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Omaha school taking extra step to assist students with learning needs

Roncalli Catholic High School in Omaha has a new tool for helping students with learning challenges.

Beginning with incoming freshmen for 2017-18, the school will be the first Catholic school in Nebraska to use a program called Benilde to assist students through advanced study skills, test-taking strategies and other services, school officials said.

Named after 19th-century Christian Brother of de La Salle educator, St. Benilde Pierre Romancon, the program is based on a model developed 16 years ago by a Washington, D.C., Catholic high school.

Roncalli Catholic helps students with learning disabilities or differences, such as dyslexia, AD/HD and autism, but administrators felt they could do more, officials said.

"Although Catholic high schools offer support for students who struggle, what sets Benilde apart is that support is consistent, thorough and proactive," said Kimberly Schumacher, school counselor.

A number of students indicated interest in the program during Roncalli’s placement exam in January, and others can submit applications by Feb. 28, said Leah McGrew, director of the program. Later applications will be considered if space is available.

Requirements include documentation of a student’s learning difference from a licensed psychologist, an individualized education program or other documentation.

Benilde program students will take one core class during the summer to lighten their academic load and attend a special Benilde class during the school year. Students also will receive daily coaching and can take classes out of sequence if necessary, officials said.

Otherwise, they will attend the same classes, meet the same academic requirements and can participate in the same school activities as all other students.

Students can continue the program for all four years of high school if needed, McGrew said. "But the goal is to have students in the program a year or two and gain the skills to function on their own."

The program has been recognized by the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA) and the Lynch School of Education at Boston College as one of the 10 best Catholic education programs in the country.

Cost is $1,000 per year or less, depending on the school’s customized tuition program.

For more information or to apply, contact McGrew at lmcgrew@roncallicatholic.org, or 402-571-7670.

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