Our son who has learning disabilities (LD) didn’t have a very positive experience in middle school. Teachers referred to him as “lazy” and “stupid,” terms we’d never dealt with before. Often he was told, “Try harder!

Assessing our son’s strengths and needs

We decided we had to find a high school that would meet his special needs in a more positive and supportive way. But before we began our search, we needed to ask ourselves a few questions:

  • How did he learn?
  • What learning environment was best for him?
  • What obstacles seemed to interfere with his learning?

As a family, we discussed what we hoped for in a school, including:

  • Academic excellence
  • An educational philosophy we agreed with
  • Faculty, staff, and students with good morale
  • Opportunities for parents to be involved
  • Small class size
  • Safety

As we looked for answers, we made some changes in the way we did things at home. The most important was to include our son in the decision-making process. We realized he needed to be actively involved in the process to learn how to be his own advocate in the future.

Researching schools

Finding an appropriate school took a lot of time and energy. Our kids had always attended public school, but we considered both public and private high schools for our son with LD.

We reviewed Questions to Ask Private Schools before we started to do our research. We collected information from schools we heard about from friends or found in the yellow pages of the phone book. We visited many schools and read all kinds of books on school selection.

When we visited schools, it was important for us to:

  • Meet with the school administrator
  • Observe different classes, while in session
  • Observe special education programs, where they existed
  • Get a feeling for student life
  • Talk with other parents and students at the school’s Open House

Choosing the right school

Our son chose to attend a very small, independent high school. The faculty, staff, and student body were aware of the special skills of each student and what each could contribute to the school.

The school didn’t have a special education program, but they used a wide variety of teaching methods that reached many different types of learners. For instance, when our son had difficulty in algebra, the teacher used our son’s knowledge of computers to help him understand that equations used on the spreadsheets were, in fact, algebraic equations.

Our son attended the school for three years. During that time, he began to gain self-esteem and confidence. As he learned more about himself and the way he processes information, he made academic gains. We accepted that school might always be a struggle, but it could also be a place for success.

For his senior year, our son decided to attend a public high school rather than return to the private school. He wanted to see how he’d do in a larger school to prepare for college. And he wanted to experience all the extracurricular activities that are part of a public high school program. He felt he’d learned how to get the help and resources he needed.

The pride we felt on the day of his graduation was second only to our son’s newly developed confidence in himself and his future. He proved that he could succeed on his own.