By BRIAN WALKER
POST FALLS — Samuel Schmidt tackled math hard in school on Tuesday, but he wasn't immersed in a textbook while doing so.
Rather, he was involved with a "one less" math exercise involving a bingo sheet at the new private Wired2Learn Academy in the former Crossroads Dance Club on Highway 41 in Post Falls.
After Samuel rolled the die, he'd pick the number on the sheet that was one less of what he'd rolled and mark it off until he reached a bingo.
That was an example of an exercise the project-based school uses to focus on students in the third through 12th grades with learning struggles.
"Their brain is functioning differently, but we can help fix the areas of weakness," said Alyssa Pukkila, founder of the academy. "It takes disciplined hard work, and we take where each child is at individually."
Pukkila said the for-profit school has been in the works for about three years and it is the first of its type between Seattle and Michigan. She is thrilled the academy is off the ground — October ironically is National Learning Disability Awareness Month — because there's a big need for its services.
"One in five kids struggle with a learning disability, and they're not getting the help they need," she said.
The school serves children with an average to above average IQ who are having a learning challenge or diagnosed learning disability such as, but not limited to, dyslexia, slow processing, memory weaknesses and oral and nonverbal learning disabilities.
Pukkila said the school is not set up to accept students who have severe IQ issues. However, she said the school staff expects all students to be dealing with some emotional and behavioral issues.
Pukkila said, unlike the traditional approach to learning disabilities that says a student with such conditions should simply learn how to compensate for weaknesses, the academy believes that with practice, weak areas of the brain can be improved and give students improved brain function. That, in turn, improves their ability to learn and thrive.
The cost for tuition is $20,000 per year, but families are thankful that the school started.
"They meet students where they are at educationally and emotionally and that's huge when you talk about learning," mother Kristin Parker said.
Grandmother Ann Palizzi said each student is tested and has their own education plan developed, so they're not competing for grades.
Wired2Learn features teachers who are certified through the Toronto-based Arrowsmith cognitive strengthening program. Mother Amy Hill said her family was ready to move to Toronto or the Seattle area before the school started.
"The fact that this school is here is a big deal for us," she said. "I was born and raised here and wasn't planning to move, but was willing to. People fly all over the world for their children."
Other exercises the school uses range from equine therapy to water testing that incorporates multiple disciplines into the projects.
Pukkila said the power of prayer helped launch the school as some individuals she didn't even know were among those who assisted with the up-front financing for the property along with Bob Crossman, the property's former owner, and Jerry Jensen.
"We're not a Christian school, but it's Christian-owned and operated and God is very much a part of this school," she said.
Pukkila's son, Noah, is dyslexic, but is now a sophomore at the University of Idaho majoring in physics.
"A learning issue doesn't have to hold you back if you're given the right help," she said, adding that she's in conversations with area colleges on requirements for graduates of the academy to enter those institutions.
School hours are Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:10 p.m. Students are given a break every 40 minutes and there is no homework.
The school, which has a staff of four, currently has 10 students but can accept up to 24.
An open house at the academy at 1800 N. Highway 41 will be held on Oct. 20 from 1 to 4 p.m. Howard Eaton, director of research for the Watson Center Society for Brain Health, will be the guest speaker.
For more information, call 208-699-6232 or visit wired2learnacademy.com.