Sterling School Fights To Help Overcome Dyslexia
Although the New York State Education Department recognizes many forms of learning disabilities, one school in Brooklyn was created in response to a disability that isn’t. The Sterling School, located in the Cobble Hill area, was founded in 1999 to meet the needs of children with dyslexia and language-based learning disabilities. The school has taken in 24 kids between 2nd and 6th grade and runs a full day curriculum specialized for each child, in addition to an optional speech and language program after school.
“We’re a significantly committed solution,” said Ruth Arberman, founder and director of the Sterling School and also a parent of a dyslexic son (now a sophomore in college). “Kids from all five boroughs come to our school, and parents find a way to get them here, even if we might not be in their neighborhood.”
To combat many of their students issues with reading, all children receive one-on-one or one-on-two instruction, four times a week for 45 minutes. Arberman said that students achieve about 1.5 years of progression in their reading development during their initial year at the Sterling School, and about two years of growth after that. “What’s important to realize is that you’re not competing against a target that is standing still,” said Arberman. “Even if I learn a year’s worth of material for every year, I’m still just as far behind. They have to learn more just to catch up.” The Sterling School also takes a more creative approach to facilitate learning. Children participate in activities, including art projects and cooking classes, and will also watch movies related to what they are studying.
Arberman said that parent education is also a key component to the curriculum at the Sterling School. “One of the biggest mistakes that some parents make is doing their homework for their child,” said Arberman. “We tell them to just check to make sure that it’s done. To help facilitate that, we don’t give out homework in advance and students receive it nightly. I think we should all be held accountable for our results at school.”
The cost of tuition at the Sterling School, roughly $35,000 per year, makes it difficult for many families to attend, but Arberman said she has personally financed many of the cases that have led to some of her students receiving the necessary state funding. The New York State Education Department does not recognize dyslexia as a learning disability. “I can’t feel good turning parents away for money,” said Arberman. “Half of our students are below the federal poverty line, yet they are just as entitled to an education as anybody else.”
Many of the graduates of the Sterling School have been extremely successful in their transition to more mainstream schools. One student is now a senior at Brooklyn Tech, while six of the students from the first two graduating classes are now in college. Arberman said much of this has to do with the confidence they received during their time at the school. “A lot of our kids have poor self-esteem,” said Arberman. “We need to rebuild the ability to take a risk; otherwise you can’t ever learn and go forward. And a lot of the risks they’ve taken have blown up in their face, so why take one? It’s easier to act out and get thrown out of the classroom than it is to look at the spelling test.”
Arberman said she plans to continue running the school as long as the state’s current stance on dyslexia remains the same. “If there were appropriate public programs put in place, I would be happy to walk away from this and go do something else,” said Arberman. “Until that happens, there are kids who need our help.” #