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Legacy School in process of expansion

In October of last year, The Legacy School, which is located in the heart of Eldersburg, broke ground on an addition that will double its student capacity. The construction is scheduled to be completed in May of this year.

"The new building could not be built fast enough to serve the needs of our community," said Jamie Caplan, one of the school's cofounders and the current principal and superintendent.

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Legacy is one of three schools in Maryland and the only one in Carroll County that focuses on students with dyslexia and other language-based learning disabilities.

Caplan said that even though the school has only been open for three years, there is already a waiting list to get into the school.

"Currently, the school has 33 students with five classrooms and six tutoring rooms," Caplan said. "The new building will be attached to our current building and will include six additional teaching classrooms/1-on-1 tutoring rooms, a computer lab and a commons room that is over 600 square feet with 20-foot ceilings."

Caplan was a special education attorney who represented families who were struggling to receive the proper services for their children.

During her four years of practicing law, she said she witnessed the shortcomings of the public school system as it related to dyslexic students and realized that a re-evaluation of their methods was necessary.

"The model is the student must fail first before they can get special services," Caplan said. "Before a child can get the help they need, a parent or teacher must request that special testing is performed. It must be shown that the student is resistant to standard methods, so by the time that a child begins to receive their specialized teaching they may already be two or even three years behind other students their age."

She said she also noticed that the failure of the school system had effects on the children that went beyond impeding their education.

"The child can internalize that frustration and it becomes an emotional issue rather than just a learning issue."

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Eventually, with the help of a few dedicated families, she was able to establish The Legacy School.

"For years I thought about the idea of creating a school, but finding The Legacy School location is what made it possible," Caplan said. "An initial group of seven families who wanted to do something turned into 17 children at the opening of the school."

The School is in its third year now, and the number of students has risen from 17 to 33. Caplan currently employs 15 teachers so that the school can maintain its nearly 2:1 student to teacher ratio.

Diane Simms, a teacher at the school who has also been diagnosed with dyslexia, taught in the Carroll County public school system before joining Legacy. She said she believes that the reason children with language-based learning disabilities are not getting the help they need is because the methods employed by the public school system are simply not designed to teach dyslexic children.

"The problem isn't the faculty of the public schools," Simms said. "People with dyslexia use a different part of the brain when reading. The reading programs in the county are not sequential enough, multi-sensory enough and phonologically awareness-based enough."

The Legacy School utilizes a method called "benchmarking," which enables its staff to focus on exactly what each student needs.

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"Our students have different levels of severity," Simms said. "Issues that relate to dyslexia include working memory, processing speed and articulation problems, to name a few."

According to Simms, one of the reasons that Legacy is so successful at teaching these children is because each student is taught individually as well as in small groups.

"The main difference between Legacy and the public school system is we can assess exactly what the child's weaknesses are and their particular learning style," Simms said. "In a public school, though there may be two or three reading groups - low, medium and high - no matter where the child is placed, they are all given the same instruction regardless of needs."

The school uses two main methods to teach their students: the LIPS program, which teaches the students how to form the sounds of speech with their lips, tongue and teeth; and the Orton-Gillingham approach, which is multi-sensory and sequential in nature.

"Orton-Gillingham is a method that breaks down the English language into it smallest parts," Caplan said. "We teach as slow as we have to, but as fast as we can."

Tracey Nastos is a member of one of the founding families of Legacy and said she believes that without the school, her daughter Annie, 14, would never have received the proper education.

"If it was not for those teachers, my child would never have learned how to study, read or do mathematics," Nastos said. "They make my daughter feel very good about herself and what she can do."

For Nastos, the relationships formed between the teachers and their students are just as important as the methods employed by the school.

"I owe the school more than words can say," she said. "All the teachers are absolutely amazing and they truly care about each student and you see it every day. This is Annie's last year there and then on to high school. I know the school will still be there for us with advice when needed about the transition."

According to the Dyslexia Research Institute, 10 to 15 percent of the U.S. population suffers from dyslexia. However, only five percent ever receive the proper assistance. With the addition, Legacy will be able to provide that assistance to more children that are falling behind in the public school system.

Caplan also said that the school will be hiring teachers to maintain the 2:1 teacher to student ratio.

"I don't like to turn people away, so I decided to add on," Caplan wrote in an email. "Next year we plan to add more students, simply because we want to serve as many kids as we are able. It is very rewarding to watch these children grow."

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