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School, museum an artful match


A NEW SCHOOL opens in Baltimore today - in a museum.

The Lab School of Washington, a respected school for children with learning disabilities, opens its first branch in the Port Discovery "kid-powered" children's museum near the Inner Harbor. Eighteen kids, ages 7 to 10, are expected.

It seems a perfect fit. The Lab School employs all the art forms to teach pupils with learning disabilities. Port Discovery is a "hands-on" museum chock-full of art that children can see, hear, feel, even taste and smell.

Museum and school came together when Kathy Dwyer Southern, president of Port Discovery, heard that the Lab School was looking for a satellite campus not too far from Washington. She also knew of the international reputation of Sally L. Smith, the school's founder. "Our educational philosophies absolutely mesh," says Southern.

Smith, director of the school since its founding in 1967, heard Port Discovery had "banked" space it would lease at nonprofit rates. She's also a friend of Rebecca Hoffberger, founder and director of the American Visionary Arts Museum, another institution the Lab School plans to incorporate in its program (along with the National Aquarium, the Living Classrooms Foundation and Maryland Science Center, all a short walk or ride from Port Discovery).

"There are just an amazing number of resources in downtown Baltimore," says Smith, who founded the Lab School in 1967 when she realized her 6-year-old son had a learning disability.

In those days, Smith remembers, parents were on their own. They didn't have organizations like the Baltimore-based International Dyslexia Association as a resource, nor did they have schools such as Baltimore's Odyssey and Baltimore County's Jemicy. And they had to overcome an impression that their children, often of above-average intelligence, were retarded.

Smith created a system of ascending "clubs" in which elementary school-age kids spend part of the day learning history, anthropology and geography. First-graders, for example, alternate between reading and a Cave Club, where they paint their own caves, wear false animal skins and learn about the Stone Age.

"First-graders are prehistoric, anyway," says Smith with a chuckle.

Seven-year-olds at the Baltimore Lab School will alternate between reading and a Gods Club. In a thematically decorated room, they'll learn of the myths, geography, history, physics and literature of ancient Egypt, addressing each other by their god names. They'll hop over the Nile River, running down the center of the room.

Later this year they'll study ancient Greek and Roman gods.

Attached with its own door to the Port Discovery museum exhibits, the Lab School will have the run of the place, says Southern. "We'll learn from their kids," she says, "and we'll learn from their teachers. There's a staff-to-staff element here that I'm excited about."

The Lab School will start small, with 18 tuition-paying kids, seven full-time and two part-time staff, says Tanee Trivedy, the Baltimore coordinator. Tuition - $18,000 a year plus another $1,000 for testing and other services - isn't cheap, but it's competitive with the rates at other special needs schools in the area.

Eventually, Lab School officials hope to diversify its enrollment with referrals from area public schools.

Jemicy School, the granddaddy of special-needs schools, and the newer Odyssey both welcomed the Lab School, says Smith. No reason to feel threatened: Area schools for children with learning disabilities have long waiting lists. "We welcome the Lab School," says Ellen Kelly, head of the Jemicy School in Owings Mills. "Sally Smith has a great reputation, but we all do things differently. I'll be anxious to see how they do it."

Bush denies dyslexia behind 'tortured syntax'

"Mag Asks: Bush Dyslexic?" rang out the headline in yesterday's New York Daily News.

It seems that author Gail Sheehy, in an article in the October issue of Vanity Fair, attributes George W. Bush's "tortured syntax and verbal howlers" to dyslexia, the neurological disorder addressed at the Lab School.

Sheehy also speculates that Bush has attention-deficit disorder.

Bush denied it. So did his staff. Sheehy confused George with his brother, Neil, who does have dyslexia, said one campaign staff member.

"In the case of this story, fiction is stranger than truth," said spokeswoman Karen Hughes.


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