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Calgary’s first charter school for kids with learning disabilities set to open 2016

WATCH ABOVE: Rethink Charter Academy, a publicly funded charter school for kids with learning disabilities, is close to becoming a reality. Global’s Mia Sosiak has more on the concept and the woman behind it.

CALGARY – A publicly-funded charter school for kids with learning disabilities has been granted preliminary approval, and is set to combine the latest in neuroscience and psychology research to help students learn “differently.”

“ReThink Charter Academy is an Alberta Public Charter School designed to meet the needs of students in Grade 3 through 9 with documented learning disabilities…accomplished by a whole school implementation of the TriOptimal Learning Model,” said the academy staff in a release.

That model was created by Heather Macdonald, who saw words moving and flipping in front of her eyes when she was trying to learn to read as a child.

As a 13-year-old, she was told by parents she’d need to learn.

“In a very kind voice he said, ‘no kid of mine is not going to be able to read.’  What I heard was, I couldn’t be his kid then,” she said.

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“I was trying to figure how I could still be in my family and not know how to read.”

Macdonald said her mom found her sobbing in a playground, took her home to her father, who told her they’d figure things out. With tutoring, love and support, she outsmarted her learning disability.

“My visual memory was amazing, so what I started to do was to memorize what the words looked like,” she said.

Macdonald retrained pathways in her brain, which led her to create a new model for teaching bright kids who were struggling as she had. It combines that neuroscience with strong attachment between teachers and students, as well as “wrap around” support.

“It encompasses all things that I know, as an experienced educator, that I know to work,” said program developer Judy Gray.

Gray is part of the group of educators opening ReThink Charter Academy, based on Macdonald’s model.

“We in fact believe that they will be more than prepared to hold their own with grade level peers as they move into high school and beyond,” said Gray.

With final approval from Alberta Education, the school is set to open in fall 2016 to 600 students.

Years ago, a teacher had told Macdonald her best hope was for a career serving fast food. Today, she’s a psychologist and family therapist with a PhD who truly understands what kids with learning disabilities need.

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“Knowing that no matter what you do, there is somebody believing in you, and believing in you, until you can believe in yourself.”

There are three remaining parent information meetings planned by ReThink Charter Academy as follows:

Sept. 26 at 1 p.m. at Calgary Public Library, Saddletowne Branch
Oct. 3 at 1 p.m. Calgary Public Library, Fish Creek Branch
Oct. 10 at 1 p.m. at Calgary Public Library, Signal Hill Branch

You can register for the meetings by sending an email to rethink.calgary@gmail.com and visit the ReThink website for more information at www.rethinkcharteracademy.ca.

With files from Global’s Erika Tucker