- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 7, 2006

For 17 years, Robert Salzman has been trying to “make home-schooling easy” for parents and students. The Bridgeway Academy project, an online school and curriculum provider, is his brainchild.

Located at www.bridgeway-academy.com, this is a truly amazing home-schooling resource. There is a full K-12 curriculum, complete with online lessons, CD-based lessons or paper-based lessons. There is a tutoring option, with over-the-phone or online tutors helping students and parents on a given subject. Students’ work, although mainly corrected by parents, is sent in quarterly for a teacher review, where the work is scrutinized closely to make sure students aren’t short-circuiting the system. Grading, transcripts and diplomas are provided through Bridgeway, accredited by all 50 states.

In addition, Bridgeway partners with the Essential Learning Institute (ELI) to provide unique educational support to students with learning disabilities. Working with parents, the learning block is isolated and an appropriate method of instruction is created to counter it.

“We find out how the student processes information inside his brain,” Mr. Salzman explained in a recent interview. “Then we create a specific program for them for maximum learning efficiency.”

The program has helped children with dyslexia, autism, attention deficit disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

“Of the nearly 700 previously diagnosed with ADHD or ADD, we have found most had either a severe audial recall deficiency or a visual recall deficiency — they can’t remember what they heard or saw in the short-term memory area.”

The Bridgeway and ELI team works with the family to create a learning program, such as sensory integration training, that helps them overcome the block.

“I can count on one hand the cases we weren’t able to help,” Mr. Salzman said.

The team has been able to bring the vast majority of special learners up to full functioning through a combination of home-schooling courses and individualized learning programs.

The academy does not stop at graduation, either. It also offers adult education courses online that allow subscribers to further their education even if they have completed other education. The courses have a strong college preparation focus, encouraging students to begin their college search in 10th grade. Most Bridgeway students do enter college, many even attend prestigious “name” institutions, often garnering hefty scholarships to boot, Mr. Salzman says.

One service the academy offers is testing — required by many states for home-schooling families. It facilitates standardized testing by grade level, either at a central location or locally to be administered according to the requirements. Since its student base is nationwide, and even on several other continents, this is a great support for families.

“We try to provide everything a home-schooling parent needs,” Mr. Salzman said. “And we try to keep the fees affordable.”

For the $695 to $795 yearly tuition, the family receives the curriculum materials, toll-free tutorial support, live online tutoring, newsletter, quarterly assessment and report cards and access to all the academy’s services. An online library, help with SAT preparation and online science labs also are available. Most importantly, a student can be enrolled at any time during the year — so the family that decides to home-school in the spring does not have to wait until the next autumn to begin.

The Web site alone is a great support to the learning process. For instance, if the child goes to the respective grade section, several dozen clickable educational games that teach specific skills are available.

Mr. Salzman developed this program drawing on his own professional experience as an educator since 1975, but also from having home-schooled the last two of his six children. Currently, there are some 1,000 families enrolled in the diploma courses, and another 2,000 using the curriculum of Bridgeway. Some of the graduates of the program are now staffers, working to help develop the college-level logic course that Bridgeway intends to debut this month.

Parents seeking more information about the Bridgeway Academy can call the toll-free number, 800/863-1474, or go to the Web site. For questions about the Essential Learning Institute, call 800/285-9089.

• Kate Tsubata, a home-schooling mother of three, is a freelance writer who lives in Maryland.

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