If you are a parent of a child with autism, ADHD, or some other learning disability, you may be interested in knowing about Paideia Classical Academy, in Coconut Creek, FL. This Christian school is organic, green, and classical in its orientation. If you are treating ADHD with diet, this is the school for you--no vending machines with soft drinks or preservative and dye-saturated snacks. The school has several students with Asperger's syndrome who have done very well in this environment. Many students have other disabilities such as dyslexia and dyscalculia. These students find this school to be supportive of their unique needs.
- The school accepts McKay scholarships. If your child has a qualifying learning disability, he can get a private education for free--or nearly so.
- A tutorial approach that allows students to work at their own rate in math and English. The emphasis is on mastery rather than keeping up with the flow of the class. This is just what kids with learning disabilities need.
- The school does have standardized testing for two days out of the year because parents want a benchmark telling them how their kids are doing, but there are no grueling prep sessions for the test. It is treated as a source of information, not a life-or-death issue.
- Paideia still has recess--an institution that has been all but abolished in public schools.
- The school teaches Latin for two hours per week and Ancient Greek for 1 hour per week. Children will graduate with a basic understanding of these languages.
- The grammar curriculum is excellent. The school uses the Building Christian English series which is published, I believe, by the Mennonite Church. While the religious nature of the examples may not be to everyone's taste, the explanations are clear and easy to understand.
- The principal is unfailingly pleasant, gentle, and empathic.
- Class size is limited to 15.
- The school is small enough so that everyone knows everyone else. This makes kids feel valued as individuals and makes the school feel like a second home rather than an impersonal institution.
- There is ten minutes of morning prayer every day.
- Once a week, there is an Eastern Orthodox Liturgy. Most weeks, it lasts for an hour and a half. On feast days, it may last for two hours. This is a long time for kids, especially if they have ADHD or some other disability that makes it hard for them to focus. Currently, students are asked to stand for the Gospel reading, the Lord's Prayer, the censing of the chapel, and the Creed. However, some of the more religious people in the school want to work up to getting the students to stand for the entire 1 1/2 to 2 hours. In my view, this crosses the line between asking students to attend a service and asking them to participate in a service.
- Because Orthodox students fast before receiving communion, the school allows snacks after mass. However, the principle once proposed letting only the Eastern Orthodox kids eat. I guess that means that the non-Orthodox kids, who just had to endure a lengthy religious service that did not reflect their beliefs, were supposed to sit and watch while the other kids ate. I found this lack of sensitivity to non-Orthodox kids appalling. However, so many kids were coming late on Liturgy days that the time was rescheduled. Now, everyone goes to lunch at 11, so this issue has been resolved.
- Students are required to wear uniforms, which is an added expense for parents.
- In middle school, science is taught for only two hours per week. Compare this to the more than two hours spent on religion.
- The science equipment is limited. As of this writing, there are two microscopes for the entire school of approximately 50 students. Presumably the preschoolers and primary grade students are not using microscopes, but this leaves two microscopes for 25 older students. This is not a great ratio. In a class with ten kids, this is five kids per microscope as opposed to two kids per microscope in most well-equipped schools.
- There is a total absence of laboratory glassware, scales, and other scientific equipment. This makes rigorous experiments impossible.
- The current science textbook, the Rainbow, is shockingly bad. It may be appropriate for home-schooled kids aged ten and younger, but it is not appropriate for older, highly intelligent students who could benefit from advanced instruction. Some of the sections have only three questions, many of which can be answered with a simple yes or no. In other words, there is little higher-order thinking and students will develop no understanding of, for example, what a good scientific experiment entails. For an indication of just how bad the book is, read the reviews on Amazon.
- Teacher wages are very low--well below $25,000 per year (I don't want to put exact salaries on the Internet)--and no benefits. Teachers were asked to sign a contract agreeing to give SIXTY DAYS notice before leaving. Since no employer holds a job for SIXTY DAYS, this effectively locks teachers into a job with very substandard wages. They are also expected to give up approximately one Saturday per month for open houses, festivals, and the like, making a second job difficult. You can imagine the effect this has on teacher morale. So far, there has been a lot of turnover, which affects educational continuity.
- Many classes contain both highly intelligent, motivated students AND students with severe learning disabilities. Therefore, if you have an academically gifted child, you may want to find another school. However, it is ideal for kids with learning disabilities.
Summary: On balance, the school has more strengths than weaknesses. The issue is not whether the school is bad or good but whether it is a good fit for you and your child. You may want to schedule a tour to see the school for yourself.
PAIDEIA CLASSICAL ACADEMY
Dr. Paola Weber (Director)
2370 Hammock Blvd.
Coconut Creek, FL