The new school catches ADD kids who fallthrough the cracks.
By RON COLE
VINDICATOR EDUCATION WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Jennifer Jordan fiddles with a piece of paper, nervously shaking, folding and rolling it, over and over.
She catches herself.
"Oh here, this is a brochure for the new school," she says, handing over the wrinkled document. "Sorry, it's part of my condition."
Jordan is the director of Summit Academy Youngstown, the city's newest charter school. It is designed for children with attention deficit disorder and other learning difficulties.
A native of Reynolds, Pa., who now lives in Struthers, Jordan says the new school and her position are a mission to help, educate and boost children who usually fall through the cracks of traditional schools.
People such as herself.
"The biggest misconception about ADD kids is that they're dumb, that they're stupid or that they're lazy," said Jordan, 38, who struggled through childhood with ADD, but wasn't diagnosed until six years ago.
"They're not; they're frustrated. But they grow up believing that because they're told it over and over again."
Opening: The new school, approved by the state board of education earlier this year, plans to open Aug. 27 in the old Southside Hospital, now Oakhill Renaissance Place.
The nine-classroom facility in renovated space once occupied by the emergency room and radiology department will enroll as many as 90 children in third through sixth grades. The school is open to anyone living in Ohio.
It will be the fourth Summit Academy charter school in Ohio. The first opened in Akron in 1999; schools opened in Canton and Parma last year. Summit schools will open in Lorain, Xenia and Middletown this year as well.
"The response has been overwhelming," said Laurie Arnone, Summit community relations director.
"A lot of parents of ADD kids are really frustrated and sometimes desperate because they see their children who are so talented who start to struggle and develop secondary problems. So, when they run in to Summit Academy, it's a chance at something they didn't have before."
Praise for academy: Terrence Shelton, a consultant with the Ohio Department of Education who has overseen Summit's Akron and Canton locations, gave the academy high marks.
"I think the Summit Academy approach to education is probably ideal, and I think what they have can be something that can really turn out to be a model for the country," he said.
The schools were developed by Peter DiMezza, a licensed practical clinical counselor in Akron who helped create a therapeutic martial arts program that served nearly 2,500 ADD children.
"All along, the parents would keep asking, 'Why don't you open a school for our kids?' " DiMezza said. "But the cost was prohibitive."
Until 1997, when Ohio lawmakers passed a law allowing charter schools, which are privately operated, tuition-free schools funded by state dollars.
Two years later, DiMezza opened the first school in Akron. This fall, Summit will operate seven schools with 150 employees and about 700 children, he said.
Valley's fifth charter school: The academy is the fifth charter school in the Mahoning Valley, joining Eagle Heights Academy, Youngstown Community School and the Life Skills Center, all in Youngstown, as well as the Life Skills Center of Warren.
Jordan, who taught at Summit Academy Akron last year, said the school's curriculum is designed to meet the special learning styles of ADD children, many of whom are very intelligent but don't excel in regular school settings.
ADD afflicts 4 percent to 6 percent of Americans, according to the National Attention Deficit Disorder Association. People with ADD share some common characteristics: an inability to concentrate, impulsivity, disorganization, difficulty following rules, inappropriate behavior and sometimes hyperactivity, the association said.
Differences at academy: At Summit, children aren't subjected to lengthy, lecture-type lessons, Jordan said. Instead, lessons last no more than 10 minutes and are followed by hands-on activities.
Children aren't required to sit at desks. "If they want to sit on the floor or stand or even lay on the floor, it's OK, as long as they're paying attention," said Jordan, whose 11-year-old ADD son will attend the school.
Arnone said children must wear uniforms, and there is no homework.
"For a lot of these kids, their parents spend so much time trying to get them through their homework that by that time maybe their medication has worn off, they're tired, it's been a long day and it's just a matter of diminishing returns," she said.
The curriculum also incorporates martial arts and scouting activities to help develop discipline and self-esteem. Field trips, outdoor activities, music instruction and eventually therapeutic horseback riding also are part of the curriculum.
"We believe in a multi-module approach: not just sitting and listening, but doing," DiMezza said.
"We try to approach learning from various ways that different kids can really grab on to. Some kids need to see things to learn. Some kids need to hear things. And some kids need to actually pull things apart before they understand it."
Jordan said the results have been great. Her son, for instance, entered the fourth grade in the Akron school last year reading at a second-grade level. At the end of the academic year, he was reading above the fifth-grade level, she said.