Park Academy empowers students to overcome their learning challenges
This is the third in a series of sponsored stories by Terry Sprague, owner of LUXE Forbes Global Properties highlighting local nonprofits and how important they are in creating stronger communities.
Lake Oswego's Terry Sprague, one of Oregon's top real estate brokers, has only read one book: The Old Man and the Sea.
Growing up, Sprague, now the owner of the highly successful LUXE Forbes Global Properties, spent his early years struggling in school. While attending Holy Cross, a Catholic School in North Portland, it became apparent that he had difficulties reading, and learning in general. "When I was in school, I would literally go and ask my teachers, 'What do I need to do to get a D.' And that was my education. I left home at 16."
Despite his turbulent early school years, Sprague managed to rise above his learning challenges and a school system that utterly failed him. He would go on to earn his GED and attend the University of Oregon focusing his studies entirely on communications.
"I feel like there are people that could be this beautiful cherry tree that just happened to be planted in the wrong place. And you're planted, budded up right next to a building with an overhang and shade. And you watch how plants adapt and how they bend to the sun. And they'll grow out to get to the source of water or to get to the source of sun. And once they do that, you can find beautiful plants and flowers growing in a crack in a sidewalk." Sprague said.
"I wouldn't be who I am today if I wouldn't have gone through what I had. The good news for me is the tree found the light and I've adapted my life in a different way. My hope now is to help those who weren't as lucky as me to find their way. Park Academy is a catalyst for this."
Park Academy, a school for children with diverse learning challenges, started off as a vision one woman had for helping children with dyslexia succeed.
Piper Park, Park Academy's founder, was inspired by her own son with dyslexia. Watching her son struggle in school, Park searched for assistance for her son's unique learning needs. It was an uphill battle, but she finally found one at the Woodmont school with tutor Myrna Soule.
Her son received the help he needed, but he was not Myra's only student. There were many other children with dyslexia needing help and "Piper couldn't abandon them."
It was through Park's ambition to help other children with dyslexia that she started Park Academy in 2005. As word spread, more parents flocked to Park Academy, desperate to get help for their own children.
The program quickly grew, and they hired staff and a director. They went through the formalization process of accreditation at a time when they were teaching students out of trailers at Marylhurst University.
Thanks to the help of numerous donors and fundraisers, they were able to purchase the Lake Oswego Armory on Southshore Boulevard and then convert it into a beautiful campus which opened its doors for the 2014-15 school year. Now, the small non-profit independent school serves 100 kids in grades 3-12. They draw students from throughout Oregon with close to 70% being from outside Lake Oswego and West Linn. Five percent of the student body come from out-of-state, commonly from Alaska, Hawaii, and California. "We're one of the only schools to offer a curriculum designed for dyslexia from Seattle to San Francisco," said Dr. Craig Lowery, Head of School at Park Academy.
With an average class size of 11, and reading groups of 2-3 kids, it's an ideal learning environment for students with learning differences.
"Most of the kids who come here have been dealing with school and life-based traumatic experiences," said Lowery. "And oftentimes the kids don't even recognize the trauma, but they wear it outwardly. When kids come to Park Academy, they're in survival mode. Kids come here feeling like there's a lot wrong with them."
In opposition to the stigmatization of dyslexia that can occur, staff at Park Academy are firmly supportive of the students in attendance.
"Our students are highly capable and highly intelligent. It just so happens that their brains take in information very differently." Dove said.
For Sprague, being able to relate to the daily challenges these kids face is what has inspired him to be so supportive of the school.
"I really feel that Park Academy offers the sources of nutrition and nurture, the access to the light," Sprague said. "And then, suddenly these kids find their beautiful potential. It's this incubation process of unlocking really special minds that without this full-service process, those children would be trapped within a lifestyle that doesn't unwrap their potential."
Sprague's deep compassion for Park students and his commitment to forwarding the school's mission was evident as he spoke: "What these guys do is create magic," said Sprague, wiping away a tear that had fallen on his cheek. "And it heals families, it heals the child. And these kids become examples to others of overcoming adversity."
Lowery talked about the importance of safe spaces in allowing people to bloom.
"Once you feel safe in a setting, it allows people to take risks in areas that are difficult for them," he said. "When you don't feel safe, you don't take risks. They have this brilliant chance for discovery in their risk-taking. Because now they've realized they can do vulnerable things and succeed. And once they have that as a template, it's repeatable. So, you create this pattern of success that becomes ingrained in them over time. 'I can do these hard things and I can be successful even if the things are difficult' because that experience is gonna be what they take away when they graduate."
HOW YOU CAN HELP
Park Academy relies on private contributions in order to enhance and maintain a high-quality education for students struggling with dyslexia and other language learning differences. The annual expense for each student is approximately $27,000. Current tuition only covers 80% of these costs.
Since dyslexia affects students from a variety of backgrounds, including economic status, Park Academy is committed to seeking funds to ensure that all children have access to the education that meets their neuro-diverse needs.
Currently, 25% of their students are eligible for scholarships or tuition assistance. Without this help, these students may be left behind. Given the support at Park Academy, they dramatically change children's lives. And their 100% graduation rate is a reflection of that!
To learn more about the Park Academy Scholarship Program, or to make a scholarship gift, please contact Elizabeth Dove at 503.594.8780 or go to www.parkacademy.org
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