Outside the Box at Community Christian School

By: Cary R. Davis

Parenting is unquestionably one of the hardest jobs in the world. Parenting a child with learning differences certainly intensifies that job. By partnering with a school that understands learning differences and desires to work as a team, these parents are better able to maneuver the academic and emotional ups and downs of daily school life. We all remember those great educators who made a lasting impression on our lives as students. Perhaps they inspired us to believe in ourselves. Perhaps they encouraged us to do what we thought we could never do. Some may have even changed our entire educational destiny. Mrs.Rebecca Brooks, the director of Community Christian’s Student Support Services, is one of those educators.

In the summer of 2011, a spunky, wide-eyed Madison sat across the table from 4th grade teacher Cindi McKee. An entrance test was on the table in front of her. As she began reading questions and working out math problems, she narrowed her eyes. Her expression suddenly changed to one of frustration. “I don’t know how to do this,” she said. “Just do your best,” replied the teacher. Madison sighed and proceeded to do her “best,” knowing that it wasn’t good enough. When the testing was finished, she looked Mrs. McKee straight in the eyes and proclaimed, “I know I didn’t do well today, but I really want to be at CCS! I’ll tell my parents I will repeat the 4th grade if you will let me come to your school.”

Madison was right. On paper, she was not even ready for 4th grade. Her learning differences screamed from the pages in front of her, but one thing screamed louder: her determination. The Admissions Team met with Student Support Services, and Mrs. Brooks put together a plan for little Madison. Fast-forward five-and-a-half years. Sixteen-year-old Madison, the little girl who once depended on her fingers to do the most basic 4th grade math, just successfully completed her first semester of high school geometry at CCS.

Madison is just one of many success stories coming out of Community Christian’s Student Support Services. CCS established the program in 2010 in response to the growing number of enrolled and potential families looking for the academic support their children needed, all done in a Christian school setting. Student Support is committed to partnering with parents and teachers in providing quality, individualized instruction modes for students with unique learning needs. Speech and Language Services and Learning Labs serve both elementary and middle/high students, and an Elementary Gifted Program (“EDGE”) rounds out the broad array of academic support to children starting as young as two years old at CCS. These “outside the box” learners are all supported in the program.

Eight-year-old Jacob’s academic experience has been doubly challenging. In addition to having dyslexia, Jacob is also gifted. Shortly after his dyslexia was diagnosed, Jacob’s mother met Mrs. Brooks. Regarding the initial process, Jacob’s mom remembers:It was kind-of scary at first because you don’t know what to expect. However, soon after meeting Mrs. Brooks, you can tell you’re in good hands. She honestly cares and has the child’s best interests at heart. She had already gathered information from the teachers and observed Jacob in the classroom. She had gone over his educational psychological evaluation, and she knew the recommendations. She was very well prepared with a preliminary plan. But, most of all, she listened to us as parents and adjusted the plan based on our concerns and ideas.

Because the Student Support Services also encompasses gifted instruction, Jacob is also involved in CCS’s EDGE program. EDGE stands for “Exceptional Development in Gifted Education.” CCS is one of the few Christian schools on the Southside who have an elementary gifted program. Mrs. D’Anna Entrekin, EDGE Director, loves working with those students who process information at the highest of levels. Jacob, for example, “quickly synthesizes information and makes connections quickly… School is dominated by verbal skills, but Jacob’s non-verbal skills are a huge strength—he can construct and build projects by only looking at the final product… he has an ability to approach problems with solutions that no one else has thought of.” Mrs. Entrekin is able to relate to Jacob’s learning differences, work in conjunction with his classroom teacher, and build upon his strengths. These all work together to bring success in the classroom. Jacob’s mom agrees. “All the teachers along the way have been awesome and willing to work within his plan and help any way they can. I feel like we have all learned together what Jacob needs to be successful—and successful he has been so far in overcoming the obstacles in his way.”

School can be tough, whether it be times-tables in elementary school or geometric proofs in high school. For those “outside the box” learners like Madison and Jacob, school brings extra challenges. Thanks to programs like CCS’s Student Support Services, and educators like Mrs. Rebecca Brooks and her team, many more students and parents can breathe a sigh of relief. Says Jacob’s mom, “Through CCS, you will find a group of people who genuinely love your child and will work their hardest to help them be successful to overcome the challenges they have been blessed with. They teach them lessons they can take with them for the rest of their lives, shape them as adults, and build character…”