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Column: Specialized schools among our best assets
by Thornton Kennedy
May 21, 2014 05:09 PM | 2745 views | 0 0 comments | 50 50 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Thornton Kennedy
Thornton Kennedy
When our daughter Virginia was a first-grader at The Lovett School, she carried a thick chapter book in her backpack. I remember pulling up in carpool to pick her up one day. She was out on the front steps of the lower school reading it.

There was one problem. A year earlier we found out she was dyslexic. She was only pretending to read.

Our journey started in kindergarten. Her teacher, Virginia McDonough, told my wife Lori and me that Virginia may have dyslexia, which is generally defined as a reading disorder. By the time we had her tested and the suspicions were confirmed, we had missed the application window to get her to a specialized school. Virginia remained at Lovett for her first-grade year. Our only request of the school was that her self-esteem remained intact until we could get her to the best school to fit her learning needs.

This is an important footnote for many families. The choice to send your child to private school is a substantial investment, but when your child needs a more focused classroom, with a higher student-to-teacher ratio and specialized instruction, the costs rise accordingly. Many make major sacrifices to ensure their children get the extra help they need.

It’s different for every child and every family, but Virginia was accepted to The Schenck School starting in the second grade. Schenck was founded in 1959 by David Schenck specifically for children with dyslexia. The intensive focus on the Orton-Gillingham approach, a proven phonics-based way to learn to read, has been a long, uphill climb. Through her hard work and determination and a huge commitment from the school, Virginia is now ready to move on, though she will always have dyslexia.

We know this situation too well. I left Lovett in the fourth grade because everything sailed over my head. I spent the rest of my scholastic career in smaller schools with specialized teachers who helped me somehow achieve a college degree.

Our daughter told us she felt different when she found out she was dyslexic. She saw it as a disability. The reality is Virginia will have learning difficulties for the rest of her life. I certainly struggle with them to this day.

The plus side is knowing your weaknesses and adjusting accordingly, and in some cases working harder than those around you to achieve the same results. We have already seen that attribute in Virginia. It is invaluable.

This fall she will be returning to Lovett, where she will be beginning again. Thanks to the teachers at Schenck, this time she’s ready.

Buckhead resident Thornton Kennedy is a sixth-generation Atlantan and a former news editor of this paper. He can be reached at

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