New school targets learning disorders

As the mother of a 7-year-old son with attention deficit disorder and dyslexia, Sara Martin has experienced a "bang my head against the wall" kind of frustration as she tries to get educational help for him.

Last summer, Martin took her son Garrett to Charleston, S.C., for an eight-week program for students with learning disorders. She met a man there who understood her plight. He grew up with attention deficit disorder.

"When he went to school, he would fall off his chair, (so) they put him in a closet," Martin said. "He was closeted; his parents didn’t even know. He just thought that’s how life is supposed to be."

Children with learning disorders might feel like they have been banished to the dark, but a change in their style of learning can be the equivalent of turning on the light.

Dyslexia is a neurological defect that interferes with the ability to process or acquire language.

Children with the learning disability are often very intelligent, but need more attention and a different style of instruction in the classroom, parents and educators said.

Families such as the Martins complain that there are few resources in Southern Nevada for those with learning disabilities. The Martins were appreciative that the Clark County School District provided Garrett with an "excellent speech pathologist," but felt that services were limited. Sara Martin, who often felt like she was "getting the runaround" from school officials, put Garrett into a private Christian school for first grade.

Outside the district, they had a difficult time finding a tutor who was trained in the teaching strategies for dyslexic children.

That will change in 2010, when a school with a program tailored to the needs of children with learning disorders plans to open in Las Vegas.

The Lexis Preparatory Academy is geared for children of average to above-average intelligence who struggle with education because of a learning disability, said Executive Director Dr. Walt Karniski, a pediatrician with training in developmental disabilities.

Lexis Preparatory Academy will serve students in kindergarten through eighth grade. Karniski said it’s important to reach children early before they develop self-esteem issues and think they cannot learn.

Lexis already has a campus in Phoenix and is affiliated with the Tampa Day School in Florida.

Teachers are trained specifically to help children with learning disorders. Class sizes are intended to be small, with about one teacher to every 10 students. The school also brings in specialists, such as tutors, psychologists and therapists.

Tuition is anticipated to be about $20,0000 a year, but costs may vary depending on a child’s requirements. Academy officials said the tuition covers many services that a student with learning disorders would need outside a regular school environment, such as tutoring or occupational therapy.

The Martins, who are interested in sending Garrett to Lexis, are familiar with the high cost of services for those with dyslexia.

The disorder is estimated to affect about 5 to 7 percent of the general population, Karniski said.

Jerrad Martin, Garrett’s father, said he was fortunate that his parents could pay for remedial education after he graduated from Western High School in 1990 with the educational abilities of a sixth-grader.

Like his son, Jerrad Martin is dyslexic. He said public school officials often placed him in the same room with kids who had behavioral issues or who were mentally impaired. He also said his teachers took a very conventional, one-size-fits-all approach to instruction: "Here’s the information in black and white in a book. We’re going to go through it in class. If you get it, you get it. If not, you don’t."

If not for his high grades in woodworking and shop, Jerrad Martin said he probably would not have graduated.

When Jerrad Martin enrolled at Landmark College in Vermont, which specializes in helping students with learning disabilities, he took off academically as he learned ways to absorb written material. He began writing notes in the margins of books and circling the main idea of a paragraph.

After getting an associate degree from Landmark, Jerrad Martin went on to the University of Denver in Colorado where he earned a bachelor’s degree in construction management. Now he owns a local business, JBM Underground, which lays utility lines.

Sara Martin wants her son to be as successful as his father.

"He’s going to do some phenomenal things in his life," she said. "He just needs that break that every student needs to have."

Contact reporter James Haug at or 702-374-7917.

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