Alyssa Pukkila has a lot of experience with dyslexic children. She was a private educational therapist helping kids with remediation of learning disabilities for 15 years in Post Falls. Her now 21-year-old son also has dyslexia.
Pukkila says she knows from firsthand experience that traditional schools can struggle to help children with dyslexia and dysgraphia.
That's what led her to open the Wired2Learn Academy in the fall of 2018. The Wired2Learn Academy is a school just for kids with learning issues, and works with third through 12th-grade students.
A school like this doesn't come cheap. It's a $20,000 per year tuition. She acknowledges not many parents can just drop $20,000 per year on a child's education. That's where the Wired2Learn Foundation, launched last year, hopes to eventually help.
We sat down with Pukkila to talk about the Wired2Learn Academy and her goal with the school. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
INLANDER: Can you give us a quick summary of what the Wired2Learn Academy is all about?
PUKKILA: We're the first day-school in the state of Idaho to serve just children with learning disabilities. We have a three-legged approach. We do cognitive rehabilitation. So working on those areas of the brain that are causing the learning disabilities, then we do skill-based remediation similar to what I did when I was an educational therapist. So we'll pull up kids for really good researched-based intervention for their specific needs. And then the academic portion is covered in project-based learning.
What does the campus look like? How many students do you have?
We have 21 children with one adult student who just comes in for the cognitive classroom, and we are on 4-1/2 acres right off of Highway 41 in Post Falls. That was important to me because the amount of nature immersion that kids need is really important. Everything that we do there is based on what the brain needs. We really know that kids need time off, especially when they're training like this. They need to have a moment where they're not thinking about that stuff, and being outside and digging in the dirt and climbing trees is really important. It's also important just for their sensory well-being.
How big is your staff?
There's three of us.
What are the backgrounds of the other two staff members and what responsibilities do each of you have?
Tracie Schmidt works in the cognitive rehabilitation classroom, she's been teaching for 20 years. Caelyn Caulfield does skill-based remediation, or what we call clinical remediation. She's also in charge of just the emotional well-being of our students. She has a bachelor's in psychology. That's why she's well suited for that area. Then I have a master's in psychology and I teach project-based learning. That person needs to be sort of like a jack of all trades.
I know the academy is less than two years old, but have you had any graduates?
Not yet. The way our cognitive rehabilitation program works, for a typical child with a learning issue, it takes about three to four years of work to bring them to a level where they're considered neurotypical, or like their peers. Where the brain areas are functioning just like their peers. The idea is that they go through that cognitive rehabilitation program, that intense program, and then if they wanted to leave the school, they get to walk away without a learning disability,
If they stick with the Wired2Learn Academy, do they graduate with a diploma that they could then take to further their education? How does that work?
I am not accredited. The academy is not accredited. They can graduate from us, it's just like graduating from another private school that's not accredited. The University of Idaho will accept them — most of our universities now accept diplomas from private schools that aren't accredited. It's very similar to homeschooling, but they'll have a transcript. They'll be able to show, "This is what I've done." ♦
Beer for Brains
On Saturday, Feb. 22., the Wired2Learn Foundation is hosting a rare beer festival at the Innovation Collective in Coeur d'Alene. Breweries like Founders, Stone, Belching Beaver and Grand Teton have donated specialty beers to the event. The free-flowing ale will be paired with food from Honey Eatery and Social Club and Collective Kitchen. Attendees also get a customized beer glass and an event T-shirt. Individual tickets are available at $100, couples at $185. More info and tickets can be found at w2lfoundation.com.