Keeping up with demand at a school dedicated to students with dyslexia, Florida Southern College is constructing its third building, this one to educate middle-school students in The Roberts Academy.

The groundbreaking on March 9 means construction is now underway on the building, which will include mathematics and science labs when it opens in August of this year. Once middle-school students move to the new building, the program will expand to accept more students in all grades through eighth, at which time students return to public or private high schools.

The Roberts Academy’s mission, according to its web page, is “to prepare talented students with dyslexia to achieve academic success through dynamic educational programs.”

Dr. Tracey Tedder, dean of the School of Education at FSC and head of The Roberts Academy since it opened in 2010, said the program is helping bring awareness to a neurological disorder “some thought of only as switching letters.”

“Because of The Roberts Academy, we have helped educate many individuals out there about what dyslexia is and how to prepare students with dyslexia with the right skills and strategies they need to move on academically with great success,” Tedder said.

The school has also helped educate the public and lawmakers. “We’re having that conversation at the state and national levels. We used to hear it was a letter reversal issue and we could train our kids not to do that. We’re continuing to press forward,” she said. “We’ve got the attention of people who are change agents so dyslexia is more recognized. We’re on the right path.”

Tedder said the academy is an “international model for supporting children with dyslexia and helping them have the strategies and techniques to learn in ways no other program is doing or may be able to do.”

Children benefit by being prepared to enter the workforce and be successful, something important in Polk County, which has an unemployment rate near three percent. In addition, Tedder said, “families are invested in the community, which has a positive output for the community. They are living, working, playing here; they are committed to what the community has to offer.”

After graduating from high school, some students apply to attend Florida Southern College, get their degrees and contribute to the community that served them well.

“The Roberts Academy is Florida’s only dedicated school for students with dyslexia and is attracting students from around the country,” said Florida Southern President Anne Kerr. “It is also a superb laboratory school for our education majors to prepare future teachers to excel in reading instruction.”

Dyslexia and Education Students

The Roberts Academy is so successful because of the way it addresses dyslexia and supports the students, Tedder said.

“Faculty members are certified in a very rigorous multisensory approach to teaching,” said Tedder, a former teacher and assistant principal. “It prepares the teachers to teach reading, writing and spelling in ways that children are able to see it and hear it differently. It’s not a boxed curriculum.”

“Students for many years who may have been in more traditional classrooms are able to come in and find themselves immersed in all subject areas. It makes a huge difference, and quickly. They gain the confidence they need. And they apply this approach long after they leave The Roberts Academy. They have skills and know-how to use them.”

Countless families have moved from across the nation so their children could attend The Roberts Academy, Tedder said. One of the first moved from Arizona in 2011.

As students learn, so do undergraduate FSC students preparing for a future as teachers.

“By serving as a lab school, we immerse our undergraduates in teaching multisensory strategies and techniques, so they have an entire body of tools, knowledge and skills,” Tedder said. “When they graduate, they can go out into the community and they can not only identify health factors that may interfere with a child’s learning but other elements that may be prohibiting children from reading, writing and spelling. They can effectively communicate factors to parents, administrators and colleagues to prepare additional support a child may need. It’s really how it comes full circle, they apply what they’ve learned in a real-world classroom.”

To learn more about The Roberts Academy and for more information about dyslexia, please visit their website.