The Sharon School in Nicholasville, Kentucky doesn’t advertise, and it accepts only 20 students at a time. Parents must pay $4,000 a year to send their children there.
But the school isn’t an academy for children of privilege. The Sharon School devotes itself exclusively to the needs of children and their parents struggling with the difficulties of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The school’s founder and teacher, Helen Sharon, holds class in her basement.
Sharon says she started the school as “a response to a gap in services” she discovered while raising her ADHD-diagnosed son.
“I found out that parents must be experts on both the medical and educational care of their child, but nobody helps them. They are alone,” she said.
Sharon, a former substitute teacher, said one of her goals is to educate parents on how to negotiate a school system ill-equipped to help ADHD children with the myriad difficulties they face.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, ADHD affects 3 to 5 percent of children in America. The principal characteristics of ADHD are inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.
Although ADHD kids have a normal intelligence level, their disorder leads to poor academic performance. Sharon says other children often single out kids with ADHD for teasing or bullying. Such difficulties often leave the affected children confused and depressed.
“I want to build these kids back up and give them the reality, not the myth, of the disorder,” Sharon says.
Easing into the Mainstream
Most students attend The Sharon School for one or two years, with the goal being to help ease them back into public schools.
Sharon believes her program succeeds because it creates an environment in which parents, the school, and a child’s physician communicate and work together–something she calls “The Sharon School Model.”
A big part of the model is behavior modification, providing children with incentives to control their impulses. While at school, kids earn points for turning assignments in on time and for good behavior. They lose points for late assignments and misbehavior.
After the school day, a child’s points determine whether he or she can enjoy certain privileges at home. Parents must be as strict in enforcing the system at home as Sharon is at school.
Earning High Marks
As a home school, there is no independent assessment to show that students at The Sharon School are learning and achieving at the same rate as kids in public schools. But parents and former students claim the personalized help they received from The Sharon School has led to marked improvement in behavior and abilities.
Ann Dawahare, a former student, now volunteers at The Sharon School.
“In my other schools nobody ever taught me like this. They didn’t know how to teach to ADHD,” said Dawahare, who recently completed her sophomore year at Lexington Community College. “Instead of punishing students for their failings, Helen teaches them how to focus and to learn.”
Randolph Z. Scott ([email protected]) is an intern at the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions in Bowling Green, Kentucky.
For more information …
For more information on teaching students with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, see “Time to Focus Correctly on ADHD,” September/October 2002, Intellectual Ammunition, http://www.heartland.org/Article.cfm?artId=10282.
The Sharon School was profiled by the Lexington Herald-Leader on June 5, 2005. The article is available online at http://www.kentucky.com/mld/kentucky/11818949.htm.