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Re-inventing math education for neurodiverse students was the inspiration behind bringing internationally recognized math expert, Christopher Woodin to the Dallas Academy campus this summer.  His two-day visit included a coaching workshop during which Dallas Academy teachers practiced Woodin math with Dallas Academy students while Mr. Woodin provided real-time coaching and discussion.  The second day, Mr. Woodin presented teaching methods that are designed whole to part and require minimal language demands, multimodal strategies to help students express, relate, store, and retrieve information efficiently.

Mr. Woodin is a specialist in the fields of mathematics and learning differences and the Ammerman Chair of Mathematics at Landmark School in Massachusetts. In addition to authoring two books and multiple journal articles, Mr. Woodin has presented at numerous international Learning Disabilities Association (LDA) and International Dyslexia Association (IDA) conferences and led math workshops to audiences across the world. 

Woodin’s approach is quite different from how most of us were taught math, and it is different from most modern curriculum approaches as well. Students with dyslexia and other language-based learning disabilities who are confused by typical math instruction can excel when instructed in a way that always shows the big picture first, uses visual-spatial images, and directly examines how the parts are connected to the whole. Number sense is developed by establishing a robust understanding of quantities so that their values may be compared. The methodology presented enables such comparison by limiting demands on language processing, working memory, and executive function skills. 

Dallas Academy is actively using multiple methods presented by Mr. Woodin in their math classes.  “It’s about how our teachers can use these tools to support neurodiverse students and adjust what is needed for our students to succeed,” Dr. Mandi Skerbetz says. “We are privileged to have a world leader guiding our teachers in research-based methods teaching math from whole to part and with minimal language demands.”

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In February, our Dallas Academy community rallied around two young Bald Eagles, nicknamed Nick and Nora, who built their home in the fields across the street. When tragedy hit, and the eagles nest fell after high winds, our students and teachers struggled and felt the loss. But, the word is out ….the Eagles are back!
Check out our Live Cam and get up close to Nick & Nora as they reclaim our little White Rock Lake Corner as their own. https://fb.watch/bu12kzjsCE/
 
 
 
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Congratulations to Dr. Mandi Davis Skerbetz on her election to the Dallas International Dyslexia Association Board of Directors. The Dallas IDA Board of Directors is a committed and passionate group of volunteers who work together to plan and implement our mission to serve the needs of families, educators and professionals concerned with struggling readers. Their goal is to provide essential research-based information about assessment, diagnosis, resources, and appropriate educational intervention. They offer information and referral, community outreach events, and professional education conferences to increase public awareness and remediation of dyslexia.

Dr. Mandi Davis Skerbetz is the Principal at Dallas Academy and has focused her career as a teacher, school administrator, professor, researcher, and consultant in the area of implementing evidence-based practices for students receiving Special Education. She looks forward to supporting families and students with dyslexia and comorbid disabilities navigating through the world of special education

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After much anticipation, groundbreaking has begun on the new security fence this week. This security fence is Dallas Academy's most significant campus upgrade, putting a priority on student and staff safety. Thanks to a generous grant from the Hillcrest Foundation, we have begun Phase 1 which includes the installation of the fence around the perimeter and a security gate at the front entrance. Phase II includes additional fencing around the back of the property and an electric gate at the exit of the back parking lot. We are still in need of additional funding to complete Phase II. Contributions to the Annual Fund this year will be designated to Phase II of the project.

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Dallas, TX - Dallas Academy is thrilled to announce it has received a $50,000 grant from the Hillcrest Foundation for capital funding including additional campus security to protect students with learning differences, their families and educators.  Dallas Academy appreciates the commitment to providing specialized education to all of our students.  Our goal for the project is to further our efforts towards school safety so that our staff and students can focus on teaching and learning.  Dallas Academy is excited and prepared to continue in person instruction for the 2021-2022 school year. 

Dallas Academy offers a structured, multisensory program for students with diagnosed learning differences which may include impairments in reading (dyslexia), writing (dysgraphia), and math (dyscalculia), ADD/ADHD, autism spectrum disorders, and memory and processing disorders.  Our school meets students' special needs through a skilled faculty, a specialized academic program, small classes, individualized attention, accountability, and a wide range of creative, athletic, and social activities that draw our students in, keep them engaged, and enhance their learning.

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Dallas Academy is a widely-recognized leader in private school education for bright students with a range of learning differences.  As such, we always strive to grow and innovate in order to meet the diverse needs of our student population.  When COVID-19 disrupted learning as we knew it, we quickly realized that a more advanced e-learning program would be a necessary component to instruction for the fall 2020 school year; and that Dallas Academy was in need of a way to bring that technology to our students.  As a result, this year, to provide instruction, our teachers had to unexpectedly pivot to technology-based learning, and students had to quickly adapt to this new learning environment critical to their success.

This year we are especially grateful to our donors who support Dallas Academy’s needs during this changing learning environment.  Special thanks to an anonymous donor of the Dallas Foundation who has provided $40,000 in unrestricted support allowing students the opportunity to attend a school specialized for their needs. 

We also thank the Hoblitzelle Foundation for their support of Dallas Academy’s media center infrastructure project.  Still beautiful and inviting, the library’s learning infrastructure is outdated.   In the last decade, learning technology has changed the way libraries are equipped.  Enhancing how our library operates will give our students access to advanced learning tools for children with learning differences.  Our goal is to make students comfortable and inspire creativity so they can dive into reading and learning.  It is through these donations and continued philanthropic support that we can bring new technology and the media center infrastructure so that we are positioned for a  bright future.

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Silver Lining in a Crisis

 

COVID-19 drove us to look at things differently; after accepting that e-learning would be a necessary component to instruction in the fall.  Our staff was tasked with a limited amount of time to learn, become proficient, and embrace new technology.  As a result, Dallas Academy now reaps the benefits of leaning into that technology.  In a school that specializes in teaching students with learning differences, these students have shown resilience in their approach to learning. 

Much like the students they lead, Dallas Academy teachers also stepped up to face the challenge and embraced the opportunity to find a new and exciting way to teach.  Teachers started the 2020-2021 school year with an intense week of Microsoft training; learning that empowered them to shift seamlessly between live and virtual instruction during the first semester. Dr. Mandi Skerbetz, Assistant Head of School, quickly seized the opportunity to start a partnership with the Microsoft Training Team.  “Dr. Skerbetz and the Dallas Academy team immediately saw the potential in taking a holistic training approach with both students and educators. The fact that they set aside a dedicated week for Microsoft training sent a clear message to all involved that this was important learning and created a high level of engagement with Microsoft Store’s training” says Angela Garrity, SMB/EDU Sales for Microsoft. 

This rise in student engagement can be attributed in large part to the ease in communication using the Microsoft tools.  Teachers have seen success in their students.  In a school where there is an increased focus on creating a plan to target individual student needs, the Microsoft Accessibility tools and dashboard assist with specific organizational skills like Executive Functioning.  Much like the world of social media, there are immediate notifications back and forth between students and teachers in the Microsoft Teams dashboard.  Through the Microsoft Teams chat and call features there is immediate access between teacher and student just as there is in their social media post feeds.  Each class has its own Team which houses everything for the class including notes and assignments, allowing for practice with organization.  The Accessibility tools allow teachers to provide support and accommodations to students, in order to reduce barriers to success.

Being that one of the hallmarks of our school is our tight knit community, the school-wide access to the same technology has given Dallas Academy the ability to retain this identity by hosting fun community-wide events. Our Performing Arts Improv night, annual Pumpkin Chunkin’, and other traditional events were on the verge of being cancelled until we shifted gears and used our technology to ultimately, stay connected, virtually. 

As we look ahead to the uncertain future, we know that the future is bright for students at Dallas Academy.  “Our students are prepared beyond the classroom and our students are now armed with a platform currently used in higher level education and the workforce”, Dr. Skerbetz says with much hope.  “Dallas Academy is proud to become the first DFW school for students with learning differences to partner with Microsoft and have 100% of its staff become Microsoft Innovation Education Certified.”   

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by Dr. Mandi Davis Skerbetz

As a society we are working to pivot and develop new routines due to the impact of COVID-19. The world of education, which historically is resistant to change, has been forced to evolve. Educators have been in a race against time to develop new learning environments and platforms that allow instruction to take place, while ensuring the safety of students and staff remains the top priority. In this race against time and limited research and best practices available, educators have fallen into the old practice of planning for the average student; students that do not fit that profile are often an afterthought.

Students with learning differences are a subgroup of students that has found this ever-changing state of education and the “new” normal difficult to navigate. The amount of cognitive shifting that is necessary to find success within a hybrid, virtual, or e-learning landscape is taxing for all students, let alone students that have weaknesses with processing, working memory, and executive functioning skills. It is more important now than ever for families and educators to work together to support students with learning differences.

Families and educators should work together to determine strategies, specifically, accommodations and modifications that will best support their student within a virtual setting. When considering supports for students with learning differences, accommodations and modifications are typically organized into four categories: presentation, response, environment, and timing/scheduling. The following are accommodations and modifications that families and educators should consider when developing plans to support students in a hybrid, virtual or e-learning environment.

Presentation Accommodations and Modifications in a Virtual Setting:

  • Use audio recordings or text-to speech programs
  • Increase the font size of digitally presented text
  • Increase the spacing/amount of text presented digitally
  • Include visual representations and cues (clipart, memes, gifs) with written text
  • Include verbal summaries and cues (recorded) with written text
  • Chunk information presented into discrete pieces of information
  • Limit note taking during digital lessons, provide notes before the lesson or transcript after the lesson
  • Provide digital graphic organizers, skeleton notes, advanced organizers, anchor charts, and information keys
  • Provide videos of instruction for students to return to as needed
  • Provide verbal cues (sounds and audio recordings) embedded in lectures and digitally presented text
  • Provide all instructions for assignments in concise, written format; paired with a video explanation
  • Determine a consistent way digital information will be organized across teachers and courses

Response Accommodations and Modifications in a Virtual Setting:

  • Provide students choice on how they submit responses and assignments:
    • Video or audio recordings of themselves providing answers (LoomFlipgrid, etc…)
    • Pictures of handwritten work
    • Typed responses (use of Text to Speech programs as needed)
  • Provide students with online calculators or assistive technology tools specific to math
  • Provide students manipulatives
    • Tangible manipulatives sent home by the teacher
    • Printable manipulatives
    • Virtual manipulatives
  • Provide students increased wait time, cues, and alternatives (writing, circling, pointing, gestures) when asked to speak or present in front of online class
  • Provide digital graphic organizers, sentence starters, or templates for writing activities
  • Include the use of Spelling, Grammar, and Punctuation assistive technology supports

Environment Accommodations and Modifications in a Virtual Setting:

  • Provide a designated space for e-learning to take place, free from auditory and visual distractions
  • Provide sensory and fidget items to students while they are engaged in digital instruction
  • Allow the use of headphones or earbuds
  • Provide small group or one-on-one learning using breakout rooms or individual on-line conferences

Timing/Scheduling Accommodations and Modifications in a Virtual Setting:

  • Embed frequent guided and unguided brain breaks
  • Embed physical/kinesthetic instruction and movement
  • Increase the amount of time provided to complete a task
  • Allow extended time beyond what would typically be allowed during in-person instruction
  • Chunk larger assignments into smaller tasks and provide individual due dates over several days, instead of one due date for all the smaller tasks
  • Provide a written outline of due dates no more than one week at a time
  • Embed visual timers into online instruction
  • Provide visual timers for breaks
  • Provide consistent visual schedule or outline for each day or class period

Even though we, as special educators, are in unchartered territories it is important to remember that we must support students on an individual basis. There should never be a one size fits all approach to education regardless of learning environment. When designing a plan to support your child during online learning first consider individual strengths and then select accommodations and modifications listed above that will help to support specific areas of weakness.

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The Dallas Academy Varsity Football team was not even sure they would have a season this year.  With Covid-19 numbers steadily rising and surging throughout the summer the outlook of being able to start football in August did not seem like a possibility.  School officials took every precaution they could to try and prepare for the chance that school and sports would be able to open on schedule.  As the summer waned on, the team received the news that Dallas County would allow schools to start practice on September 8th.  While the other private schools in the league were able to start in early August, the Bulldogs were excited that they would at least be able to play this year. 

While playing the games was important to the players, the life lessons they learn through athletics is the greater reward.  At Dallas Academy, the athletic program teaches their players to win with class and lose with dignity.  They learn how to overcome adversity and never give up no matter what the odds are.  They are taught how to handle success and the traps that success can bring.  The athletic program focuses on a student-centered coaching philosophy which gives the players team-based goals over individual goals that helps to instill teamwork and selflessness to achieve a goal.  The players learn how to be leaders and develop important social skills.  With the no-cut policy that the team implores, every student in the school is given the opportunity to learn these valuable lessons.

As September 8th arrived, the football team gathered to try and prepare for the upcoming season.  After only three weeks of practice, the team prepared for their first game against undefeated Harvest Christian from Lantana, a team that already played three games.  The Bulldogs fought hard in the back-and–forth game but fell short 56-42.  The following week found the Bulldogs pitted against another undefeated opponent in perennial state power, Wylie Prep.  The team faced some early adversity and were never able to find their footing falling 52-0 and staring at an 0-2 record for the season.  The team was now in a position where their once hopeful season was in danger of ending in another missed playoff appearance.  In their third game, the Bulldogs found their focus and their footing dominating both sides of the ball for a 73-26 win over Decatur Victory Christian to put themselves in position to clinch a playoff berth with another victory.  In their next game, the Bulldogs got off to a hot start and then were able to overcome sloppy play in the second half to pull out a 58-31 victory over Mesquite Founders Classical.  The victory evened their record at 2-2 and clinched their first playoff berth in four seasons.

The Bulldogs had one more regular season game to try and end the season with a winning record for the first time in five seasons.  Their opponent for this big homecoming game was Arlington St. Paul’s, a school that had won multiple state champions over the previous five seasons.  After a score on their first drive, the Bulldogs gave up the lead to St. Paul’s 8-6 early in the first.  The team was not to be denied this final victory as they stepped up their play on offense, led by a season high 454 yards rushing, and on defense, shutting out St. Paul’s in the second half and forcing 3 turnovers, leading to the big 61-14 victory and a winning season.

The football team’s journey for the year is not over yet.  With the victory, the Dallas Academy Bulldog Football team clinched a first-round bye and a trip to the state semifinals.  Their upcoming opponent is the undefeated defending state champs from Westlake Academy.  While the Bulldogs know they have a formidable opponent, they believe the lessons they have learned about hard-work, dedication, and selflessness will place them in the best chance to be successful in the game and in life.

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Director of Music Therapy & Performing Arts, Ms. Molly Phillips Grogan, Music Therapist-BC, jumped at the chance to train interns when she was approached by Dr. Daniel Tague, MT-BC Assistant Professor and Chair of Music Therapy at SMU three years ago.  Dr. Tague had observed the unique and effective therapeutic approach to learning at Dallas Academy and was enthusiastic about giving his senior students an opportunity to be a part of the one year (approximately 1200 hours) of internship.  

As a prerequisite, Ms. Grogan was required to complete a Music Therapy Intern Supervisory course to prepare for her new SMU Music Therapy Supervisor role.  She was delighted “to know that she is making a difference in the shaping of these young professionals, while also being aware of how much skilled help and service Dallas Academy students gain from the SMU interns.” 

Dallas Academy is grateful to be entrusted with SMU Music Therapy Interns as a wonderful new addition to our campus.   Our relationship with Southern Methodist University has proven to be a win-win situation for both parties.   While the SMU intern is provided the long-term on-site training experience needed before graduation, even more Dallas Academy students are able to participate in enriching development because of the added skilled assistance.   Since this program has come to our campus, dozens of students have been given extra therapeutic attention and broader learning from these highly skilled student professionals from SMU.       

These bright and talented SMU students come to Dallas Academy after completing a rigorous academic curriculum, in addition to a practicum rotation in a variety of therapeutic settings. Our current SMU MT Intern, Ali Esparza, joins us as the third SMU intern Ms. Molly Grogan has supervised.   Ms. Esparza comes to us with practicum experience in settings of memory care, adult psychiatric care, one-on-developmental intervention, and from practicum experience with young cancer patients at Cook Children's Hospital. 

This year, Ms. Esparza will spend her internship in three phases:  observation, co-leading, and leading groups and classes, as well as in one-on-one with individual music therapy interventions via piano, guitar, voice, soprano recorder, ukulele and a variety of rhythm instruments.   Becoming familiar with the needs of each individual, Ali will develop her skills at writing goals & objectives for students as well as creating meaningful and effective interventions to help our students become the best versions of themselves through Music Therapy & Performing Arts.    

Ms. Esparza will be using music as a therapeutic tool to help students develop in basic learning skills such as:  memory, sequencing, organization, reading, verbal and non-verbal communication, social skills, self-awareness and self-expression, increasing confidence through risk-taking, and many other important goals.    Scientific studies tell us that music is "fertilizer for the brain" and children who engage in music develop better.  We are all reminded that music & performing arts are educational and therapeutic and lives are changed before our very eyes!