The Middle Georgia community learned about Roberts Academy at Mercer University and how it will address the needs of children with dyslexia at a March 23 event in the Presidents Dining Room in the University Center on Mercer’s Macon campus.
The event, “Roberts Academy: Empowering Kids with Dyslexia,” followed a ceremonial groundbreaking for the school at the construction site on Linden Avenue, next to the Mercer Outdoor Recreation Complex and two blocks from Tattnall Square Park.
Mercer University announced the establishment of the transitional school for children with dyslexia in November 2022. Roberts Academy, which will be affiliated with Mercer’s Tift College of Education, will be the only school of its kind in Georgia outside of Atlanta. It is being constructed, equipped and endowed through a major gift commitment by Hal and Marjorie Roberts of Lakeland, Florida.
“All the children attending the Roberts Academy will be dyslexic. That enables teachers to really focus on the needs of these students rather than having to deal with multiple concerns,” said Dr. Thomas Koballa, dean of the College of Education. “Other schools that share this focus reported that when students with dyslexia are together, they work collaboratively to address their similar challenges. They’re all in it together, and it develops a community of success.”
At the March 23 event, Dr. Koballa introduced Roberts Academy’s founding head of school, Joy Wood.
“I am sincerely honored and grateful to serve as the founding head of Roberts Academy at Mercer University,” Wood said. “The school’s mission is to prepare students with dyslexia to achieve academic success through dynamic educational programs. The partnership with Mercer University is invaluable to implementing the mission and will allow us to provide significant opportunities in all program areas.
“At Roberts Academy we will empower dyslexic learners with knowledge and skills to remediate their reading difficulties, and just as important we will guide them to embrace the many gifts that their dyslexia provides beyond daily academics.”
Wood, who will assume the position July 1, comes from Marietta-based GRACEPOINT School, a private, specialized Christian school for dyslexic learners, where she has served as head of school since 2015. She also has served as elementary principal at the Wesleyan School in Atlanta, as well as director of curriculum and a fourth-grade teacher at Christ the King Catholic School in Atlanta.
“In my career I have been fortunate to witness firsthand the positive impact that a school dedicated to children with dyslexia can have on a child’s life and family. The students at Roberts Academy will not only learn how to read, but their self-esteem will improve as they grow into confident learners,” she said. “The culture at Roberts Academy will be one of optimism, inspiration and encouragement as the students learn how to take risks in a safe and loving environment.”
Wood holds a Master of Arts in Education from Central Michigan University and a Bachelor of Science in Education from Millsaps College in Mississippi.
The event also included a personal story from Dr. Kevin Williams titled, “A Little Help Along My Way: My Story of Thriving While Living with Dyslexia.” Dr. Williams is an assistant professor of leadership studies in Mercer’s College of Professional Advancement. It closed with a talk by psychologist Dr. Paul Cohen, who discussed evaluation and identification of dyslexia in children.
Expected to open in fall 2024, Roberts Academy initially will serve as many as 90 students in second through fifth grades, with classes of no more than 12 students. The facility will be constructed to allow for the build-out of a second floor to accommodate additional students in the future.
Modeled after the successful Roberts Academy at Florida Southern College in Lakeland, Roberts Academy at Mercer University will provide a comprehensive curriculum that follows state education standards and includes instruction in math, science, social studies, art, music and physical education, along with reading, writing and spelling.
Students will be taught using the Orton-Gillingham approach, a specialized learning method clinically proven to help students with dyslexia. It engages students in action-oriented learning that combines auditory, visual and physical movement elements to teach basic concepts of reading, writing and spelling across the curriculum.
“The Orton-Gillingham approach will help students gain confidence and competence in developing reading strategies to be successful in not only learning to read but using reading to learn,” Dr. Koballa said.
Because of the affiliation with Mercer, Roberts Academy students also will benefit from the University’s programs and initiatives in music, the arts, sports, science, engineering and medicine. Students can attend the school until they have mastered the skills to accommodate their learning differences and are prepared to succeed in a traditional school setting.
In addition, Roberts Academy will serve as a learning site for College of Education students and faculty.
Once fully operational, Roberts Academy is envisioned as a hub for teacher professional development about dyslexia, with plans to offer summer programs for teachers and academic year residences that would allow teachers to co-teach and learn alongside Roberts Academy teachers and College of Education faculty.