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VOL. 43 | NO. 40 | Friday, October 4, 2019

Currey Ingram prepping for boarding students

By Hollie Deese

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Curry Ingram’s first boarding students will live in a 16,000-square-foot facility designed to accommodate 32 students.

-- Photograph Provided

When it became clear families were willing to take drastic steps to enroll their children at Currey Ingram Academy – including moving to the area from out of state – school officials knew it was time to add a boarding option.

Head of School Jeff Mitchell says a boarding option is the right move to best serve families looking for a specialized brand of education geared toward helping students with learning differences excel.

“Right now, we have probably 10% of our students, which would amount to about 30 students, (whose) families had moved to Nashville for the school,” he says. “If families are willing to totally uproot everything and move, it would seem that there’d be a good possibility for them to make a decision to send their high school-age child to a boarding program.”

In fact, it’s a vision Mitchell and the board have had for years as a way for families to benefit from the program without having to move the entire family. Often the families discovered that no such program exists where they live.

“We almost felt it was our obligation to be able to provide a program for more students who, frankly, deserve an education like they can get at Currey Ingram Academy,” Mitchell adds. “That was the primary motivation, what I would call the greater good and an obligation that we have to do as much as we possibly can to serve these students that we serve.”

Eric Vinson, director of residential life at Currey Ingram, says adding a boarding school on campus will create a more robust academic, extracurricular and social environment for current students while building an extended learning opportunity for high school students to contribute to the life of the school.

“All of the latest research about boarding schools will tell you that the majority of your students come from a 3-4 hour driving radius from your school campus, and Nashville is primed for that,” Vinson points out. “I know this year we’ve had a few families relocate from California and some from New York. We see this as an extended chance for those families to be involved too without having to pick up their entire life and relocate it.”

Mitchell adds they are intentionally growing the boarding school over the course of at least four years, constructing one building right now and focusing on bringing in freshmen and perhaps some sophomores next year. As enrollment grows, more facilities will be built.

“Right now, based on our enrollment patterns for the last 10-15 years, we could probably get about 80 or 90 students in a boarding program total,” Michell says. “If that happens, great. If we get 30 or 40 students, then that’s fine, too. We’re not going to build enough space for 80 or 90 kids from the start.”

And the school has the space to expand. Located on 83 acres, the first building will have 16,000 square feet of indoor space and will accommodate 32 students. If the school gets an overwhelmingly positive response, he says, the school will start building out the next phase quickly. If response is a little slower, it will wait a year or two.

“It’ll be state of the art,” Vinson says. “Part of our research process was going around to other boarding schools, both locally in Tennessee – there’s a few in Chattanooga, predominantly – and then going to the Northeast and visiting a lot of other schools which serve students with learning difficulties.

“And just seeing their spaces and getting a feel for what it’s going to take to pull off a program like this, we feel pretty confident that our space is going to be right in line with, if not better than, other schools who are doing the same thing.”

There are more changes happening on campus. The school has a partnership with the Nashville Soccer Club, and on one side of the campus there is construction of a massive soccer complex with three full-length fields and a half field that will be the Nashville Soccer Club’s practice facility until its stadium is built. Afterward, it will turn into a soccer academy and facility space for youth leagues.

Individualized learning a draw

Curry Ingram school serves students in grades K-12 with average to superior intelligence with learning differences, particularly in reading (dyslexia), writing (dysgraphia), math (dyscalculia), memory (long-term and working), processing speed, ADHD, executive functioning challenges or other learning differences that prevent academically capable students from achieving success in an educational setting, says Joanne Mamenta, Currey Ingram’s director of communications.

It’s this specialized approach that has become such a draw for parents.

“If your child is struggling with dyslexia or school-related anxiety, or attention deficit disorder is significantly hampering their learning, and where they’re at is not doing a good enough job at educating your child, that’s where Currey Ingram Academy comes in,” Mitchell says. “That’s why families move from across the country. They have a transformational experience here.”

It’s why families will sacrifice trips and dip into retirement savings to help their child succeed.

“If you didn’t observe too closely, you may not notice the difference,” Mitchell adds. “But the model is intensive, evidence-based instruction to very small groups of students over an extended period of time using the best-trained faculty that we can have.

“It takes is a lot of resources, a lot of training, intensity and duration. It takes a really good teacher with three or four kids in a classroom, an hour to an hour and a half a day of focused instruction, to remediate that deficit the student has.”

Mitchell says the core idea of providing an individualized and personalized program, or the core idea that these kids need something different than the traditional instructional approach, has been there right since 1968. It has just been refined over the years as more brain-based research has been done.

“We take into account whether the student has anxiety issues, has attention deficit disorder, is adopted and had significant early-life trauma. Knowing about all of those backgrounds and how to react appropriately is the key to what we do,” Mitchell says.

Tuition at Currey Ingram is about $43,000 a year. The boarding program will be $69,000 for a year and will operate traditionally like other boarding schools with students moving in a week before school begins and moving out at the end of the school year.

Vinson says they are actively seeking students and taking enrollment requests but have yet to sign anyone up yet – not for lack of interest, he says, but because it is a brand-new program.

The school also is working on rebranding what it means to be at a boarding school, pushing back against the perception that it would be for children with discipline problems.

“I think one of our greatest challenges will be rebranding what it means to be a part of a boarding community,” Vinson says. “And that’s why we’re using a lot of the same language that we use with our day program and what we can do for students with learning differences.

“We want to maximize their potential. We want to strengthen their strengths. We want to celebrate them every step of the way and help them reach that person that we know they can be if they’re accommodated and instructed in the right way.”

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