Expanding education: Fortune Academy opens new school in midst of growth

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After celebrating its 20th anniversary earlier this year, Fortune Academy opened a new, separate building for its high school students. A private school for grades 1 through 12, Fortune Academy specializes in educating students with learning differences, such as dyslexia and ADD/ADHD, in the greater Indianapolis area.

Previously, all of Fortune Academy’s first- through 12th-grade students attended school in the same building at 5626 Lawton Loop E. Dr. in Lawrence. But with growing enrollment, administrators realized that their high school students needed a space of their own. Fortune Academy High School opened this year just down the street at 8902 Otis Ave.

According to research by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, 1 in five students are affected by dyslexia, 1 in 30 are diagnosed with a form of ADHD and more than 40 percent of students with language-based learning differences are placed in special education classes that don’t fit their unique needs.

Fortune Academy has 89 students. Of that total, 40 attend the new high school. Classes at Fortune are typically no bigger than 10 students, said Lydia Chastain, marketing director for Fortune Academy.

Because teachers work with such small classes, they are able to better get to know their students and work with them 1-on-1, freshman Carter Elder said.

“I really like it here. The class sizes are small,” Elder said while helping guide a tour around the new building at the Aug. 18 grand opening. “It feels like the teachers really care about their students and want to help.”

Jamie Sellhorn, a teacher at Fortune Academy, has a sophomore daughter, Brooke, who attends the school. Sellhorn said she’s noticed that the school’s students, including her daughter, have increased confidence because of attending the school.

“It’s amazing that transformation that happens here in kids,” Sellhorn said. “The kids that come here have really struggled in other school settings, and when they’re coming here, they begin to blossom. And they, for maybe the first time in their school career, begin to experience success and begin to kind of shift in their self-perception.”

Sellhorn said when students start to do well in school, it can be a transformation for their entire family.

“So many things change once children start to be successful in school,” she said. “Oftentimes, struggles in school go hand-i- hand with emotional frustrations and behavior challenges. It’s really amazing how those things begin to melt away once kids experience being successful at school.”

Sellhorn said she and her family have seen Brooke go from really struggling in school to opening up and becoming a bright student after enrolling in Fortune Academy five years ago. Now, Sellhorn said Brooke loves school and, after working in the kitchen of a McAlister’s Deli for a year, wants to attend the Culinary Institute of America after graduating from high school.

Chastain said that she is proud to work for a school that is dedicated to helping the nearly 20 percent of students who have a learning disability and providing a safe learning environment for them.

“Students need a place to be able to go where they’re understood, and they can learn and be seen for who they are,” Chastain said. “We’re that place for these students and we’re home for those students. These students are falling through the cracks, unfortunately, right now, and the sooner we can get them to Fortune, the better, so they can become confident and competent members of the society that they live in.”

‘Gold standard’ accreditation

Fortune Academy is one of 13 schools in the U.S., and the only one in Indiana, that have been named an Orton Gillingham Academy accredited school, which is typically considered the “gold standard” for helping students with language-based learning differences.

All of the teachers at Fortune Academy have to complete 70 to 100 hours of training through the OGA curriculum as well as a 100-hour practicum.

Students in Jamie Sellhorn’s 5th- and 6th-grade-math class participate in an activity using beads. (Photo by Jamie Sellhorn)

Extra help

The state of Indiana recently launched the Indiana Education Scholarship Account Program to help provide tax-free scholarship funds to Indiana students who need an Individualized Education Plan or have learning differences.

Students who do not attend Fortune Academy can take advantage of its tutoring services after school. Anyone who wants to learn more about the tutoring program or donate to the Fortune Academy scholarship fund can contact Lydia Chastain at lchastain@thefortuneacademy.org.

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