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Park Academy ushers in the new school year


Student calls his school a 'big family'

by: REVIEW PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Park Academy juniors Chris Wold, left, and Andrew Onofrei scan the new yearbook with parent Mary Renner.Just a few years ago, Marcus Alleyne said his classmates bullied him “every chance they had” because he doesn’t decode words the way most people do.

Marcus has dyslexia. People with the genetic condition have normal vision and intelligence but difficulty learning to read because their brains work differently. Being different made him stand out, made him a target.by: REVIEW PHOTO: JILLIAN DALEY - Marcus and Lisa Alleyne, his mom, found a second home when they came to Park Academy.

“It would take years for me to get my confidence back,” said Marcus, 14.

He is now in his third year at Park Academy, a nonprofit prep school tucked behind Marylhurst University. The school is for students who have language-based learning differences, which include dyslexia as well as visual and auditory processing and executive-functioning (organizational) challenges.

“We all have the same gift as I like to call it, and we all know how each other feels and how we’ve been treated in the past,” Marcus said.

He said the 56-student school is “like a big family.” Park Academy, for fourth- to 12th-graders, celebrated its eighth year last week, kicking off classes on Sept. 4 and holding its annual picnic on Sept. 3.by: REVIEW PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Eighth-grader Henry Pope gets in some football action before sitting down to eat.

The picnic “really is quite lovely because it’s a chance for the kids to come and make that initial connection,” said Lisa Alleyne, Marcus’ mom.

Alleyne said children in her son’s position tend to be emotionally vulnerable, but the school provides a safe space for them and offers them something other than the standard curriculum.

Park Academy Associate Director Bill Westphal said the school follows curriculum specifically designed for students with language learning differences. The goal is to start fresh, teaching students to recognize what sounds are associated with symbols and letters. by: REVIEW PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Justin Butler has fun playing tetherball.

“It really is pretty complex,” Westphal said. “We have some highly skilled teachers who understand the methodologies, and they’re research-based so we know that they work.” Teachers use multi-sensory instruction in which students, touch, hear and see a lesson, Park Academy Admissions Director Kim Barton said. She added that the school individualizes instruction, “making specialized accommodations for each child that needs it, and it may not really be for that child. It may be for the child sitting next to them.”

For example, those who can’t help but make a noise with their mouth chew gum; students who cannot stand sound distractions (such as gum chewing) wear earphones; and students who need to touch something to focus squeeze a stress ball.

Park Academy students aren’t alone, and change could be on the way locally and nationally to support people with language learning differences.

Park Academy will have more space for students. The school began with 15 students when it was founded in 2005 and now is at capacity with more students on a waiting list. School officials plan to move Park Academy to a bigger site in the vacant Lake Oswego Armory on Southshore Boulevard. The building is being remodeled, and classes could begin in fall 2014.

Meanwhile, last year, two U.S. representatives formed the Bipartisan Congressional Dyslexia Caucus to shape policy and spread awareness about dyslexia.

“Dyslexia affects as many as 10 million children in the United States — boys and girls from all ethnic, socioeconomic and geographic regions of our country,” according to the caucus website.