A school designed to meet the specific needs of students with dyslexia, GRACEPOINT School continues to grow and evolve.
By Jennifer Morrell
In 2012, GRACEPOINT School met the call of area children diagnosed with dyslexia, and 10 years later, it is growing and going strong. Thanks to the determination of two Marietta mothers, Molly Holm and Angie Strack, who were searching for an option for their second-grade dyslexic boys, GRACEPOINT opened its doors.
“These moms knew their sons were struggling in school and desperately wanted to help them,” says Susan Spruill, Director of Marketing and Communication for GRACEPOINT. “After much research, they discovered there were very few educational opportunities available specifically for dyslexic learners in the Atlanta area [so they] decided to create a school for their children.”
To be sure, the pioneering work of starting a school seemed quite overwhelming. With the guidance of Brenda Fitzgerald, executive director of the Georgia Educational Training Agency, the school initially opened with four students.
Addressing a need
According to the International Dyslexia Association, as many as one out of five students live with dyslexia. Dyslexic students often struggle while their condition goes undiagnosed. Often, they can be labeled as low achievers and considered unmotivated. Confidence can begin to fade as these students try to keep up; some even stop trying altogether. The need for a specialized school in Cobb County was evident to GRACEPOINT’s founders.
For acceptance into the school, a student must have a diagnosis of dyslexia. The school’s admissions process is extremely thorough, allowing the team to assure the needs of each individual student are best met in accordance with his or her unique learning profile. Applicants come from both public and private schools and have varying levels of academic skills.
The school employs 50 full- and part-time people and is funded through yearly tuition. Spruill says needs-based tuition assistance is available and is received by about 20 percent of GRACEPOINT students. The school’s instructional program is one of only 19 accredited programs in the nation through the Academy of Orton Gillingham Practitioners and Educators.
Making a difference
The lasting effects of attendance at GRACEPOINT are abundant. Entire families, not just students, are impacted in a positive way. “When Ayla was in fourth grade, it broke my heart to watch her struggle to say the alphabet,” says Lynn Huckabey, a GRACEPOINT parent. “It broke my heart to watch her crying under her bed because she dreaded school so much. She knew she was different, but she didn’t know why. Never in a million years could I have imagined the joy our family would come to know because of GRACEPOINT.”
Huckabey says Ayla is now a junior in high school, and her frustrations caused by dyslexia are a distant memory. She has grown from a hesitant, defeated fourth grader who felt she couldn’t do anything right, into a kind and confident student eager to challenge herself. “Because of the love, patience, grace and support she received at GRACEPOINT, my Ayla is eager to conquer the world,” Huckabey says. “Because of GRACEPOINT, I have every confidence she can. I will be forever grateful.”
An academy accreditation
As an accredited program, their teachers are led by the Director of Instructional Leadership, Kendra Lashley. “When students first arrive at GRACEPOINT, they tell stories of defeat, frustration, and being filled with anxiety,” Lashley says. “The Orton-Gillingham teaching method provides an explicit, systematic and multisensory approach to learning, which allows our students to meet their academic goals successfully.”
GRACEPOINT’s Orton-Gillingham reading groups are formed at the beginning of the year but remain fluid. An understanding that each student’s progress will vary exists as teachers continue to monitor, assess, and adjust reading groups as needed. The groups serve a variety of reading levels, from basic skills, such as sound/symbol correspondence, to more advanced word attack skills.
Teachers compose daily lessons that are prescriptive and diagnostic, yet structured in a way that meets the needs of the students at various levels. Each Orton-Gillingham lesson consists of association drills, the spelling of both phonetic and non-phonetic words, dictation, oral reading, and syllabication.
GRACEPOINT School has created a unique program that increases students’ understanding of “morphology.” Morphology is the study of words, their meanings, and how words are built. Morphemes are the smallest unit of meaning — bases, prefixes and suffixes. One common strength of the dyslexic learner is the ability to see these patterns, or morphemes, in words. Morphology and Orton-Gillingham are intertwined from the beginning of the remediation process, and continue to advanced morphology classes.
Cofounder Angie Strack is the Director of Morphology, and she created special characters to introduce morphology to a schoolwide audience. GRACEPOINT’s morphological initiative empowers, enriches, and equips its students to attack vocabulary. This tactic strengthens reading comprehension and helps in the development of a deeper understanding of word meaning.
“GRACEPOINT School recognizes that students are fearfully and wonderfully made differently by God for His plan, His purpose, and His story,” says Joy Wood, Head of School. “Our mission is to equip dyslexic students with the skills needed to develop into independent and confident learners through sequential, systematic, and multisensory instruction. Our goal is to instill in each child a lifelong desire for growing in wisdom and gaining knowledge of the Lord, so that each may fulfill God’s purposes and bring glory to Him.”
School leadership understands that dyslexia is not a disability, but a learning difference. The school identifies and exploits students’ strengths, viewing dyslexia as a gift to embrace and celebrate, and remediating academic weaknesses. These approaches help to foster self-confidence and self-advocacy skills, while creating positive work habits and study skills.
“At the heart of GRACEPOINT School is its desire to grow servant leaders and service to the Christian faith,” Spruill says. “In addition to school-wide gatherings for pledge and prayer and a weekly chapel, the students participate in a ‘House’ program. Each student is assigned to one of four Houses, where individuals across grade levels work together and learn from each other. The House program promotes leadership, school spirit, and comradery.”
10 years strong
GRACEPOINT is now celebrating its 10th anniversary with an enrollment of 132 students in grades 1 through 8. After 10 years of remediating dyslexic learners, the school is now seeing its alumni become high school graduates. In the last three years, GRACEPOINT alumni have begun their college careers at Kennesaw State University, Georgia College, Texas A&M, Life University, University of North Georgia, and the University of West Georgia among others.
“GRACEPOINT gave me the foundation to excel, showing me that dyslexia can be a good thing,” says Jake Lashley, GRACEPOINT alumni and junior at Kennesaw State University. “There are advantages to dyslexia; my thought process is different from my friends’. At times, it can feel like a stumbling block, but with the tools I learned at GRACEPOINT, I now have something special in my corner.”
Strack expresses her deep gratitude toward the community for 10 years of support. “I am so grateful for the love and support of the community that allowed us to start this amazing school, equipping dyslexic learners with the tools needed to succeed in our world,” she says. “Over the past 10 years, I have had the privilege of seeing so many lives changed. I can’t wait to see what the next chapter holds!”
The GRACEPOINT Board of Directors and Administration have been actively pursuing a new property over the last two years. Wood says the team has long recognized the limited potential for growth and the need for more space for current students at the Piedmont location. After an exhaustive search, GRACEPOINT purchased the MUST Ministries building, located at 1407 Cobb Parkway, in April 2022. Renovations are scheduled to take place in 2023, with plans to officially open the new location for the 2023-2024 school year.
“As with the renovation of the building at Piedmont Church, we look forward to seeing our community come together to transform the MUST Ministries building into a school,” Wood says. “We want to build an exceptional school, one that brings out the brilliance of the dyslexic learner, while restoring hope to students and their families. We are genuinely grateful to all the individuals, families, and foundations who make this school possible.”
Partnering with GRACEPOINT
GRACEPOINT School leadership believes it is an economic reality that the literacy rate is directly correlated to the economic strength of a community. It is a behavioral reality that fostering selfless service and genuine love of one another builds the social fabric of a community. GRACEPOINT School serves Cobb County as the only immersive school for dyslexic students. The school’s focus is on two key areas: building literacy through an Orton-Gillingham accredited multi-sensory instructional program, and developing a passion and appreciation for Christian values of servant leadership and love of neighbor in its students. The support of Cobb County community businesses is important to the growth and development of the school and a continuation of the services provided to students. For more information, contact administration at 678.709.6634.