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Choosing a school for a child who has learning differences can be daunting. There are many aspects beyond a typical school search that each family needs to consider in order to find the school that will truly serve a child’s needs.

Delaware Valley Friends School has helped hundreds of families through this process. Below are six critical factors that all parents of children with learning challenges should keep in mind during their searches.

1. Start with an accurate understanding of your child’s learning challenges. Accurate testing and a clear picture of your child’s unique learning needs will help schools better evaluate potential students and help families narrow down the options to just schools that are best able to serve their children. Delaware Valley Friends School requires either a WISC-V or a Woodcock-Johnson IV completed within two years of applying to its school. You can get this testing through your school district or from an independent practitioner.

2. Not all schools are right for all students. Schools have their own identities and specialize in serving different types of students. Ask yourself: Is the school clear about the students and learning differences they do and do not serve? Does its student profile fit your child? Does the atmosphere of the school feel right for your child and your family?

3. Not all learning-differences programs are the same. There are many different programs that schools might use to address students’ learning disabilities. They differ in approach and the level of training required to certify teachers in their delivery. Are those approaches taught in one or two classes, or consistently across the entire curriculum? Ask how many teachers are certified and how rigorous the certification process is. How much flexibility do teachers have to adapt their lessons to students’ changing needs and abilities? Find out which approaches schools use and if their programs will produce the best results for your child. 

Delaware Valley Friends School utilizes its Adolescent Literacy Program, which is based on Orton-Gillingham, a multimodal approach to teaching language. “One strength of the program is its flexibility, which allows the faculty to hone in on the particular needs of each student,” says Kirk Smothers, the head of school. “We have 38 faculty members with 806 combined years of teaching experience. Our super-experienced and expert faculty are able to provide an exceptional program for students.”

4. There’s no substitute for personally visiting a school—even more than once. It’s difficult to get a true feel for a school’s culture without spending meaningful time in the building. Do the admissions officers seem knowledgeable about the school and about learning-differences issues in general? Are you given access to faculty, students and parents to ask questions? How does the school “feel” to you and your child?

5. Clarify your investment. Different schools have different pricing models and fee structures. Some schools state a base tuition and have additional fees that may not be obvious on their websites. Others package tuition and fees together in one total price. It is important to know which model a school uses and to clarify fees up front so there are no surprises. More important than price is the value of your investment. What difference could the right school make in your child’s life? What new doors might be open to him or her? Be sure to consider the true cost of your decision.

6. Find out what happens when students graduate. Where students go after graduation is an important indicator of a school’s success. Look at where students have been placed, as well as how alumni have fared. Does the school have an expert college counselor with an established history of successful and diverse placements, as well as long-standing relationships with colleges and universities nationwide? Does the counselor also have experience working with students with learning differences who often must include questions about student support services and academic accommodations as part of their college search process?

“We are one of the few secondary schools focusing on students with learning differences who have a long record, and because of that, we have many years of alumni,” says Smothers. “We track them over the years—about 98 percent go straight on to college or a secondary program. Our academic program is better than mainstream programs in preparing students with learning differences for success in their further education, future professions and life. Our alumni are in law school, are notable chefs, artists and teachers. Delaware Valley Friends School is helping them succeed in a world that will never put them in a box.”

Delaware Valley Friends School welcomes college-bound students in grades 6-12 with language-based learning challenges, particularly in reading (dyslexia), writing (dysgraphia), math (dyscalculia), memory (long-term and working), and processing speed. It also supports students with ADHD and executive-functioning challenges.

Upcoming Admissions Information Sessions

Registration is required. Programmed sessions feature presentations from administration and a panel discussion with teachers and students.

Wednesday, Oct. 21, 9-11 a.m.

Sunday, Nov. 8, 1-3 p.m.

Wednesday, Dec. 9, 9-11 a.m.

Wednesday, Jan. 13, Noon-2 p.m.

Sunday, Feb. 7, 1-3 p.m.

Wednesday, March 9, 9-11 a.m.

Wednesday, March 30, 9-11 a.m.

Wednesday, April 13, 9-11 a.m.

Wednesday, April 27, 5 p.m.

Wednesday, May 11, 9-11 a.m.

Wednesday, May 25, 9-11 a.m.

Wednesday, June 16, 7 p.m. (featuring an alumni panel)

Wednesday, July 13, 9-11 a.m.


Tour Tuesdays

Registration is appreciated but not required. Drop by for a tour of the school and a consultation with the admissions department.

Tuesday, Nov. 17, 9:30-11 a.m.

Tuesday, Dec. 1, 9:30-11 a.m.

Tuesday, Feb. 23, 9:30-11 a.m.


Delaware Valley Friends School
19 E. Central Ave., Paoli, PA 19301
(610) 640-4150, www.dvfs.org

Mary Ellen Trent, Director of Admissions
(610) 640-4150, ext. 2162, maryellen.trent@dvfs.org

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