Cover Stories

Individually Focused: Academy of St. Louis

Meeting their family’s unique needs is a fundamental part of a parent’s role. When the community isn’t offering the right tools for children to find success and happiness, a family might be called to create something new that works. That was certainly the case for Terri O’Daniel when she realized the independent Catholic school her daughter Kara attended wasn’t offering the educational or socioemotional support for her learning disability. Unable to find either a faith-based or secular institution that could engage Kara at her own pace, O’Daniel created one that would.

Located in Manchester, Academy of St. Louis is an independent, Catholic school that has been serving students in kindergarten through grade 12 with learning disabilities, autism spectrum disorder and developmental delays for 18 years. When establishing the school, O’Daniel combined her decade of experience in school administration with the knowledge and expertise her mother, Ann Dunn, cultivated from a career as a trauma nurse and administrator at Ranken Jordan Pediatric Bridge Hospital. In 2004, they founded the school with the mission of providing an individualized curriculum, a nurturing environment, social integration and faith formation to students.

Fully accredited, Academy of St. Louis’ educational approach is centered on individually designed curricula that are curated to meet the unique needs of students. “Each one of our students functions at different levels in different skills, so we create individualized plans to best develop their academic, social and life skills,” O’Daniel says. “Our program was designed to begin serving students in kindergarten because early intervention is key. The sooner you start engaging kids and helping them build the necessary tools to learn, the more likely they are to succeed.” The school offers financial aid and also has access to Missouri state grants for every student.

The school also helps students prepare for postsecondary success with its transition program. “Around 80% of young adults with cognitive learning disabilities are unemployed, and their job options are often very limited,” O’Daniel notes. “We talk with students to set goals and work with them to achieve those goals. One student wanted to become a firefighter like his father, but that wouldn’t be possible. We worked through the options with him, and he decided to become a dispatcher to stay in the same field. With that new goal in mind, he was able to work hard and pass the dispatcher exam on his first try.” Academy of St. Louis students have attended two- and four-year colleges, found gainful employment, enrolled in tech schools and enlisted in the military.

This school year, Academy of St. Louis has been enjoying its new home at St. Joseph’s Parish. It moved into the parish’s recently renovated elementary school. The new space means not only added capacity to welcome more students, but the facilities also allow Academy of St. Louis to expand its offerings. This includes the addition of five extracurricular after-school programs and additional services, including occupational and speech therapy, a writing coach and a Wilson Reading System specialist. “We now have amenities on our campus, such as more playgrounds, soccer and track fields, and a family center with a stage,” O’Daniel says. “It instilled a lot of pride in our community. Students are excited to come to school every day.”

Academy of St. Louis is an independent Catholic school serving students in kindergarten through grade 12 with learning disabilities and developmental delays. It specializes in autism spectrum disorder. Pictured on the cover: Executive director Terri O’Daniel (center) with her daughter Kara O’Daniel and her mother, Ann Dunn. For more information or to schedule a tour, call 636.203.7863 or visit acadstl.org.

Cover design by Julie Streiler
Cover photo by Colin Miller of Strauss Peyton Photography

Pictured at top: Academy of St. Louis fosters a love of learning in students in kindergarten through grade 12.
Photo courtesy of Academy of St. Louis

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