DA Success Stories
At the close of his freshman year, Ryan Gummer was informed by his high school that he was not welcome to return the following year. Struggling with a little-known learning disability called dysgraphia, a friend referred Ryan to Dallas Academy. At DA, Ryan got the extra attention he needed to get the words out of his head and down on paper. He learned to start writing assignments early, and how go over them repeatedly to catch his grammar and punctuation errors. "Being told not to come back to school can be devastating for a 15 year old," remembers Ryan. "But Dallas Academy was really good at building back up my confidence," Ryan explains. "Because the classes are small, the teachers know what's going on with each student. They knew how to make school work for me," he adds. After graduating from Dallas Academy in 1999, Ryan went on to earn his BBA in Finance from SMU. Now 28, Ryan owns Keystone Investments, a company he developed. He also gives of his time to several non-profit organizations. Dallas Academy recently awarded Ryan our first John R. Albers Distinguished Alumni Award.
"Why am I so dumb?" 13-year old Wendy McDowell often asked herself. An 8th grader reading on a 3rd grade level, she could read a paragraph but then was unable to explain what it said. When Wendy was diagnosed with dyslexia, her parents were told she might not graduate from high school and surely would not go to college. They were told to find Wendy a vocational trade. But when her parents discovered Dallas Academy, their hopes were renewed. Dallas Academy staff helped Wendy understand that she was part of the 10-15% of children who learns differently, and that she was actually very smart. "They explained that I learn auditorially and kinesthetically," Wendy remembers. "I thought, 'Finally! Somebody totally gets me!'" says Wendy. Because each teacher took the time to help each student learn the way he or she learns, Wendy says the information stays in. After making the UNT Dean's list, tutoring other students, and graduating with degrees in psychology and social work, Wendy headed for paramedic school. From there, she went to work for her family business, which recently was sold. Wendy says she is now blessed to be at home with her young children and stay active as a community volunteer. She recently was appointed to serve as a trustee on the Dallas Academy board, the first former student to hold that position. "I don't have much memory of my elementary school experience because it was almost all bad," says Wendy. "But I have many warm memories of my high schools years at Dallas Academy. I am very glad to be able to give of my time and my treasure to the school that did so much for me."
At age three, Joe Palmer could not stand to be in a room with other children, and with too much stimulus he would shut down. Diagnosed with autism spectrum, he also had poor hand-eye coordination, which eventually meant writing difficulties, low muscle tone, underdeveloped motor skills and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). "Joe is very literal," says his mom Julie Palmer. "One time his speech therapist just told him to 'spit it out'. And he spit on her." Joe attended public school through seventh grade, when it became clear he needed an instructional environment that understood his unique needs. While he was very intelligent, Joe's underdeveloped social skills were interfering with his academic progress. So the family moved to East Dallas and enrolled Joe in Dallas Academy. Joe graduated from Dallas Academy as the 2009 valedictorian and is attending Texas A & M University. Today, his mom says, if you sit and talk with Joe, you will notice that he talks about what interests him, and still is learning to listen and interact, and to understand humor. But it's a far cry from where he started, and she credits his Dallas Academy teachers with pushing Joe appropriately to succeed. Julie reflects, "If he were still in a public school, I don't see that he would be going to college or have near the possibilities in life that he now has before him. When he was in the 8th grade we were unsure he would ever be able to be on his own. Now, I am positive he can take care of himself!"
As a freshman in public school, one day Jeff Garinger flipped a geometry test over and drew a picture on the back. Then he turned it in to the teacher without a word. Active in band and well-liked, Jeff was quiet in class and often felt overwhelmed academically. After he failed six weeks of English and didn't improve with tutoring, his parents visited Dallas Academy. Jeff's mother Sue says, "Once we visited, we didn't look anywhere else. It was almost like we were sent there." Even though Jeff still struggled academically, the small classes at DA allowed the teachers to form relationships with him and address his processing needs. They could slow down and reinforce directions. On the other hand, they maintained boundaries, exacting consequences for late work. Jeff became co-captain of the soccer team and made the first team all-district and first team all-state teams - something he wouldn't have been able to do at his public school. As Jeff began to feel he had a place at DA, he became more confident and even bubbly. He befriended and tutored less popular students. On a trip to Washington DC that included rooming with students from other schools, he quickly connected with the students he didn't know. Having graduated with much improved grades, Jeff is attending UT Tyler, with an interest in design. "The smaller classes and close-knit relationships at DA made school so much easier for me," said Jeff. "The DC trip was a taste of what college will be like, and I know I can do it," he added.
Katie Kerian will finish her Special Education degree this December at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas. She says she wants to make a difference in the lives of kids with learning differences, and be there for them when other teachers might have given up on them. But when she entered Dallas Academy, she says, her expectations for her future were lower. Diagnosed with mild ADD and an auditory processing disorder, she is a very hands-on learner who struggled at a parochial school to keep up. At DA, she excelled academically and graduated third in her class. And through private voice lessons, choir, and featured roles in musical productions, Katie says, she gained confidence that she wasn't getting anywhere else. "Performing gave me a level of confidence," says Katie. "But also, Ms. Grogan encouraged us to try different things and to build relationships with each other. Knowing that I wasn't the only one out there with a disability, and sharing our struggles with each other, really helped," said Katie. Today, she says, she is able to be an advocate for herself, letting professors know that she has a disability and is able to request accommodations.