One Year Ago …

One year ago, we closed our campus and moved to online instruction for all students. At the time, I will confess I had grave concerns about what the following months would hold for our school. How long would our campus remain closed? Would our people get sick? Would our students thrive online? Would we survive financially? How and when might we reopen our campus? These and a hundred other questions weighed heavy on my mind during long days working from home and occasional sleepless nights.

Fast forward to one year later. We are a better school today in every way. Enrollment is strong and nearing capacity as we have added four new classes in our lower school. Our financial position is sound and participation in charitable giving has grown remarkably. Our teachers have learned to navigate online learning with amazing skill and our technological sophistication as a school has developed at light speed. Our students have learned new coping skills that will pay dividends long after this pandemic ends. We all learned the value of cooperation and trust as we navigated this year together as a community.

One year after our world shut down, I feel gratitude. I am thankful to each of you for your support and cooperation this past year. We faced many issues that threatened to divide us as a community, but we remained unified in our commitment to educate and care for our students. I am thankful to the medical professionals whose wise guidance has helped us navigate the complexities of running a school safely during a pandemic. I am grateful to our teachers for the sacrifices they make every day to continue the noble work of education by whatever means necessary. And finally, I am thankful to God whose providence and protection we owe for whatever good the past year has brought us, and whose love for us in Christ drives us forward in our mission. The past 12 months have brought us precious little to celebrate, but today, we can certainly celebrate that we are still here and still doing the work God has for us, day by day, week by week, until one day all things are made new.

Academics community Education

Continuity of Instruction Plan for SouthLake Christian Academy

How does e-learning work?

School may look differently in the days to come, but education will continue. Here you will find our plans to provide instruction to SouthLake Christian Academy students in an online environment, also called telelearning, distance learning, or e-learning. Our teaching plans aim to keep things simple, clear, and flexible.

Simple. Effective online instruction does not need to be fancy. Neither parents nor students need to be technology specialists to learn well in an e-learning environment. We will start with basic tools – phone, email, internet – and build from there. We will focus on essential curriculum and skills. Students WILL learn the most important content.

Clear. Effective online instruction requires clear two-way communication. Teachers should be organized, accessible, and responsive. We ask students and families to relay problems to us quickly. We want our students to have a clear understanding of class expectations and content and not to struggle with logistics.

Flexible. Effective online instruction utilizes both synchronous and asynchronous engagement. Most instruction will be asynchronous, meaning that students will be able to access materials on their own schedule rather than in coordination with the entire class. Synchronous instruction will be scheduled to accommodate student availability. Many of our families have multiple children and childcare challenges. We could potentially move back and forth between live and online classes in the weeks to come. This will require each of us to be patient, accommodating, and supportive of each other.

What can parents and students do to prepare?

  1. Give us the information we need to help you. If you have not done so already, please complete our tech survey so that if you have a problem, our tech team will know what technology you have at home. If you have not done so already, make sure we have the correct demographic information for you in Renweb.
  2. Get organized. You will soon receive more electronic communication from SouthLake than you are accustomed to receiving. Set up an email folder for each of your children or for each class or subject. Check email regularly, file or deleted unneeded mail, and respond quickly and briefly to any emails that require only a short response.
  3. Be patient. This is a learning curve for all of us. We are landing a plane while finishing the runway. We will all make mistakes and maybe get frustrated from time to time. We will try to solve problems as quickly as possible. This plan is a work in progress. We will update, revise, and improve as we go along. Give and receive grace.
  4. Stay connected. You can see what is happening around the school and stay informed by following our school’s various social medial channels. Here is a list:
  • Facebook – SouthLake Christian Academy
  • Instagram – southlakechristian
  • Twitter – @SLCAEagles
  • Head of School Blog –

What technology will we use?

We will use technology platforms that are free, accessible to everyone, and work well on both Mac and PC devices. Teachers will provide instructions for using these resources as needed. Not all teachers will use all of these programs, and our Tech Team will be available to assist as needed. Here is a list of most of the platforms our school will be using.

  • Email – we will use the contact emails you provided in Renweb.
  • Phone or FaceTime – we will use the cell phone numbers you provided in Renweb.
  • Renweb – our online school database and the primary means of posting class content.
  • Microsoft Office 365 apps including One Drive, One Note, Forms – online file sharing and storage (mostly for High School use).
  • Google Suite products including Classroom, Calendar, Docs, Forms – online program for managing classes, assignments, content, tests, quizzes, calendars, and file sharing.
  • Zoom – an online communication tool for video recording and video conferencing.
  • Smart Music – an app for recording individual music practice and receiving feedback.

What if I need technology support?

Email the help desk at A member of the tech team will contact you.

What are our plans by grade or division?

Although each teacher is unique, our plan provides some standardization to minimize confusion to the greatest degree possible. All teachers will use a combination of the following: video (instruction and conferencing), regular email or phone communication, assessment (tests, quizzes, papers, projects, etc.), and virtual office hours.

Junior Kindergarten – 3rd Grade (Spano, Canipe, Calhoun, Moore, Davis, Patton)

  • Teachers will email families regularly to communicate expectations and information needed to complete assignments.
  • Teachers will post weekly plans, assignments, needed documents, web resources, and video content on Renweb.
  • Students may turn in assignments by email, text, or an online student-interactive website.
  • Teachers will phone, FaceTime, or Zoom to connect with students and parents each week to check in and answer questions.
  • Teachers will set up virtual office hours for individualized assistance.

4th – 6th Grade (Boovy, Gonzalez, Bussell, Clemmer, Jacobs, Rowles, Vance, Boone, Belvin, Thomas)

  • Teachers will email families prior to March 30 to explain in detail how to access all electronic resources needed, primarily Renweb, Google Classroom, and Zoom.
  • Beginning March 30, all teachers will communicate via regular emails with information relevant to all 4-6 grade students.
  • Each teacher will email daily with specific information and reminders to check Renweb and Google Classroom for assignments in specific subjects.
  • Needed materials not already sent home will be linked to both Renweb and Google Classroom.
  • Students may turn in assignments using a combination of text messaging, Google Docs, Google Forms, or other Google apps.
  • Teachers will schedule virtual office hours for students needing individualized help.

7th – 8th Grade (Belvin, Bumgarner, Boone, Jacobs, Reeves, Russell, Wilson)

  • Each teacher will email families prior to March 30 welcoming students to e-learning and explaining in detail how each class will work.
  • Beginning March 30, teachers will post lesson plans and links to primary resources in Renweb. They will give assignments and provide instructional content through Renweb, Google Classroom, and curriculum specific sites (science and history). Links to these items will be posted in Renweb.
  • Each teacher will produce video lessons weekly or more frequently, depending on the nature of the content.
  • Each teacher will communicate regularly with students via email, video, and/or phone to provide specific instructions and reminders to check Renweb for assignments.
  • Each teacher will schedule virtual office hours for students or families with questions or concerns.

High School

  • Each high school class is unique, so e-learning plans will be highly individualized, just as they are in a live classroom setting.
  • Teachers will use a blend of synchronous and asynchronous instruction.
  • Teachers will email students prior to March 30 with introductions to online learning and instructions for use of any new technology.
  • Each teacher will post lesson plans, notes, videos, and assignments on Renweb and other file sharing platforms.
  • Students will submit assignments through OneNote, OneDrive, and Google Classroom.
  • Teachers will use Zoom for scheduled online class gatherings.
  • Teachers will schedule virtual office hours for individualized assistance.

What about specials like library, PE, Fine Arts, and STEM?

  • Most music classes will move to individualized instruction using the Smart Music app.
  • Other classes will utilize online resources for singing and choreography.
  • Library instruction will include reading recommendations, videos, and book blogs.
  • Art teachers will send weekly project ideas and post completed projects on Instagram and our online art gallery called Artsonia.
  • PE instruction will consist of weekly video workouts that student can do in their own homes.
  • STEM instruction will involve periodic emails with ideas for projects that can be completed at home to support subject area learning.

What about students receiving services from our Academic Development Center (ADC)?

  • ADC teachers will continue to support their students by providing consultation and individualized assistance to students with issues that affect their learning.
  • ADC teachers are familiar with distance learning technology and will have access to their students’ Renweb resources and e-learning apps.
  • ADC teachers have received special certifications for teletherapy and will use Zoom for individualized therapy session.
  • ADC teachers will schedule virtual office hours for those needing additional assistance.
  • ADC teachers will continue to support students with an Educational Plan of Action (EPA), and provide documentation needed for accommodations on standardized testing.
  • ADC teachers will continue to consult with prospective students and their families.

What about high school students needing help for fall scheduling or from our College and Career Counseling Office?

  • Course request meetings will be handled using Zoom. Individualized assistance will be provided by phone or email from our scheduling team.
  • Students needing schedule counseling will use Sign-up Genius for Zoom meetings.
  • Junior planning meetings and sophomore PSAT and Pre-ACT test review meetings will take place using Zoom as students request.
  • Blog posts will contain grade level updates, encouragement, and links to resources.
  • Email communication will inform students of collegiate information and any testing changes.
  • Personal communication will continue to support post-grad research, virtual tours, and senior schedules.

Final Considerations

Thank you for your steadfast faith and trust in SouthLake Christian Academy as we continue to teach and minister to your students. We hope to return to live classes as soon as it is safe to do so. Truthfully, the months that follow may have a profound impact on the future of education. New capacities, efficiencies, competencies, and possibilities will likely emerge from this unprecedented time in our history. We cannot see exactly what the future holds, but we trust that Christ is preeminent in all things.

Compiled and edited by the Faculty and Staff of SouthLake Christian Academy

March 2020

Academics Education Technology

Preparing for Exams

At SouthLake Christian Academy, students will soon be taking exams, that bi-annual rite of passage that creates fear and loathing in the minds of students and parents alike. But fear not! Exams do not have to be miserable experiences. There is a wealth of learning research to help students prepare better and dislike the experience less. Here are a few research-based pointers to assist and to keep things in perspective.

1. Eliminate distractions. Contrary to popular belief, multitasking is a myth. Neuroscientists know that the brain cannot perform many high-level cognitive functions simultaneously. Rather, the neocortex switches between tasks as called upon to do so. Task switching wastes time and increases the likelihood of errors. The brain is less efficient at reorienting to a new task than it is at attending to the one at hand. So take 15 minutes to get organized, eliminate clutter, shut down screens, steer clear of noise, minimize social interaction, and then get down to business.

2. Study harder AND smarter. More time spent studying does not always translate directly to higher grades on exams. Proper preparation requires both memory consolidation (knowing the subject matter) and deep processing (the ability to make meaningful connections, solve problems, and think critically about the material). Exam prep often involves flash cards and study guides, tools useful for rote memorization. For deeper learning, however, try creating concept maps to make connections between concepts and help you understand why a particular fact is true and why it matters. Of course, both memorization and deep learning take time, so spread your study sessions out over a few days and give your brain the repetition it needs to absorb and process the material.

3. Sleep well. Studies show that REM sleep is necessary for information acquisition (receiving), consolidation (keeping), and recall (retrieving). Students deprived of REM sleep show deficits in short-term and long-term memory, and decreased problem solving abilities. Sleep deprivation also elevates stress and anxiety levels (as measured by perception and biochemical markers) and deteriorates overall performance. In other words, students who study over time with good sleep will outperform those who use all-night cram sessions for last minute preparation.

4. Take strategic study breaks. Although the brain makes up about 2% of a person’s body weight, it accounts for up to 20% of the body’s energy use. Intense studying is among our most exhausting tasks, so take breaks. Schedule study time to include periodic short intervals of rest. For younger students, study sessions may last 30 minutes followed by a 15 minute break.  For older students, a 50 minute study session followed by at 10 minute break may suffice. Students with learning differences may need additional rest. Strategic rest will help with cognitive endurance and allow you to study longer and better over the long haul.

5. Ask for help. Some students will struggle for hours on their own to avoid asking for help. Self-reliance is commendable to a point, but as exam time approaches, be quicker to ask for help. Compile questions that you need answered and email a teacher or speak to him/her during a free period of the day. Friends can help too. Group study sessions, used sparingly, can be helpful for content-intensive subjects if you keep needless socializing to a minimum. Practice teaching others the material. Verbal processing with others can help you know how well you know the material.

6. Avoid excessive caffeine and sugar. Studies show that while caffeine can improve alertness and the performance of some motor tasks in fatigued individuals, it does not improve memory or deep processing. In excess, caffeine can increase anxiety and thereby decrease one’s ability to absorb and recall information. As to sugar, the brain needs it to function, but not the simple processed sugars found in candy bars and energy drinks. The glucose that is found in fruits and complex carbohydrates does improve brain function. Save the junk food for a post exam celebration.

7. Keep it all in perspectives. When I taught at the university level, I always gave my students the following speech prior to the start of an exam: “This exam is important but it is not the most important thing in your life. Your identity as a person is not determined by the outcome of this exam. You are no better a human being if you make an A on this test, and no worse a human being if you fail it. Your identity is NOT determined by your performance. You are a person created in God’s image, loved by God, and redeemed by Christ. Nothing that happens in this life can change that, especially not an exam. So relax, do your best, and move on. I love you, I’m rooting for you, and you’re going to be OK.”

I do. I am. And you are.

Go Eagles!



My Experience with Learning Disabilities

My life’s work has been in Christian education. But I am also a parent, and that’s what I’m writing about here.  I have three children, all redheads. I often joke that I am the patriarch of a ginger dynasty.  All three of my kids are really smart, but we’ve often thought of Kate as the smartest.  When Kate was 3 years old, she learned how to play a matching game that involved placing cards face down in columns and rows and flipping over cards two per turn until you make a match.  The person with the most matched pairs wins.  To this day, nobody in our family has ever beaten Kate.  We thought for a while that she’d figured out some way to cheat, until we learned that she also has a near photographic memory for faces and the details of events and places we’ve visited.  I taught her to play chess when she was 5.  She played for a few weeks and then lost interest.  She picked up the game again nearly 6 years later, and to my surprise still remembered the rules.  When it came to children’s books, Kate memorized all her favorites.  She would know when I tried to alter the story or skip a page.  She could “read” the story to me if I let her, and she knew from the pictures when to turn the page long before she could actually read. I could tell stories about Kate at length.

In 3rd grade we began to sense that something was wrong.  Kate began to do poorly on AR quizzes.  She started to lag behind her classmates on standardized tests.  She was barely reading at grade level while many of her friends were reading 2 or 3 grades above it, as her two older siblings had done.  At parent-teacher conferences, we expressed concern, but Kate was our third child and by then we were chill parents.  Kate was and is the kind of kid teachers loved – obedient, quiet, kind, respectful, cooperative, liked by her peers.  Teachers told us not to worry, and we followed their advice.  In fourth grade, the trend continued – low standardized test scores, reading comprehension problems, alternatively great and then terrible grades, depending on the kind of assignment or the style of test she took.  Picture books increasingly gave way to chapter books, and Kate’s love for reading evaporated.  It was a chore to get her to complete book assignments, and she often seemed to daydream when she was supposed to be reading.  The school had a special program for students with reading difficulties.  She entered and then completed that program, but we noticed no improvements.  We hired a reading specialist who worked with Kate two afternoons a week for about 4 months, and who then told us that everything seemed normal and that Kate was just a “laid-back kid,” which I suspected was code for a student who is not motivated.  Her fourth-grade teacher was the first, but not the last, to suggest that Kate might suffer from Attention Deficit Disorder.  I’d never noticed any attention deficit in Kate before, except when she was supposed to be reading, and neither had anyone else, and so that suggestion seemed to me like grasping at straws.

One day around this time Kate was trying to read a schoolbook to my dad, who himself cannot read out loud with any fluency because of his own learning disabilities.  My dad noticed that Kate tended to use her finger to follow words as she read and that she often skipped articles and prepositions and could not sound out words she did not know.  These are all things that I knew about Kate, but my dad commented that he did the same things still.  I was familiar with my dad’s story.  He did terribly in school and was told by his high-school counselor that he “wasn’t college material.”  My dad graduated with a biology degree from the University of Georgia and went on to have a brilliant career in business, teaching safety and environmental responsibility to multi-national companies drilling for oil offshore around the world.  Incongruously, I have distinct memories of standing next to my dad in church as he tried to sing from the Baptist hymnal.  He mixed up the words and lines of the hymns so badly, that if God had judged his theology based on the lyrics he sang, he would surely have been guilty of damnable heresy!  It never occurred to me to ask why a highly intelligent and accomplished biologist, businessman, and environmental advocate did so badly in school, could not sing from a hymnal, and had read fewer than a dozen books in his life.  But when my dad saw himself in my daughter, I began to suspect that something more complex was going on with his and my daughter’s ability to process language.  We talked to our pediatrician and at his recommendation we visited a developmental psychologist who tested Kate for a variety of learning disabilities.  He determined that she had an IQ of 125 (not a surprise) and that in his opinion, she exhibited no language processing deficits (a big surprise) because in his words, “she didn’t invert letters or numbers with any consistency,” as if that were the only or primary indicator of a language processing disability.  His determination was that Kate was “possibly” suffering from Attention Deficit Disorder and he suggested medication.  Well, when a guy with a Ph.D. in child psychology says it, it must be true.

Kate spent much of the 5th grade trying different brands and dosages of ADD medication.  The stimulant effect kept her awake at night, suppressed her appetite, and made her moody and aggressive.  We would have been willing to tolerate those side effects, except for the fact that the medication had no impact whatsoever on her academic performance.  Parent-teacher conferences were again predictable.  “Kate is such a sweet child, she just needs to work harder on reading and try not to daydream so much,” again, code for “we think she’s ADD.”  Kate continued to struggle with any assignment in any subject that had to do with reading.  Strangely, she was great at math as long as there were no word problems. She hated word problems.  She was also great at spelling when the tests involved recalling a simple sequence of letters, a colossally easy task for a kid with her memory skills.  But when the spelling assignments involved more complex skills like using words in a sentence, or differentiating homonyms, words that sound the same but have different meanings, Kate was as lost as a ball in high weeds.  She fell further and further behind her peers on reading comprehension and fluency scores.  But she still made mostly As in school, to her disservice I might add, and she continued to beat almost anyone at any game that involved memory or problem solving skills.  And so, the 5th grade passed and we continued to listen to teachers who assured us that Kate was fine, and that as far as they could tell, she was just a normal kid who needed more reading practice.

Just a few weeks into the 6th grade, Kate was failing every subject except math.  Adding insult to injury, we received the results of her ACT Aspire test that showed her in the bottom 25% nationally in multiple areas of academic progress.  Something just did not add up and my wife and I got serious about finding answers. We got scientific about things.  We had a hypothesis: that our daughter had a problem with the way her brain processed language, and we tested that hypothesis by collecting all the data we could and then seeking help from any expert who could help us interpret the data.  This led us by way of a network of contacts, to a Hoover based speech and language pathologist named Hettie Johnson.  After hours of extensive and expensive testing last fall, we got some answer.  One the bright side, we got confirmation that Kate had some unusual gifts: working memory – 95th percentile; cognitive problem-solving skills – 98th percentile; IQ – 98th percentile.  The IQ test is non-verbal and uses geometric shapes and items in a series to examine problem-solving abilities. The tester showed me some of the problems and asked me to solve them.  I got a few of them correct, but it took me several minutes to solve what my daughter solved in just a few seconds.  When the tester asked Kate to explain to me how she came up with the correct answers, I realized that her brain was working on an entirely different level than mine, and far more efficiently than mine.  It was as if I were talking to a genius.  But at the same time, the tests showed the source of Kate’s struggle: language comprehension – 23rd percentile; phonetic decoding efficiency – 23rd percentile; reading accuracy – 5th percentile; reading fluency – 9th percentile; reading comprehension – 5th percentile.  This remarkable combination of unusual gifts and striking deficits is called dyslexia.  For 10 years our school system missed it.  Skilled teachers, reading experts, and tutors missed it.  Pediatricians and a developmental psychologist missed it.  Kate’s own Ph.D. dad and nurse mom missed it.  I felt horrible, terrible, guilty about all the times I’d simply written her problems off as insignificant, or the result of ADD, or laziness, the times I’d told her simply to work harder, or coerced her to read more and more, and told her to pay attention, as if a blind person could learn to see with better concentration.

Dyslexia is an inefficiency in the way the brain processes language that expresses itself in any combination of dozens of ways, including an age delay in speaking, difficulties with pronunciation, struggles connecting letters to the sounds they make, problems sounding out words, struggles expressing one’s thoughts in writing, spelling problems, speech that is not fluent, pausing or hesitating often when speaking, difficulty finding the correct word to express a thought, and all of these inefficiencies typically show up most clearly when one is reading.  Speaking comes naturally and is learned on an unconscious level. Babies learn to speak on instinct.  Biologists suggest that speaking is a very ancient skill, built into our evolutionary inheritance, perhaps millions of years ago.  Our brains handle speaking quite easily and efficiently.  Reading, however, is a much more complex task and must be learned consciously and methodically.  Anyone who has ever tried to teach a child to read knows that it takes time, patience, practice, and very specialized skills that take years to develop fully.  In most people, the neural pathways utilized for reading develop efficiencies over time that allow us to hear, recognize, and make sense of words on a page with increasing speed, like traveling from Birmingham to Atlanta on I20.  For the dyslexic, however, the pathways used for reading are far more complex, and therefore less efficient, like driving from Birmingham to Atlanta on backcountry roads, slowly taking the scenic route.  Sure, you take in the sights and sounds of the rural south one traffic light at a time, but it takes much longer to reach your destination.  When you get there, you may very well be better for it, unless of course you are being timed and graded on how fast you get there.

If you use an fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) to examine the brain of a normal person while reading, you’ll see just a few areas of the brain modestly at work.  If you examine a dyslexic reader’s brain in an MRI, you’ll see the brain lit up like New York City at Christmas time, with multiple areas of the brain working at cognitive load capacity.  This explains why dyslexics find reading so arduous, and why they take frequent breaks while reading – the brain is working overtime to get to the meaning.  Dyslexics, like my daughter, develop skills rather unconsciously to cope with the inefficiency.  They learn to memorize things very quickly, they learn to problem solve spatially, mathematically, and non-verbally.  And sometimes they learn to smile, cooperate, say, “yes ma’am” and pull the wool over teachers’ eyes for years to get good grades and get by.  And Kate played the game so well she fooled everyone, including me, until 6th grade.  Our speech pathologist calls Kate’s learning difference “Stealth Dyslexia” – a condition characterized by highly developed coping mechanisms that mask significant deficits and make diagnosis extremely difficult.  She tried to comfort us by listing all of the famous people, artists, inventors, entrepreneurs, and movie starts with dyslexia.   None of this made me feel a bit better.  The truth is, I missed it.  Wanting to believe she was ok, I ignored obvious signs when I could have helped her sooner.

After diagnosis, my daughter began to get the help she needed. She got an education plan that granted her testing, homework, and note-taking accommodations at her school.  She was given extended time to take tests.  She saw a tutor twice a week (at considerable expense) who was a Certified Educational Therapist and who specialized in the Orton Gillingham approach to dyslexia therapy. Since coming to SouthLake Christian Academy a year ago, Kate has thrived. She was re-tested by Dr. Jill Gottlieb who confirmed her earlier diagnosis and gave us good guidance about accommodations. She sees a National Institute of Learning Disabilities certified teacher in SLCA’s Academic Development Center twice each week. She has educational plan of action (EPA) that provides the accommodations she needs to learn effectively.  She has a support system in place now that we would never have dreamed possible in the public schools she attended.  Kate is now on a better road to success, one that recognizes her gifts and gives her a chance to thrive in spite of her reading inefficiencies.  But the truth is that earlier diagnosis would have been much better.  A dyslexia diagnosis can be made as early as age 6, there are warning signs that appear earlier, and outcomes are better the earlier the intervention.  The truth is, I am well educated and I have resources to get Kate help.  But what about other children, in other schools, who lack the knowledge and networks and know-how and resources to get help?  By some estimates, nearly 20% of children worldwide suffer from dyslexia. In prison populations, that number more than doubles to 48%. What hope do under-resourced students have to get the help they need?

I am an educator at a Christian school, so I spend a fair amount of time talking about Jesus.  Like Jesus, teachers touch lives every day that they go to work in ways that they will never fully comprehend and society will never adequately value.  They have a tough job, and honestly, students with learning disabilities make their job even more challenging.  Compounding the difficulty, I believe that generations of teachers have received inadequate instruction in recognizing and understanding learning disabilities.  I think that is changing across the country as it has at SouthLake Christian Academy.  I believe that it must change, not so much for Kate as for children around the country who are far less likely to get the help they need.  When teachers help a student with a learning disability, they demonstrate the love of Jesus to the least of these. Teaching a child to read is not just educational work; it is Kingdom of God work.  If I might paraphrase from Victor Hugo’s novel Les Miserable, “To teach another person is to see the face of God.”

Academics Dyslexia Learning Disabilities Uncategorized