Today, we’re giving a HIGH FIVE! to Lori Dyer, an exceptional thinker and co-founder of the Believers Academy, a charter school in Palm Beach, Florida. Lori and her team of skillful and passionate educators give second chances to local middle and high school students at risk of dropping out of school. These students may have low IQs, intense behavioral issues or severe learning disabilities, but their challenges do not stop them from getting ahead. Since 2004, 97% of students attending Believers Academy are gainfully employed. Now that’s an achievement to celebrate!
For students who lack basic reading and math skills, getting a GED or finding a job seems unachievable. Academic failure often leads to low self-esteem and isolation, unproductive choices and non-compliance for schools. Sadly, students, their families, the community and society suffer the consequences.
But, specialized educators at the Believers Academy have a mission to reverse this downward spiral. They carefully plan each student’s IEP to meet their academic and interest level by fusing transition with academia, independent living and career-readiness skills.
The Individuals with Disabilities Act of 2004 (IDEA), developed by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs, includes two mandates for public schools who serve students with IEPs, age 16 and above. The mandates, known as Indicators 13 and 14, focus on transition planning, requiring documentation of appropriate and measurable goals for students after they leave high school. Plans cover data driven assessments, transition services, courses of study, training, independent living skills, transportation, and reasonable employment options. Indicator 14 requires states to report the percentage of youth that are no longer in secondary school or who have an ineffective IEP in place.
To meet IDEA and Indicator 13, the Believers Academy chose Project Discovery a flexible career-readiness transition curriculum to address multiple levels of abilities for beginning, intermediate and advanced learners.
Project Discovery offers more than 100 career exploration courses, including relevant tools for hands-on activities. Students learn about vocations that peak their interests and each career program can be presented on iPads and smartboards. Assessments help to guide teachers’ instruction and document work performance benchmarks. This transition data is important to assure students’ IEPs are effective and the school is legally compliant – a critical pathway to independence and employment.
Today, Believer Academy students repair scooters and automobiles. They work in retail, hotels and offices. They build structures, do inventory in shipping companies and create beautiful green spaces. They work in healthcare, animal care and food services. Some have graduated from post-secondary institutions with certifications in Auto Mechanics, Cosmetology, Health Care Aids, Security Officers, and Culinary professions. Their education and paying job helps to make them feel successful and productive. They have broken free of the thought that dropping out of school was their only choice.
To keep local job opportunities viable for students, Lori and her team work closely with businesses to tailor internships and full or part-time employment. Some students job shadow; others get hands-on practice in trades. Hours and pay are regulated by state and federal laws and transportation is key to help them maintain independent living.
There’s a saying that, ‘All great discoveries are made by men and women whose feelings run ahead of their thinking,’ and Lori Dyer and her team are some of those extraordinary people. They believe that there is no greater reward than to see young adults who were once destined to fail, now serving their community with great pride.
We are moved by their optimism, resilience, persistence, and dedication and praise them with a HIGH FIVE!