Construction is underway on a transitional school for children with dyslexia that is adjacent to Mercer’s Macon campus. Roberts Academy at Mercer University, which was announced last November, is being constructed, equipped and endowed through a major gift commitment by Hal and Marjorie Roberts of Lakeland, Florida. A groundbreaking ceremony was held on March 23.
The Academy will be affiliated with Mercer’s Tift College of Education and will be the only school of its kind in Georgia outside of Atlanta.
“Every year, millions of children in this country are diagnosed with dyslexia, the most common cause of reading, writing and spelling challenges. With early screening, early diagnosis, early evidence-based reading intervention and appropriate accommodations, dyslexic individuals can become highly successful,” Mercer President William D. Underwood said during the Nov. 10 announcement. “People like Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, Leonardo da Vinci, Walt Disney, Steve Jobs and Pablo Picasso were dyslexic. Several American presidents were also dyslexic.”
Opening in the fall of 2024, Roberts Academy will initially serve as many as 80 students in grades two through five, with potential to expand enrollment and grade levels served.
The Academy is being built off Linden Avenue, near the Mercer Outdoor Recreation Complex and two blocks from Tattnall Square Park.
“It is very important to the Roberts family and to the University that Roberts Academy be affordable for families with dyslexic children,” Underwood said. “Thanks to the extraordinary generosity of Hal and Marjorie Roberts, we will be able to achieve that objective.”
Modeled after the successful Roberts Academy at Florida Southern College in Lakeland, the mission of Roberts Academy at Mercer University is to prepare students with dyslexia to achieve academic success through dynamic educational programs.
“We are elated that Mercer University understands our dream of sharing the appropriate method of teaching children in Middle Georgia who have dyslexia. Having experienced our grandchildren’s early struggles and their later achievements, and those of hundreds of children at the Academy in Lakeland, we feel compelled to help others accomplish the same success,” said Hal Roberts. “We have experienced parents in tears of frustration and been with them two weeks later as they were thrilled over their child’s immediate acceptance by children with the same challenges and their early progress in school.”
Roberts Academy will teach a comprehensive curriculum using the Orton-Gillingham approach, a specialized learning method clinically proven to help students with dyslexia. Applied in the Academy’s classroom, the Orton-Gillingham approach will engage students in action-oriented learning that combines auditory, visual and physical movement elements to teach basic concepts of reading, writing and spelling across the curriculum.
Students can attend Roberts Academy until they have mastered the skills to accommodate their learning differences and are prepared to succeed in a traditional school setting.
“Roberts Academy’s curriculum will follow the Georgia Standards for Excellence. Students will learn and demonstrate competencies in mathematics, science, social studies, art, music and physical education, along with reading, writing and spelling,” said Dr. Thomas Koballa, dean of the College of Education. “As a transitional school, we aim to prepare students with the understanding, skills and confidence to succeed in a traditional public or independent school. I also envision Roberts Academy as a hub for teacher professional development about dyslexia.”
Joy Wood assumed responsibility as Roberts Academy’s founding head of school on July 1, coming from Marietta-based GRACEPOINT School, a private, specialized Christian school for dyslexic learners, where she served as head of school since 2015. She also has served as elementary principal at the Wesleyan School in Atlanta, as well as director of curriculum and a fourth-grade teacher at Christ the King Catholic School in Atlanta.
“I am sincerely honored and grateful to serve as the founding head of Roberts Academy at Mercer University,” Wood said. “The partnership with Mercer University is invaluable to implementing the school’s mission and will allow us to provide significant opportunities in all program areas.
“At Roberts Academy we will empower dyslexic learners with knowledge and skills to remediate their reading difficulties, and just as important we will guide them to embrace the many gifts that their dyslexia provides beyond daily academics. In my career I have been fortunate to witness firsthand the positive impact that a school dedicated to children with dyslexia can have on a child’s life and family,” she said. “The students at Roberts Academy will not only learn how to read, but their self-esteem will improve as they grow into confident learners. The culture at Roberts Academy will be one of optimism, inspiration and encouragement as the students learn how to take risks in a safe and loving environment.”
Wood holds a Master of Arts in Education from Central Michigan University and a Bachelor of Science in Education from Millsaps College in Mississippi.
For more information or inquiries by families of prospective students, prospective employees or others, visit robertsacademy.org.
This story originally was published in the Fall 2023 issue of The Mercerian.