Buffalo Grove woman heads new private high school opening in Chicago

Buffalo Grove woman's institution will help teens with 'learning differences'

Updated 3/7/2013 7:16 PM
  • Miriam Pike

    Miriam Pike

  • This is a sketch of the Wolcott School, opening this fall in Chicago, a private college prep high school to serve students with reading disabilities such as dyslexia.

    This is a sketch of the Wolcott School, opening this fall in Chicago, a private college prep high school to serve students with reading disabilities such as dyslexia. Courtesy of Wolcott School

Buffalo Grove resident Miriam Pike is on the ground floor of something she feels is unique in education in the Chicago area.

Pike is the founding head of the Wolcott School, an independent college-preparatory high school for teens with learning differences such as dyslexia and other language-based learning issues.

The school is accepting applications from students throughout the Chicago area who will be entering freshman and sophomore years in September 2013.

For Pike, the former chairman of special education at Deerfield High School, it is a departure from her accustomed educational environment.

Wolcott is not a charter school or a magnet school affiliated with the Chicago Public School system. It is an independent nonprofit school that will start with about 40 students after several years spent by organizers raising $8 million in funding.

"We are a private school with a public purpose," said Wolcott Trustee Don Monroe, past head of school at Frances Parker in Chicago and former superintendent of the New Trier High School district in Winnetka.

"One of the great features of the school is that we have small class sizes for everyone," said Pike. The average class size will be 10 students per class, with a student-to-teacher ratio of 8-1.

Pike said she is charged up about the opportunity.

"It's interesting, because it's probably a dream of every educator to be in the position to design their own school," based on their experience and knowledge of best practices in the field, she said. "I'm fortunate enough to be in that position, so it's very exciting."

Pike said the classes will emphasize group collaboration, focusing on each student's strengths.

There will also be experiential learning that takes advantage of the school's proximity to theaters, museums, businesses and universities. And there will be creative hands-on approaches to advanced subjects like physics.

The tuition for the 2013-2014 school year is $37,500, the school's website says, and tuition assistance is available.

Beginning in freshman year, Wolcott students will learn to use assistive technologies, such as text readers for those who struggle with written language.

Pike said such technologies along with Wolcott's emphasis on creativity and critical thinking will help students to excel in traditional college classes and in the workplace.

"We're using the phrase 'learning differences' rather than 'disabilities' because we really are a strength-focused school," Pike said.

She explained that the school will collect information about the student's learning from previous schools -- from them, from their families and from people who have worked with them. Then, through a team approach, the school will design a learning plan for each student based upon that student's strengths, as well as their goals and aspirations.

One of the school's advisers, Pearl Rieger, a psychoeducational diagnostician who has been practicing for 40 years and is one of the founders of the Rush Neurobehavioral Center, said the school has been a dream of hers. She said it will prepare students for college, both socially and academically.

"We will have a complete staff. We will have people who will deal with social issues, as well as academic issues. There are programs within high schools, but they are not schools where they individualize the program for every child and teach to their strengths and remediate their weaknesses," she said.

Pike said she has long held an interest in children with learning differences. Her educational background includes a doctorate from Northwestern University, where she focused on learning disabilities. Her area of research looked at what kind of attributes made high school youths with learning differences successful, compared to those who weren't.

"In the field of learning disabilities, oftentimes the field would focus on what was wrong with people and not what their strengths were," she said. "To be connected to a school (with the mission of focusing on strengths) is just incredible. I think we're going to make our mark in the Chicago area, but also nationally in terms of the way we think about educating kids who learn differently."

The school is housed in the former Union League Club for Boys in Ukrainian Village located at 524 N. Wolcott Ave., northwest of the Loop. An open house for prospective families is 2 p.m. Sunday, March 10. The school's website is at wolcottschool.org.

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