By age 10, Emma Schwartz, diagnosed with ADHD, was floundering in school. After five years in a public elementary school in Birmingham, Michigan, her mom was frustrated - and worried. "No one knew how to help her academically, socially, or emotionally," says Jo Ellen. The best way to describe her daughter back then, she says, was "failing to thrive." Emma's self-esteem was virtually nonexistent.
Emma's mom knew that, once her daughter entered the critical middle-school years, something would have to change. Eton Academy appealed to her because of the small class size - eight students in a class - and the school's reputation for helping kids with learning differences. In fact, Eton is the only accredited first-to-twelfth-grade school in Michigan designed specifically for kids with ADHD or with dyslexia, dysgraphia, and other learning difficulties.
Emma's school life began to turn around during her first week at Eton. "She was no longer the weird kid," says her mother. Her daughter could at last be comfortable in her own skin, knowing that everyone at the school, from the custodian to the secretary in the office, understood and accepted the students. Today, Emma is an eighth-grader. She has friends, she likes school, and "her self-esteem is through the roof," says her mother.
"Eton provides top-quality educational experiences and also offers a nurturing environment that builds a child's self-esteem," says Saralyn Lawn, Eton's lower-school division director. Small classes enable teachers to customize instruction for each child, and to develop a relationship with each student. The school places children in multi-age classrooms, based on achievement levels, and offers a multi-sensory and developmentally appropriate curriculum. All teachers are trained to teach the Orton-Gillingham approach, a multi-sensory method for teaching phonetics, and/or the Language! Program, which is designed to help students acquire reading skills.
According to Pete Pullen, Eton's Head of School, "the academy doesn't just see and address the learning differences in kids; we celebrate them and cultivate their creativity. We do much more than teach skills to different kinds of learners; we prepare different learners to lead."
Jo Ellen's frustration over her daughter's academic future has turned to elation. "The school teaches Emma in the way she needs to learn," she says. "Now everyone accepts her. We don't have to explain Emma to anyone anymore. That's worth a lot - to both me and my daughter."