Marva Collins, founder of Westside Preparatory School in Chicago, wrote, “Every achievement of humankind is valuable, and every child’s soul is damaged when we fail to demand that he achieve. Our children don’t need tags, measures, inkblot tests. They are screaming for a curriculum that challenges their minds.” Marva Collins taught classically and she welcomed students with learning challenges.

Over twenty years ago, I sought to follow Marva Collins’ encouragement by enrolling my children in a classical school. The sole classical school in our area could not accept my children due to their special needs. We appreciated the honest response and became grateful for the homeschooling that resulted; nonetheless we have since felt gratified to see an expanding movement among classical schools to open doors to children with special needs without compromising the vigorous education and high standards for all students. By creating a welcoming school culture, headmasters and teachers help families meet children’s unique challenges with great and lasting impact.

We share here three models. Each holds to high academic expectations while embracing children with challenging learning needs. The first provides a special one-day separate program for students with special needs. The second offers two days per week as a startup co-op within a church congregation. The third initiated a Resource Program and integrates students with special needs into four-day-a-week classrooms with support as needed.

At Holy Family Academy, an independent private school in Manassas, Virginia, the faculty and staff believe that parents are the primary educators of their children, morally and intellectually. The mission is to assist parents by training children rigorously in the liberal arts, immersing them in the classic texts of the Western canon, and preparing them to live with God at the center of their lives. The school hosts St. Anne’s Program, a one-day-a-week classical education opportunity for children with Down syndrome and teaches from the Simply Classical Curriculum. Highlighted in the National Catholic Register, St. Anne’s Program serves children ages 8 to 18 with Down syndrome and states these purposes: 

  • To provide support for homeschooling parents and to grow our service to children with Down syndrome as the Lord wills.
  • To provide an opportunity for spiritual development and connection with the true, good, and beautiful and to provide a classroom and cohort experience with opportunities for fellowship & friendship other students at Holy Family Academy. 

The teacher at St. Anne’s Program has a younger brother with Down syndrome. Her motto is simple: “Joy is the secret of the Christian” (G.K. Chesterton).

Hope Lutheran Classical Co-op in Spokane, Washington, is a new two-day per week gathering of largely homeschooling families, some of whom have children with special needs. Some families drive over 60 miles to attend. The opening of Morning Prayer and chapel includes singing from Memoria Press’ Lingua Angelica. A deaconess who homeschooled her boys classically teaches several subjects. The church organist gives piano lessons to many of the students. Students share in Myself & Others: Lessons in Social Understanding, Habits, & Manners (a Simply Classical resource from Memoria Press). Throughout the day they enjoy physical education, Aesop dramas, and Christian friendship.

Saint Joseph Academy in San Marcos, California, had a long history of being a high-achieving, classical-curriculum, Catholic school. When the school sought to provide learning supports beyond tutoring for students with special needs, an experienced Resource Support Director was hired with the aim of remaining consistent with the school’s mission statement and classical curriculum. The director of this resource program attended Simply Classical professional development seminars last summer. After exploring and then teaching from the Memoria Press special-needs curriculum she shared this: 

“I was impressed by the quality of repetition, the integration
of oral language, and the pacing. I found that the rich quality literature,
God-honoring texts and classical learning fell in line with our school’s
current curriculum. I liked the slow pace and continuous review, which is particularly important in laying down a solid foundation, especially in the area of phonics. I found Memoria Press is the most cost-effective fit for our students in both of these categories: new students who have IEP’s and/or special needs and returning students who have displayed a learning disability or difficulties with learning in the general education classroom.”

Classical Latin School Association is pleased to announce that Cheryl Swope, M.Ed., has joined forces with the Memoria Press Schools Division to assist with improving education for struggling students or students with special needs. If you would like assistance starting a new program or strengthening your existing educational services, contact 

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