Education
5:00 am
Tue December 4, 2012

Gow School tackles dyslexia and language-based learning difficulties; adds female students

One of the world's oldest boarding schools is in our own back yard  -- the Gow School in South Wales.  It provides special teaching methods for boys in 7th through 12th grade who suffer with dyslexia and language-based learning difficulties. 

WBFO's Eileen Buckley recently visited the school and learned that for the first time in its 87-year history, Gow is now accepting female students.

"This year we are pretty excited to tell you we have three day students that are female," said
Brad Rogers, Gow headmaster.  

Gow headmaster Brad Rogers with a student
Credit WBFO News photos by Eileen Buckley

Rogers has been headmaster at Gow for the last nine years.  There are nearly 150 students at the college preparatory school from all over the world.  Students are from 28 states, representing 26 counties. 

"Including countries like Sri Lanka, Barbados and Canada," said Rogers.

What is it that students can't find at other schools?

"Our main thing is remediation of learning disabilities," said Rogers.  "Classrooms with four and five students in them each, so there's nowhere to hide. Students are constantly getting very specific language instruction. How to develop reading and writing skills, spelling skills, public speaking skills."

There's a 4 to 1-student to faculty ratio.  A phonics based program, known as reconstructive language, provides the key to learning for the students.

"If you have dyslexia or learning disability, we are going to identify your strengths and develop that," said Rogers.  "We are also going to identify your academic weakness." 

"Definitely the smaller classrooms.  You get more one-on-one with the teacher. There's no way to hide in the classrooms.  You always have to answer questions," said student Shelby Balcom of East Aurora. 

It is a curriculum that is working for sophomore Balcom, one of the first girls to enroll at Gow.  She attended the school's summer camp and realized it was the help she needed.

"So her plea to me was 'I would like to come to the Gow School," said Rogers. "It took me.  A 14-year-old young lady, almost in tears, struggling.  To be the only rescue ship, if you will, in the Niagara River, I'm not driving past that." 

Balcom is a former East Aurora High School student who continued to struggled academically. But now in her second semester she is enjoying learning.

"There's more focus here on everything," said Balcom.  She said she improved in her essay writing and reading.

"My reading level went right up after being here," said Balcom.  And she doesn't feel uncomfortable being only one of a few young women attending Gow.

"Not at all," said Balcom.  "I feel completely comfortable with it.  

Whiteboard inside a Gow classroom
Credit WBFO News photos by Eileen Buckley

When asked what it would be like if she was still at her former school, Balcome stated, "sitting in class, struggling to pay attention."

But it's not a cheap option -- tuition is as high as some colleges at $54,000 a year.  Still, local parents are making the commitment to the college prep school.  Victor Mohney is a junior at Gow.  The former Holland School student struggled with reading and spelling, but now that's all improved and his favorite class is physics.

"It's helped a lot.  My reading and everything," said Mohney.

Jason Ganje  of Cheektowaga is a also a junior. Before coming to Gow, reading and writing were difficult for him to achieve. 

"I wasn't getting the right help I needed," said Ganje.

Lynn Chafin teaches tenth grade reconstructive language.  The small classrooms allow her to focus on students individual learning needs.

Lynn Chafin teaches tenth grade reconstructive language
Credit Photo provided by Gayle E. Hutton : Director of Development at the Gow School

"I'm able to figure out what they need exactly, and work on it in the classroom. So it is really powerful for me," said Chafin. 

"As far as remediation, it is important to start young," said Chafin.

In one of the small classrooms on the large Gow campus, teacher John Simms was working with students on reconstructive language.

Gow teacher John Simms
Credit WBFO News photos by Eileen Buckley

Simms is also a Gow graduate.

"Where we have a 116 phonics cards," said Simms.

For the young men in the classroom , they were enjoying their lesson, each saying it is making a difference in their daily learning.

Students talk about learning at the Gow School
Credit Photo provided by Gayle E. Hutton : Director of Development at the Gow School