Triumphing Over Dyslexia

Photography by Jordan Weiland

“I. Itch. Ih. G. Goat. Guh.” In a fourth-grade classroom, the teacher holds up an illustrated card and the children instinctively recite what they see: a letter, an object, and a sound. On their desks, the students trace the letters they see in order to create the muscle memory that solidifies the concept. It seems simple: learning letter sounds. But, for children at The Roberts Academy, nothing about reading has ever been easy.
Dyslexia, a neurological disorder that causes the brain to process and interpret information differently than that of a nondyslexic brain, is the most common cause of reading difficulty. From PBS’s Misunderstood Minds, “Contrary to popular misconception, dyslexia is not characterized by letter or word reversal. In fact, dyslexia is a language-processing difficulty caused by the inability to break words into phonemes. Experts estimate that dyslexia affects as many as 15 percent of all Americans. Recent studies show a neurobiological basis for dyslexia, suggesting the potential for early diagnosis and new forms of treatment. This research describes a biological cause of the disorder; evidence that dyslexia does not reflect lack of intelligence, or attention, or effort.” In fact, children and adults with dyslexia are often highly gifted in other areas. However, when reading is a struggle, school is a struggle. When school is a struggle, a snowball of other difficulties accumulates: low self-esteem, frustration, withdrawn behavior, and more.
RobertsAcademy-75Inspired by their grandchildren, Hal and Marjorie Roberts saw a need to provide resources to children with dyslexia in Central Florida. So, in 2006, the Roberts generously underwrote The Roberts Center for Learning and Literacy to provide “targeted professional development in reading instruction.” Shortly thereafter, the dream of a transitional school began to take shape and quickly became a reality. In the fall of 2010, The Roberts Academy opened its doors in the old Methodist Building on McDonald Place (now Frank Lloyd Wright Way) with three classrooms and a big vision to teach students how to triumph over the challenge of dyslexia.
Led by the dynamic and inspiring Dr. Tracey Tedder, Dean of Education at Florida Southern College, The Roberts Academy is Florida’s first and only transitional school for children with dyslexia. It is an engaging, warm, friendly place where children are eager to learn. “Many parents recognize immediate progress in their child — often within the first week of school. Students regularly report an instant sense of belonging and of being ‘understood’ by classmates and teachers— a revelation that significantly reduces emotional stress, leaving students free to focus on learning” (

Led by the dynamic and inspiring Dr. Tracey Tedder, Dean of Education at Florida Southern College, The Roberts Academy is Florida’s first and only transitional school for children with dyslexia.

Today, the school is thriving and has grown to 11 classrooms serving students in grades two through six. Many students are Lakelanders, but some come from as far away as Tampa, Clermont, Polk City, and Orlando. One family even moved to Central Florida from Arizona just so their child could attend The Roberts Academy. A strategic mix of low student-teacher ratios, inspiring student success stories, regular communications with parents, highly trained teachers, and a specific teaching methodology combine to make The Roberts Academy a school of choice for students with dyslexia.
Through the Orton-Gillingham Approach to learning, students overcome their challenges. Orton-Gillingham is a multisensory, language-based method that focuses on student success and specific learning styles and is a proven method in treating dyslexia. At The Roberts Academy, Orton-Gillingham is woven through the entire academic portfolio: science, reading, social studies, math, and more. In addition to core academics, students receive tennis or soccer lessons, regular opportunities to explore the treasures on the campus of Florida Southern College, and 20-minute brain breaks in the sunshine every day.
With no more than 12 students in a classroom, teachers deliver individualized and focused instruction. Roberts Academy teachers are highly trained professionals who love their work and are passionate educators who hold master’s degrees or higher, are certified by the Department of Education, and are Orton-Gillingham certified instructors. These masterful teachers create a learning environment where success is both possible and celebrated; they are the reason Roberts Academy’s students are excited about learning.
Tuition at The Roberts Academy, a private, tuition-based school, is $7,000 per year. However, through generous donations and fundraising efforts, scholarship opportunities are available for qualified families. The school also accepts the McKay Scholarship, which allows parents of students with learning disabilities to select the school that best suits their child’s learning needs. (McKay Scholarships usually offset the cost of tuition but rarely fully fund it.)
It takes about two years for Roberts to work their magic and see students thrive in their home schools (though, some students opt to stay at Roberts through sixth grade). Once a student completes The Roberts Academy program, the staff creates a tailored transition plan for that student. Roberts commits to working with the student’s new classroom teacher, providing ongoing professional development and other support services for the student.
In addition to the full-day school program, The Roberts Academy offers after-school tutoring in reading and spelling for struggling students of all ages (kindergarten through 12th grade) as well as a summer reading camp. Students from any school, whether they’ve attended Roberts or not, can benefit from the successful Roberts program through these options.
Scientists are discovering new things about the human brain every day, which is leading to the development of new and successful strategies for improving reading skills. The Roberts Academy is on the cutting edge of this latest research, implementing proven approaches and delivering hope to children who were previously hindered by their struggle. For today’s 102 students at The Roberts Academy, their futures are bright. The world is theirs to discover any way they choose, even in a book.
You are invited to attend The Roberts Academy Mother’s Day Lunch featuring Jenna Bush Hager, author of Read All About It!
Wednesday, May 6, 2015
Call 863.680.4754 for more
information and to reserve tickets.
The Roberts Academy
Florida Southern College
1140 Frank Lloyd Wright Way
Lakeland, FL 33801
For more information, visit:
or call 863.680.3741