Summit mines strengths for success

Donations reward small school in Edgewater that helps pupils with learning disorders

September 10, 2006|By Susan Gvozdas | Susan Gvozdas,Special to the Sun

When James Roberts' 7-year-old son got a diagnosis of dyslexia in 1989, Roberts sent the boy to a new school specializing in teaching pupils with learning disorders.

The 25-pupil school was operating out of trailers in the parking lot of Indian Creek School in Crownsville.

James Roberts Jr. spent six years at the school. Now 25, he is a successful independent contractor.

And his father, president and chief executive officer of Foundation Coal Holdings Inc., has found a big way to show his gratitude to the Summit School.

On Friday, the mining company, based in Linthicum Heights, donated $500,000 to the school, now in Edgewater.

"What Summit did for him is give him confidence," Roberts said of his son. "He's got a great base and can do a lot of things he never was able to do."

Foundation Coal, the nation's fifth-largest coal producer, will disburse the money over three years.

With the donation, Summit has raised $1.2 million for its endowment in the past 18 months. Jane Snider, founder and executive director of the school, wants to raise $5 million by 2009. The money will be used for scholarships and to defray rising personnel costs, she said.

Summit School has grown in the past 18 years. The school, which has about 100 pupils, moved onto a 15-acre former stallion farm 11 years ago.

Tuition is more than $25,000 a year, and half of the pupils' families receive financial aid.

A $5 million endowment will generate $250,000 in interest for the school's budget, Snider said. She hopes better financial aid will make the school more accessible.

For now, parents make sacrifices. They go without vacations and hold second jobs. They arrange carpools from nine counties.

Just trying to find out why a child is struggling can be difficult enough, said Steve Pequigney, whose 13-year-old son, Conor, attends Summit School.

It took several years before Conor got a diagnosis of central auditory process disorder. The disorder makes it difficult to comprehend the spoken word, said Pequigney, who lives in Glen Burnie.

"It's an extremely stressful experience to go through," he said. "You wonder if he's ever going to be a normal kid."

Conor said he felt terrible in public school because he didn't think he was smart.

"In my old school, my teachers were always sending notes home to my parents because I just couldn't get what they were trying to teach me," Conor told the audience at the presentation ceremony, which was attended by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

After six years at Summit, he is doing well in school and gets excited when the school year begins.

Teachers use hands-on teaching strategies, visual aids and special reading techniques to teach him and other pupils. The school offers one teacher for every four pupils. Pupils are monitored weekly to determine whether their educational plans need to be adjusted.

Pupils are taught how to speak up for what they need, said Joan Mele-McCarthy, Summit's director of education.

Snider will appear Monday on the ABC talk show The View to discuss ways parents can detect learning disabilities. The live program airs at 11 a.m.

Summit pupils are not slow, Snider said. They just learn differently.

"When they come here, there's a climate of acceptance," Snider said. "We will teach you the way you learn."

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