Dore Academy in Myers Park is a hub of student activity.
Everywhere, it seemed during a visit last week, students focused energy and attention on fun learning activities that demonstrated their creative talents and unique abilities.
In no way was it apparent these kids had been diagnosed with learning disabilities and were benefiting from a specialized and integrated approach to learning that is the cornerstone of this special school.
The academy recently announced an expansion and relocation that will nearly triple its size and increase capacity from the current 90 students to 250.
The move is scheduled for August 2012 and will take the academy to a more central location. The new facility will occupy a 58,000-square-foot building and 6-acre property off Billy Graham Parkway near Charlotte/Douglas International Airport.
"We are thrilled beyond measure," said Head of School Roberta Smith. "Since our founding in 1978, our faculty and staff have come to school each day dedicated to serving the needs of our extraordinary children and families. The move ... will allow us to expand our offerings in so many areas, all focused on crafting an experience that transcends 'school.'"
The nonprofit Dore Academy was established in 1978 as the first school in Charlotte created solely for the needs of children with learning disabilities and/or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. The school now is considered one of the nation's leading institutions for creating academic success among these students. It has helped more than 2,500 students since opening its doors.
Currently, students come to Dore Academy from 21 cities and eight counties in North and South Carolina, including Rock Hill, Gastonia and Mooresville.
Smith said the move will allow Dore to maintain its core philosophies: individualized instruction, small classes (a 7-to-1 student/teacher ratio), concentration in the arts and a belief there are no limits to what children can accomplish.
Diane Harrington serves on the academy's board of directors, and her son Chase, a graduating senior, has been at Dore since ninth grade.
"I've seen incredible progress with Chase since he has been here," said Harrington, "While there were obstacles to overcome, and he's hit a few walls along the educational journey, they have been turned into stepping stones and have been overcome with help from the 'village' of support he finds here," she said.
Harrington said she had worried about what her son would do when he got out of high school and didn't think college would be a possibility.
Chase's progress and the college prep work he completed at Dore have been so successful, however, that Chase was accepted at three colleges and will attend Feather River College in California this fall, focusing on equestrian studies and ranch management.
Dually accredited by the Southern Association of Independent Schools and Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Dore is sending 83 percent of its 2011 graduating class to college.
Bob Selee's son attends Dore and is a ninth grader. "I recognized early on that our son had learning challenges and needed a special environment," said Selee. "As a 6-year-old, he exhibited significant anxiety and was dysfunctional in public school. Upon moving to Charlotte several years back, I learned of Dore and had him enrolled here since the third grade.
"The difference has been stunning. It's provided him an environment where he can truly learn and a sense of belonging. He's playing team sports, such as basketball, which does wonders for his self-esteem."
Offering lower-, middle- and upper-school classes, Dore provides education for kindergarten through 12th grade. The school works with students of average or above-average intelligence, with diagnoses of learning disabilities or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and without primary behavior or emotional problems.
Dore has a policy of not turning away students who have financial need: 28 percent of students' families receive some level of financial aid.
One of the most popular staffers at Dore is the ever-present therapy dog, Muffin. The cocker spaniel/dachshund mix has been part of the Dore family for the past 12 years.
Muffin has a calming effect on students and provides a friendly ear to read to. The dog is so popular with the children that she sports a different outfit daily to show off the endless supply of T-shirts she's received as gifts.