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Businessman donates $500K to enable expansion of school

YOUNGSTOWN — A local business leader has made a $500,000 contribution toward expanding the footprint of a longtime school aimed at helping children with a variety of learning challenges.

“This is one of the hidden gems in our community,” Martin Solomon, president of Mineral Ridge-based P&E Equities Inc., said, referring to the ACLD School & Learning Center.

The gift was announced during a special news conference Tuesday at the school, 118 E. Wood St., near downtown.

ACLD is an acronym for “all children learn differently.”

Solomon praised the nonprofit school, incorporated in 1972, for filling many gaps for children who need academic and other assistance in overcoming learning challenges.

The funds will go toward the second of a two-phase, $1.5 million project, which will entail building a 4,500-square-foot expansion to the facility. The addition will allow ACLD to further accommodate the needs of more children who have dyslexia, autism, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, intellectual and cognitive difficulties and other challenges that impede or interfere with learning, Erica E. Brown Fire, the school’s executive director, noted.

The expansion will be used for additional classrooms, office space, a larger meeting and community room and a place for students who attend the entire school day to have their meals.

So far, about $1.07 million has been raised toward the effort.

The project’s first phase was buying a parcel adjacent to the facility that had been home to the 132-year-old First Calvary Baptist Church. Following the property purchase, the Howard and Jeanne Karr Foundation awarded the school a $200,000 grant for asbestos removal, demolition of the church, clean fill to support new construction, a greenspace for the students and a larger parking lot, Fire noted.

Perhaps more importantly, the $500,000 gift to the capital campaign will enhance ACLD’s ability to help students in grades one through eight find success before entering high school — especially because failing in school typically leads to greater short- and long-term problems for students and society, she said.

“Those that experience failure in school often have low self-esteem and poor frustration tolerance, and may suffer from depression as a result of their inability to compete effectively and feel successful during the six hours they spend each day in their school environments,” Fire said. “Students with learning difficulties are much more at risk for drug and alcohol abuse, mental health problems and delinquency. This can result in unemployment, poverty, chemical dependency and criminal activity during adulthood.”

To try to stave off this grim scenario, ACLD uses intensive intervention with an individualized approach toward building skills in the students, along with academic support, plenty of individual attention, a full day program, after-school and summer tutoring, and parent advocacy and evaluations. Also provided is support for adults who have learning challenges that often interfere with employment or post-secondary education, Fire noted.

“We do academic evaluations and look at all facets of learning, including what level they’re on, and develop an individualized program to meet the children where they are. We locate the obstacles and try to eliminate them,” she said, adding that ACLD does not use a traditional grading system.

Another goal the facility strives to attain is giving the students a solid learning foundation. As a result, most of them can transition to high school, sometimes with support services, and have little trouble acclimating to receiving regular grades, Fire said.

Fire also said that the facility has 65 students in the school with more adults and children age 5 and older in its learning center.

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