Atlanta offers a wealth of high-quality schools that focus on traditional success, from well-rounded enrichment opportunities to college-track learning. But what about students with special needs like dyslexia, ADHD or hearing loss who require a more customized approach to education that can’t always be met in a traditional school setting? Fortunately, several metro Atlanta special needs schools offer innovative and unique programs that are designed to help students not only find academic success, but also prepare them to become thriving members of the communities in which they live.
Cumberland Academy of Georgia
When it comes to special needs schools and program offerings, there’s a domino effect of benefits that trickle down beyond academic and social success. Terri Brooks, director of admissions at Cumberland Academy of Georgia, asks the integral question, “How do you measure success?” At the academy, students’ happiness, confidence and passions are seen as the true successes in a world that often overlooks the spirit and capabilities of special needs kids.
At its core, Cumberland Academy of Georgia, located in Sandy Springs, creates an environment of acceptance and honors the differences in its students. Opened in 2007, the academy serves students with Asperger’s Syndrome, ADD, ADHD, high-functioning autism and other learning disabilities. Regardless of the diagnosis, all students benefit from smaller class sizes and strong academics with faculty members who are well trained to serve them. Additionally, as many as six trained therapeutic counselors are on site for the school’s 100 students. What’s more, Cumberland Academy offers all-inclusive after-school activities like league bowling and basketball or golf.
Cumberland Academy believes students have the capacity to achieve great success and executive functioning, no matter their challenges. That’s why the school greatly emphasizes social skills and life skills to empower their students as they move into the future. It goes above and beyond with future prep courses that touch on subjects like personal finance, resume writing, filling out job and college applications and more, allowing the students to develop into well rounded and capable individuals. To help foster their unique interests and passions, the academy also offers enrichment opportunities like computer science, robotics and culinary classes. For the staff at Cumberland Academy of Georgia, the key is to customize what success looks like for each student. From challenging them with employment opportunities or helping them apply and get accepted to the most appropriate colleges, the school strives to help students find their way both personally and professionally. cumberlandacademy.org
GRACEPOINT School equips dyslexic students with the skills needed to develop into independent and confident learners. With a focus on sequential, systematic and multisensory instruction, the school, which is located in Marietta, focuses on shaping the dyslexic learner’s brilliance by meeting their needs with a unique teaching style. At the end of the day, the focus is about keeping students excited about learning while finding the teaching style that works for them.
One of the most unique programs offered at GRACEPOINT School is the signature program called Magical Morphology, which is managed by Angie Strack, Director of Morphology and Middle School Department Chair, who is also known as the school’s resident “Word Scientist.” By donning quirky costumes and interesting accents, Strack transforms herself into a word scientist who engages students as they learn about morphemes, or the smallest units of meaning and breaking down words to their roots, suffixes, and prefixes. As a result, the students no longer view a large foreign word; instead, they see many small parts that make sense when worked out individually. They are able to create patterns that allow their dyslexic minds to determine what words might mean by thinking about each of the individual morphemes. This approach has become fundamental at GRACEPOINT, which introduces all students to morphology through its curriculum. It’s an effort that helps prepare students as they transition between grades and, ultimately, out into the world as proficient and successful readers. gracepointschool.org
Mill Springs Academy
Founded in 1981, Mill Springs Academy in Alpharetta serves LD/ADHD students with a team of talented teachers and an array of opportunities to learn and grow academically, socially and emotionally. Through customized learning and social skill programs, students come to understand their responsibilities as learners and as members of their classrooms and school communities. Mill Springs Academy takes a truly customized and comprehensive approach to education by developing academic plans individually for each student with the support of a multidisciplinary staff. Learning strategies are generated from psycho-educational evaluations, previous school records, diagnostic skills assessments, observations, communication with other professionals involved with the student and more.
Mill Springs Academy also works to foster individuality, creativity and confidence in its students with distinctive programs like Art in the Community. Through the class, students create artwork that often is displayed in local businesses, allowing students to see their creative abilities come to life. Participating students also bring musicals like “Shrek” to life and even compete in festivals. Cheri Harwood, director of communications, explains, “Our students participate in the Junior Theater Festival and win awards. This [past] January, they presented ‘ELF the Musical,’ and the school as a whole won a trophy for Excellence in Ensemble Work.” One student competed against 6,500 others and won a trophy for Inspirational Performance. She continues, “These elective and extra-curricular activities increase self-esteem and help them realize they can be successful in school.” That type of success carries over as students prepare for their college years and ultimately pursue opportunities outside of the educational environment. millsprings.org
Atlanta Speech School
Established in 1938, the Atlanta Speech School is currently the nation’s most comprehensive center for language and literacy and functions as the educational equivalent of a teaching hospital. It features three independent preschools (including the Katherine Hamm Center for children who are deaf and hard of hearing and Stepping Stones, which is for children with early-detected speech and language delays), the Wardlaw School (for children in K-6th grade with dyslexia) and four clinical programs that work with each of Atlanta Speech’s schools, as well as independently in the areas of audiology, speech and language pathology and occupational therapy. All of these entities work together to help each individual served realize their potential through language and literacy, and all of the programs offered promote the reading brain.
Beyond the walls of the campus, the Atlanta Speech School shares its research-based practices, innovation, advocacy and partnerships with other organizations through the Rollins Center for Language and Literacy and its online presence, Cox Campus. Teaching methods followed at Atlanta Speech School are shared further through Rollins to ensure that no child be denied access to meaningful education. From Toddler Talk and Play classes for school and community parents to a range of summer programs, the Atlanta Speech School offers a variety of programs for area students, including those with diagnosed speech and language delays, deafness, hearing loss or dyslexia. Across all programs, each child is provided an individualized academic program supported by masters-level clinicians using the most current brain science to help kids thrive. In addition, through the Speech School Clinic, telepractice and teletherapy services connect patients with clinicians one-on-one through video conferencing to provide the same support as an in-person appointment and extends to audiology, speech and language pathology, as well as the school’s Learning Lab academic service, which provides small group intensive and short-term intervention for students who need academic remediation. In the end, the goal is to help Georgia’s children acquire the language and literacy abilities they need to empower them to take control of their own future. atlantaspeechschool.org
The Cottage School
Located in Roswell, The Cottage School (TCS) has served students who have mild to moderate learning difficulties for more than three decades. Initially focused on middle and high school students, TCS expanded to include 4th and 5th grades in 2016. And today, in addition to such features as small class sizes, a comprehensive college preparatory curriculum and a collaborative student-teacher environment, the school strives to help students achieve a deep sense of self-confidence with individual learning plans that are tailored to each child’s abilities and needs.
TCS also employs a unique work-based model that is designed to simulate real-world experience, rewarding students for following the rules and working hard. According to high school principal Laura Finnell, students arrive on campus each day like it is their job and receive an “hourly wage” for five workplace skills that would be expected in any business environment: being on time, dressing appropriately, being prepared, interacting courteously and completing tasks. Students enter their “earnings” into a checkbook daily and can earn activities and vacation days; they also begin at entry level pay and have jobs on campus that allow them to advance, working their way up to salary level pay, or what would be considered management. The program prepares students not only to enter college, but also to succeed once they’re out in the real world. With that in mind, TCS takes the program even further by helping students explore vocational options through its Career Café, providing access to professional speakers and often taking the students off campus for engaging experiences. Additionally, the school offers electives based on student interest, including internship and job placement opportunities.
“Through The Cottage School’s unique work-based model, our students pursue a high school degree through rigorous academic standards with a strong emphasis on social and emotional learning. Students experience educational success while learning vocational skills that will help them thrive in the world beyond graduation, be that continuing their education or starting a career,” Finnell states. “Every student learns differently, so we teach differently.” cottageschool.org