Metro Atlanta is home to a variety of schools that are designed for special needs students. Here, we look at several schools that truly stand out within Atlanta’s impressive education system: GRACEPOINT School, The Howard School and The Cottage School. read more
No matter what age you are, school can be challenging. Of course, there are students who find the traditional classroom even more formidable and overwhelming than their peers for a variety of reasons. Fortunately, metro Atlanta is home to an array of specialty schools that cater to those with academic, social and emotional challenges, from autism and dyslexia to a range of other learning differences. For parents who feel their child may need a particular type of learning environment, it’s important to know what’s available, as well as what qualifies a child to be accepted into a specialty school. Here, we look at several local options that may provide the perfect place for a student who needs that extra something special to make school an outstanding experience.
The Howard School
The Howard School is the only K-12 school for children with language-based learning differences in Atlanta. According to Sandy McCauley, director of marketing and communications, “Our environment is designed to nurture confidence and success while providing individualized academic support. Higher-order thinking skills are naturally woven into the curriculum, and proven classroom strategies support executive functioning development. Hands-on activities foster deeper learning and expand critical thinking skills. Our students celebrate their strengths and differences while becoming independent problem solvers and grow to advocate for their unique learning needs.”
Students who attend The Howard School may have diagnostic labels such as dyslexia, a receptive/expressive language disorder, executive dysfunction, an auditory processing disorder or some combination of these diagnoses. Many of the students struggle with attention or need specific strategies for building executive functioning skills and academic independence. Some applicants may demonstrate mild symptoms of withdrawal, depression or anxiety due to their current struggle in the classroom. These symptoms often decrease substantially once students begin to experience success in The Howard School environment, where children are encouraged to rediscover the joy of learning.
It is important to note that The Howard School is not a therapeutic school and does not have specialized programs primarily for behavioral/psychiatric or social/emotional diagnoses; it also does not specifically serve children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder or social communication disorder.
Application and Admissions Process:
The admissions committee requires a recent psychoeducational evaluation paired with school records, teacher observations and therapist reports. These reports allow the team to determine whether a prospective student will be well served by the unique and tailored education provided at The Howard School. The committee uses a holistic approach to evaluate every potential student’s needs, carefully reviewing both professional evaluations and classroom observations. According to McCauley, “We understand how important it is to find the right educational setting for your child. We recognize and celebrate each learner’s passions and strengths while addressing their learning differences.”
Prospective parents are encouraged to tour the school to see the students and teachers in action. They also are invited to complete an online application process and provide the recent psychoeducational evaluation to begin the process. Students whose learning profiles fall within the school’s mission are typically invited to spend a day in the classroom, giving the child the chance to experience The Howard School firsthand and allowing the staff an opportunity to get to know the child. The Howard School’s team of admissions professionals, teachers and specialists collaborate to determine whether the educational setting is the best fit for that child’s individual needs.
Did You Know?
McCauley notes, “Scheduling and completing a psychoeducational evaluation takes time. We recommend that families contact a licensed psychologist and complete this required step as soon as they consider applying to The Howard School.” Additionally, if your child is currently served in the public schools under an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or 504 plan, you may be eligible for a Georgia Special Needs Scholarship.
The Cottage School
The Cottage School (TCS), established in 1985 in Roswell, offers a comprehensive academic college preparatory curriculum for students in grades 3 through 12 with mild to moderate learning differences. Amani Patterson, advancement associate, explains, “The board, faculty and staff of The Cottage School believe that a significant number of students, grades 3 through 12, are not achieving their potential due to a lack of individualized attention and environmental structure, low self-esteem, skill-related weaknesses and psychological issues which have not been addressed by traditional educational systems. TCS believes that by keeping teacher/student ratios low and staff competence high, it can provide students with a curriculum which capitalizes on their strengths while improving weak areas. The Cottage School emphasizes goal setting, financial literacy and life skills to ensure a student’s future success.”
TCS accommodates a broad range of learning differences. Admission is more of a process than it is based on eligibility. Most of the parents who inquire about TCS have seen their student significantly struggle in school, not just with academics, but also with the social and emotional piece of the educational experience. TCS looks at many different aspects of the student to help determine if the school is the next best step.
Application and Admissions Process:
The Cottage School has a pre-screening process through admissions. TCS does not offer an application until the admissions processes has been completed and the school has determined that the student is an appropriate fit for the school. The initial step includes sharing a child’s diagnosis or learning difference, as well as a current psychological education evaluation (which was administered within the last three years).
After an introductory phone conversation with the school’s admissions coordinator, if pertinent, an information session will be scheduled for the parents with the director of admissions. The next steps include an on-campus visit for the prospective student for an interview with school administration, as well as a formal tour with a student ambassador. This ambassador-led tour gives a more peer-to-peer perspective of what it means to be a member of the TCS family.
Overall, the process “isn’t about qualifying or checking a box,” Patterson notes. “We understand that every student learns differently, and, therefore, we have taken the time to create a learning environment where each student can achieve academic and social success.”
Did You Know?
In addition to The Cottage School’s experiential programming and business-based model, which set the school apart, TCS has added a new comprehensive music program for the 2023-24 academic year.
GRACEPOINT School specializes in educating students with dyslexia. Students receive a comprehensive, high-quality educational program that combines remediation with enrichment and acceleration. GRACEPOINT’s mission is to equip dyslexic students will the skills needed to develop into independent and confident learners through sequential and multisensory instruction, helping each child develop “a lifelong desire for growing in wisdom and gaining knowledge of the Lord.” According to Kyle Bice, director of admission, “Our mission is to partner with families of dyslexic learners and to equip them to be successful in all aspects of their educational journey, as well as discovering the gifts that God has given each of them so that they may bring honor and glory to Him.”
GRACEPOINT uses the Orton-Gillingham (OG) instructional program, a diagnostic, prescriptive and multisensory approach to reading and spelling that is one of only 19 accredited programs in the nation by the Academy of Orton-Gillingham Practitioners and Educators. The school also created a unique program that increases students’ understanding of morphology—the study of words, their meanings and how they are built. Morphology and OG are intertwined from the beginning in remediation and continue in advanced morphology classes.
A student who is considering GRACEPOINT School much have a diagnosis of dyslexia from an educational psychologist.
Application and Admissions Process:
Parents must complete an online request for information form to start the application and admission process. The admissions team then will reach out to learn more about how the school may best serve the inquiring student and family. After the initial contact is made, individual parent tours and interviews are conducted with the administration, during which the student’s psychoeducational evaluation and other relevant evaluations, including an IEP and a speech and language evaluation, can be provided to give GRACEPOINT a complete picture of the child’s educational profile and academic needs. During the process, prospective students also have an opportunity to shadow current GRACEPOINT students to get a feel for the classroom and the overall academic and student life experience.
Did You Know?
Parents are encouraged to begin the application process early in the admissions season. Applications for the upcoming academic year begin on October 2, 2023.
Atlanta Speech School: Serving the Community
Atlanta Speech School’s mission is to help each person develop their full potential through language and literacy. Its three preschools and Wardlaw School for elementary-aged children with dyslexia pursue this goal with joy, a deeply held commitment to connection with each child and a research-based focus on brain and social science. This level of individualized academic attention and dedication to constructing the deep reading brain for each child is not only accessible to students of the Speech School, but also with the community-at-large. To start, children attending other schools can attend the Clinic for assistance. And beyond the campus, through the Rollins Center for Language & Literacy and the online Cox Campus, Atlanta Speech School holds long-standing partnerships with researchers and organizations to pursue “literacy and justice for all” through school systems across the world. In every endeavor, the Speech School weaves the science of constructing deep reading brains with the art and soul of masterful teaching so that each child has the tools to decide their own future confidently, empathetically and thoughtfully.