When Maggie Kennedy looks at her son, Chris, a college student, she can hardly believe he’s the same boy who failed seventh grade.

Today, in addition to attending school and working, he’s talking about a future in telecommunications or fiber optics.

None of that would have been possible, Kennedy says, if she hadn’t found a school that focused on his special learning needs and helped him develop academically.

“After Chris had so much trouble in the seventh grade, we had him tested for learning disabilities because his father has dyslexia (a reading impairment),” Kennedy says.

“It turned out that Chris had difficulties learning math and also had attention deficit disorder.”

The Kennedys, like many other families who have children with special needs, decided to send Chris to a private school.

At first, Kennedy says she was skeptical about the decision.

“I thought it would cost a fortune, and we would have to drive a long way,” she says. “I didn’t even realize that Dallas Academy was just a few blocks away.”

After visiting the school, interviewing the staff and other parents and having Chris visit for a few days, they decided to apply for admission.

Dallas Academy, located near White Rock Lake, is designed for students in grades seven through twelve who have learning disabilities. In order to qualify for admission, disabilities must be indicated through tests such as the one Chris took.

“He thrived from the beginning,” Kennedy says. “Dallas Academy was a marvelous, beautiful, warm experience. That tiny school made those kids feel special and that they had a chance in life. It’s very easy for a kid in a big school to get overlooked.

“Classes were small, and the teachers were specially trained to help kids with learning problems by using a variety of teaching methods.”

After three years at Dallas Academy, Chris decided he wanted to attend public school again. He and his teachers thought he could handle going back into a big, multifaceted environment, so he enrolled at Bryan Adams High School.

“He did fine, he worked hard and he graduated from Bryan Adams on time,” Kennedy says. “But I don’t think he could have done it without the three years at Dallas Academy. It definitely was worth the extra money.”

Jim Richardson, director of Dallas Academy, says that because his school is geared for students who have had difficulty in other academic environments, parents tend to have a lot of questions.

They want to know not only whether the school can help their child, but also about the transfer of high school credits to and from Dallas Academy and how many years it may take for their child to graduate.

Parents also are concerned about the reading curriculum, how many students go on to attend college, whether the school can help students prepare for college entrance exams, and whether there is guidance about selecting the appropriate college.

Richardson says 95 percent of the school’s graduates attend college, and some even begin taking college courses part-time while attending Dallas Academy.

“The interesting thing is that a lot of our kids may have a learning difference in one area but a great gift in another,” Richardson says.