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This August, Dr. Laura Fiveash will stand at the doors of the Spring Valley School and welcome students into this special school’s new home. Located in the former Aldersgate Methodist Church on Lakeshore Parkway, the school has moved into its first permanent home. Its mission is personal to Executive Director Dr. Fiveash.
In addition to having a DrPH in maternal and child health, Dr. Fiveash is the mom of 15-year old triplets. Born at 26 weeks premature, the three — Nick, Jacob, and Hannah have varying levels of disabilities and abilities. Nick has multiple disabilities including cerebral palsy and epilepsy, Jacob has high-functioning autism, and Hannah has dyslexia, anxiety, and a mild hearing loss.
So Dr. Fiveash approaches running Spring Valley, which serves students with learning differences like dyslexia, dysgraphia and ADHD, from a deep well of personal and professional experience.
“I’ve walked in the footsteps of these parents, and know what it’s like to fight for a child’s life and education,” Dr. Fiveash says.
According to Dr. Fiveash, Spring Valley isn’t a match for all students. She originally explored the option for Jacob, but it turned out Hannah was a better match for the school. (Jacob and Nick are thriving at local public schools.) When Hannah was enrolled, Dr. Fiveash began serving as a volunteer and board member. “As a parent, I know how tough it can be to find the right setting for each child, and I want to make sure that we best serve our mission in supporting students with learning differences.”
Founded in 2000, the school is for children grades 2-12 with average to above average intelligence but challenges in the classroom. In other words — these are children who have the ability to learn, but may not thrive in traditional classroom settings.
The results can be devastating: for instance, in Alabama, 50% of students with dyslexia don’t graduate high school.
Spring Valley is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, but is different than a traditional public or private school. The differences include small class sizes (6-8 students) and a multi-sensory approach to learning. In addition to core curriculum, Spring Valley offers career preparation classes, which teach practical skills like web design and workplace etiquette, as well as ACT prep classes, a drama club, and new this year — a chess club.
Parental participation is key. The school works to keep tuition reasonable and is able to offer scholarships thanks to countless volunteer hours from parents, community members, and grants. This year Protective Life Corporation made its first gift.
“We do everything that we can to make the school affordable, to give as much of a chance to as many students,” Dr. Fiveash says. (This includes foregoing her own salary.) Having outgrown the former location at a Crestline church, she and fellow board members wrote more than 20 grants to help fund the purchase of the new building. Protective was among funders.
In addition to financial contributions, Protective employees donated over 250 hours over the course of five days in July, to paint, clean, and help ready the 27,000-square foot new building in time for the 2016-2017 school year.
Kate Cotton, Protective Life Corporation Vice President of Community Relations and Executive Director of The Protective Life Foundation, says the mission of Spring Valley School is one that resonates deeply.
“The children who attend this school can learn — they just have difficulty learning in traditional school settings,” Kate says. “Every child deserves a supportive environment that enhances his or her abilities, and there is no other program like this in Birmingham. Plus, Laura’s enthusiasm and passion are addictive, so it is very easy to become a devoted advocate of this incredible place.”
The student success stories are many — 90 percent of graduates attend college, and a some of them have gone on to attend medical and law schools.. The new building will allow Spring Valley to serve more students, and expand academics and extracurricular activities. (Dr. Fiveash also hopes to add activities like yoga and and an outdoor garden.)
The new building includes 18 classrooms, a full-sized gym, and an auditorium. Dr. Fiveash anticipates that the school will go from serving 60 to 120 students. Her goal: to provide resources to as many children as possible.
“The success of this school is and will be a story of parents and staff and the businesses and community organizations who understand why we need a Spring Valley,” Dr. Fiveash says. “Every child deserves a chance and I’ll fight my hardest to give it to as many as I can.”