Triad Academy uses arts to help kids learn

Todd Cohen

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — In the U.S., half of high-school students with learning disabilities drop out of school.

At Triad Academy, which aims to return students with learning disabilities to mainstream schools in two to three years by using a research-based and arts-based curriculum tailored to their learning needs, every one of its roughly 150 students has graduated, either from a mainstream school or from the private academy.

“We are really fixing a problem,” says Carrie Malloy, the school’s director.

Formed in the late 1990s by parents whose children were not thriving in public schools, Triad Academy was reorganized in 2000 to serve the needs of bright students with language-based learning disabilities that made it difficult for them to acquire print-based skills such as reading and writing, says Malloy.

While public schools typically pull such students out of their regular classes during the school day for a special class designed to address their learning needs, she says, those students “have not been well served” by their schools.

With an annual budget of $1 million and a faculty of 10 people working full-time and five people working part-time, Triad Academy can handle up to 62 students in grades one through 12.

The school reviews a “psycho-educational” evaluation that assesses the strengths and weaknesses of each student who applies, and then determines how they learn and designs a “multi-sensory” program geared to their specific learning needs.

Classes are small, with no more than four students in reading class and only eight to 10 students in classes for science, social studies and math, with all classes integrating “multi-sensory” learning into the curriculum.

“Kids hear it, say it, see it, do it,” says Malloy, who has an undergraduate degree in psychology from Wake Forest University, certification from Salem College to teach children with disabilities, and a master’s degree in business administration, also from Wake Forest.

The idea, she says, is to “remediate their academic skill deficits and at the same time teach them strategies so they can go back to the mainstream.”

Located on eight acres it owns 20 minutes south of Winston-Salem on the border of Davidson and Forsyth counties, she says, Triad Academy operates in a 12,000-square-foot building and four mobile units, and is running out of space.

So it has begun the quiet phase of a campaign to raise $3 million to relocate to at least four to five acres near downtown Winston-Salem to give the school easy access to the city’s arts resources, says Malloy, whose son is a graduate of Triad Academy.

Chaired by her husband, Richard Malloy, a senior vice president at Wachovia Securities, with local philanthropist John Burress serving as honorary chair and Whitney Jones Inc. serving as campaign counsel, the campaign already has raised $1.1 million, including a $750,000 gift from an individual.

With the public phase of the campaign set to begin in September, Triad Academy also is raising money to cover annual operating costs through special events and an annual fund that typically aims to raise $100,000 to $125,000 a year.

With annual tuition of $17,000 covering 85 percent to 90 percent of expenses, the school netted $52,000 at an auction May 21 at Forsyth Country Club, and in the fiscal year that ends June 30 has raised another $52,000 through its annual fund, chaired by Mac DuBose, a financial adviser at Wachovia Securities.

“We are a community resource,” says Malloy. “In our own small, little way, we’re solving a literacy problem and a high-school dropout problem.”

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