Learning and Succeeding “Differently”


by Paul Driessen

“Transforming Lives – Realizing Possibilities” motivates this school and its students

Having a child who struggles in school torments parents – whether it’s because of attention deficit disorder, dyslexia, an inability to comprehend “whole word” approaches in learning to read, or just a need to “learn differently” from peers. The experience is even harder on the child.

Some just struggle along, with limited help from teachers, school administrators and special programs. Others get little or no help, lag further behind, fall through the cracks, or just give up or drop out of school. For a lucky few, there may be a special place like the Oakwood School in Annandale, Virginia.

“These kids aren’t dumb or lazy, or simply don’t want to be in school,” says Oakwood Principal Robert McIntyre. “They’re bright and are really trying their level best. But they are struggling with learning or attention disabilities” – meaning not all the neurotransmitters in their brains work the same way as in most children. The result is often a significant gap between the child’s solid intelligence, and what he or she is actually able to achieve.

In 1970 Bob was a school principal working with “underachieving” students. His wife Mary was an early childhood school director trying to help obviously bright pre-schoolers who couldn’t focus on or master pre-academic skills. They and a colleague were examining “learning disabilities,” a concept that was unfamiliar to most teachers and viewed with skepticism by others. The three educators wanted to employ non-traditional learning styles in a nurturing but stimulating learning environment for bright children.

When they could find no public or private school to take up this challenge, they concluded that this was their spiritual calling and mission. Their clear vision and strong personal faith convinced them that it could be done and stimulated the strategic planning and hard work that culminated in their new educational concept becoming reality in 1971. Oakwood was launched in donated space in a local church, with one child and four staffers who had a combined 75+ years of experience in education. The school grew rapidly and, ten years later, its board of directors purchased Oakwood’s own building.

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