There can be no doubt that education is a topic of great importance in our area (nay, country). Locally, we have school board elections this year, New Hanover County Schools Superintendent Dr. Markely’s memo to the school board leaked earlier this month and laid bare the failures of under performing neighborhood schools—this on the heals of our schools having to provide an action plan for increasing diversity. In short, a serious discussion about the future of this community is timely and essential.
Part of what makes this conversation so difficult is that education should serve all students equally, but all students do not arrive on the first day of school with the same tools. Many students face economic limitations and a harder-to-measure number of students face an almost invisible struggle with learning disabilities.
Since 2010 The Hill School of Wilmington has offered an intensive half day program for students with learning disabilities. Now Girls Leadership Academy of Wilmington (GLOW) is opening its doors to serve middle school- and eventually high school-age female students. Board member Margee Herring explains that GLOW is an affiliate of Young Women’s Leadership Network (YWLN)—a nationwide network of 18 (and growing) girls schools committed to leveling the playing field and increasing opportunities for girls from disadvantaged neighborhoods.
“We are the 17th school,” Herring tells. “YWLN was launched 20 years ago in East Harlem by Ann Tisch, who continues to serve as leader of the organization and advocate for educational opportunities for girls.”
GLOW is structured to be a public charter school, so it is open to all who apply. More so, tuition is free. “We are, however, reaching out to families primarily from Title 1 schools, for whom such a program might otherwise be unavailable,” Herring confirms.
A single-sex school levels the playing for college-bound girls who wish to embark on a leadership program but otherwise wouldn’t be able to without GLOW. “In so doing, we will empower them to break the cycle of poverty, address the lack of opportunity for girls and women in STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering and Math] fields of study and career paths,” Herring tells. “We look to drive leadership among our community’s next generation of girls, improving their self-reliance and overall citizenship.”
Right now GLOW is located 606 S. College Road, just behind St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church. Herring and the board are actively looking to the future with plans to move to a “forever home.” While GLOW wants to have full middle- and high-school enrollment by fall 2022, the upfront costs are more pressing, currently.
“GLOW is providing transportation and school meals for our students,” Herring says. “Charters are not required to provide either, and as a result, they frequently serve students from more advantaged populations. Given our mission, we are committed to raising the funds and providing these essentials for our girls.”
Besides focusing on STEM, the arts will be as important and available to GLOW students. Thalian Association Children’s Theater will do drama courses, while DREAMS Center for Arts Education will lead the fine-arts curriculum.
Though GLOW is new to our community, The Hill School of Wilmington has been working diligently for years to provide tools to students with learning disabilities to make achievement a reality in their lives.
“Students who come to our school are frequently frustrated and have low self-esteem from not measuring up academically with their peers,” new executive director Susan Mixon Harrell explains. “Many children with dyslexia may have problems processing visual and auditory information. By integrating manipulatives, movement, and all the senses, teachers can help those with dyslexia learn and retain information. Hill School students learn strategies they are able to bring with them back to their classroom whether it is in a public, private, homeschool, or a charter-school setting.”
The Hill School utilizes a half-day schedule where students attend their primary school for part of the day and the other half is spent in an intensive classrom, with a 4:1 student teacher ratio. According to Harrell, the school is “modeled after The Hill Center in Durham, one of the Southeast’s oldest and largest K-12 schools for students with learning disabilities and/or attention deficit disorders. [Their] teachers are trained in the evidence-based Hill Center methodology and [the] program replicates the proven success of The Hill Center.”
Harrell cites startling statistics to drive home the gravity of The Hill’s outreach:
• 1 in 5 people are affected by dyslexia.
• According to the National Center for Learning Disabilities, 2.8 million school-age children in the U.S. are classified as having specific learning disabilities.
• According to the National Joint Committee on Learning Disabilities, students with a learning disability and/or a low literacy level have a much higher dropout rate of 31.6 percent as compared to 9.4 percent for the general public.
Statistics aside, what they are working on is giving each individual student skills to process information and make good decisions about life and the world we all share. Everything from balancing a check book to reading a newspaper can be barriers to success. If a student can’t make it through geometry class, how will she get into college, let alone succeed in college or life beyond?
“[We tell students to] focus on the goal of the skill rather than the process to demonstrate their knowledge without constraints imposed by their disabilities,” Harrell continues. “We are able to teach students at their true intellectual level and challenge them appropriately.”
Clearly, there is a demand for the services of The Hill School, as they are currently looking to move to a larger facility. They are operating their elementary- and middle-school programs out of the Burnt Mill Office Park on Randall Drive but hope, with their continued growth, to not only enlarge their space but offer their services to high-school students and to increase afternoon tutoring services. In essence, it all takes money.
Recently, the Hill received a grant of $10,000 from the Eshelman Foundation for financial aid, in order to help students with learning differences whose families needed the financial support and couldn’t pay the tuition. Harrell assures they are continually looking for sources to help lessen the financial burden on students and their families across the community.
It takes a village to raise a child. The impact of education and the opportunities it creates spread much farther than one person or one family. Broadening the educational opportunities available in Wilmington brings greater positive impact to our community than we can measure. Perhaps that is part of why education remains such a conundrum: Everyone wants the best for their children, but each child has different needs. With more solutions to choose from, we have a greater hope to find solutions that are “just right.”