515. Or you can drop it by. We are located at the Shared Visions Retreat Center at 3729 Murphy School Road, Durham, NC 27705, though it’s actually just south of Hillsborough. We’d love to have you stop by and visit.
Our students have had unhappy school experiences. They are looking forward to starting over and being successful. But they need your help. Please consider joining the 31 other members in our 101 club. It’s an investment you won’t regret.