Hudson Valley Private Schools
Discover all the unique educational opportunities the Valley has to offer with this comprehensive guide to the region’s private schools
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A supportive place for those with language challenges
THE KILDONAN SCHOOL
Located in Amenia, this school has a special mission: It serves students who have dyslexia or other language-based learning challenges.
“The most prevalent situation we see is a student who comes to us from another school that wasn’t a good fit for their learning style, or where their educational needs couldn’t be met,” says Dr. Robert Lane, academic dean at Kildonan. “This can range from a student with mild difficulties — where dyslexia affects only a few aspects of their processing of language — or it could be more severe, where dyslexia affects multiple areas.”
Dyslexia is a learning disability which hampers the ability to read, write and/or spell; it’s thought to be connected to the way the brain processes language. People of all ages struggle with dyslexia; it’s estimated that more than 40 million Americans show signs of the disorder. Fortunately, increased awareness among parents and educators now leads to earlier diagnosis and better treatment.
“When kids first come here, you can almost hear the sigh of relief,” says Lane. “They’ve often been struggling at another school, and finally they’re in a place where every other student knows what it’s like to experience the shame and frustration and anxiety they’ve gone through.
Some public schools do offer assistance for students with dyslexia, Lane points out. “It’s not to disparage what they do, but it’s impossible for most schools to provide extensive help for these students,” he says. “They often pull kids out of other classes to work with them. Kids are very sensitive to that; they might miss their art class or gym or recess. The students feel pointed out as being different, and they’re embarrassed.”
Kildonan has about 100 students, in both day and boarding plans. The school emphasizes one-on-one learning in small classes — the average size is about eight students. Every child also receives a minimum 45-minute daily tutoring session with an expert, using the technique known as the Orton-Gillingham method. One of the oldest teaching approaches for children with dyslexia, this program focuses on the structure of language, and gradually helps students move on step by step to reading, writing, and spelling, taught as a logical body of knowledge.
In addition to Orton-Gillingham tutoring, students have access to the school’s extensive Assistive Technology program. “This includes computers and other specialized electronic devices that greatly help dyslexic students,” says Lane. Some can translate a student’s dictated words into letters on a computer screen, enabling them to express themselves quickly and clearly as they do their schoolwork.
Most students study at Kildonan for at least two years, says Lane. “For students who just need to have a smaller gap between their potential and actual literacy skills, that’s often enough time to give them a ‘booster shot.’ ” But many kids spend their entire middle- and high school years at Kildonan. “They see that this environment not only helps them remediate their challenges, but we think it does a very good job of repairing their self-esteem, while continuing to challenge them,” Lane says.
Starting in the elementary grades, students study a full range of courses. The school also offers a pre-college curriculum for older kids. “We don’t water anything down,” says Lane.
As a private school, Kildonan is permitted to depart from standard state testing requirements. “We’re grateful we don’t have to give Regents exams, although we do administer Regents competency exams in some areas,” says Lane.
The school skips awards such as dean’s list and honor roll, and instead offers Academic Effort recognitions each term, based on a student’s motivation, dedication, behavior, and other key factors.
College-bound Kildonan students can take the SATs in their junior and senior years, says Lane. Approximately 95 percent of students apply to college and are accepted at about 90 percent of schools where they apply. “I can’t imagine anything better than working with these students,” says Lane. “We have alumni who come back to visit and say, ‘Kildonan literally changed my life. I thought I had no future, no prospects for college. But you helped me see that I’m a competent, capable learner, and you helped me find out how I learn best.’ ”
The Kildonan School student
How long at the school: “This is my second year; I started in the ninth grade.”
Backstory: “I was diagnosed with dyslexia in first grade. I was in public schools from kindergarten up until fourth grade. Then my mom home-schooled me from fifth to eighth grade. But when it came time for advanced subjects like algebra and biology, I needed more help.”
Hardest thing about public school: “It was really difficult, having dyslexia. They would pull me out of recess to give me special help. It was hard, and embarrassing, too.
“By the time I was in fourth grade they were giving my mom a hard time about it, and they couldn’t offer what I needed, so my mom took me out of public school.”
How he picked Kildonan: “My mom researched schools for dyslexia, and found some in Colorado and in Texas, where we lived — my dad was born and raised in Texas. But even for the school in that state, we’d have to move to another city, or get an apartment there during the week. My mom is from Long Island, and we still have family there, so we also looked for schools in New York. We went to visit Kildonan, and loved it right away.”
Best thing about Kildonan: “Everyone has dyslexia, so you never feel out of place. I love the Assistive Tech program; it’s definitely helped me the most. There’s a computer software program called Dragon Dictate — you talk into a microphone and everything you say is translated into words on the screen. I do all my papers and essays on the computer — I just took my history test on the computer. It’s made me more independent; I don’t have to rely on other people for help.”
Favorite subjects: “I’m very big into the arts. I love photography, and the school just got a new digital facility, so I’m doing a lot with that.”
What’s cool on campus: “It’s a small school, so everybody gets individual attention. There’s plenty of one-on-one tutoring. And there’s lots of land. It’s a great place.”