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While the overall performance of a school or school district is very important for the educational, and economic, future of Missouri, for parents and students finding a school that fits their needs and learning styles can frequently be more important than a school’s APR or general test scores.
This is the case for families at the Marian Hope Academy Christian School for Creative Learning, a small K-12 private school just east of Kansas City that focuses on providing an integrated, accepting and encouraging education for all children, including those with special needs.
Marian Hope Academy founder Angie Knight, a long-time speech pathologist, says the school uses small classes and individualized learning to meet the students where they are and help them get to where they need to be instead of expecting every student in a class to be on the same level.
“Those students who can be stretched are and those who need to go at a slower pace can do that as well,” she said. “Sadly we are so focused on cookie-cutter standards (in traditional district schools) that we forget the child in the process.”
Knight said they frequently get students transferring into their school who fell through the cracks in traditional schools.
“There are so many kids who are not low enough to get an IEP but they are not high enough to keep up so they are failing and not being educated,” Knight said, noting that many of the students know how to take standardized tests but do not understand basic fundamentals. She said they take a different approach that is focused on understanding and comprehension at Marian Hope Academy. “We really focus on verbal processing. If a student can explain something to me, then we know they have it. If they can’t then we want to see how they got there because it is not always about if you have it right or wrong because you can learn more from your mistakes. If we know how they are processing something then we know how to dive in and help them.”
While the school provides great support for students with special needs, they work hard to have a diverse student body providing a great learning environment for all students.
“We are really a school for all kids and although some have special needs, it is more about the whole child and meeting each child where they are at,” said Knight. “We give a stellar education to every child. We have students of all ability levels.”
The school really focuses on inclusion and acceptance for its students with diverse learning needs, encouraging every student to help others who are having trouble grasping concepts.
That welcoming atmosphere made the school a perfect fit for the Lawrence family when they were searching for a school for their adopted Chinese daughter who could not speak any English.
“After a two-hour conversation with Angie we knew it was perfect for her,” said Carla Lawrence, who now also teaches at the school.
What they did not know was how great a fit the school would be for their other two children.
Their oldest son had struggled in school for many years, having trouble keeping up due to his dysgraphia, a condition that causes trouble with written expression.
“By third grade, he was failing,” said Lawrence. “By sixth grade, other kids were making fun of him and calling him stupid and really that is what he believed. I was losing him. I knew he was bright he just was not in a situation that allowed that to show.”
After having a great experience with their daughter, the Lawrence’s decided to transfer their son to Marian Hope as well.
“For the first time, he had teachers tell him he was smart,” said Lawrence. “They showed him how he learned and how he could succeed. He was in a place that saw him for who he was he grew. They embrace the kids here that learn or think differently and they have this understanding that we are not all the same and there is nothing wrong with that. It is beautiful, that model of inclusion.”
Today their son is getting ready to join the special forces and go to college, their adopted daughter has found an accepting school family that supports both her Chinese heritage and her place on the autism spectrum and their youngest daughter, who has had some anxiety issues, loves the school’s small classes and supporting environment.
“We are blessed to be able to afford to send all three here,” said Lawrence. “But, we hear stories every day of families that are desperate to find somewhere else. It is devastating to me that a parent should have to keep their child in a situation at a school that is not working just because of finances. If there is a place a child can learn and grow and be the best them they can be then they should have those options.”