Science Education Prof Helps Kids With Unique Needs

Dr. Cynthia Ledbetter Developing Curriculum for Children at Oak Hill Academy

March 23, 2009

It started with a phone call from the Oak Hill Academy about ways to improve science education for students with learning differences.

Then, in mid-February, the hard hats came out and Oak Hill’s old Assessment Center came down in a pile of rubble. It was time to make way for a brand new science center.

Dr. Cynthia Ledbetter, professor of science/mathematics education, the team at the Oak Hill Academy and generous donors including T. Boone Pickens had merged efforts to make way for a state-of-the art facility to teach science to some special students.

“Some of our students are dyslexic, some have trouble processing information that they hear (auditory processing), some have difficulty writing and still others have sensory integration problems,” said Rhonda Criss, Oak Hill Academy’s development director.

“They all learn differently, but all benefit from a curriculum that is experiential, hands-on and individualized. Currently, there is no special science curriculum for students with learning differences, so that is the focus of Dr. Ledbetter and her graduate students.”

Ledbetter got involved drafting a science curriculum specially tailored for the Oak Hill Academy’s students after word spread about her efforts to assist science education efforts at St. Philip's School (Dallas).

“One of the board members from St. Philip's had a son at Oak Hill,” Ledbetter said. “She had always been interested in getting science into schools and invited me to meet Pam Quarterman, executive director of Oak Hill. Since then, I’ve done some science workshops for the Oak Hill faculty and helped them put in place a K-9 science scope and sequence. This led to choosing books, giving input on the new science wing and being able to work directly with the students.”

The innovative science education efforts under way at Oak Hill helped persuade the T. Boone Pickens Foundation, the Hillcrest Foundation, the Hoblitzelle Foundation and the George and Fay Young Foundation to demolish the old Assessment Center at Oak Hill and make way for the new T. Boone Pickens Science Center.

The new center is expected to open in August 2009 and will feature laboratories, an environmentally friendly geothermal heating and cooling system, and a science porch overlooking the Hillcrest Foundation Learning Garden.

Ledbetter’s pride in the project – and Oak Hill’s students – is evident.

“Some of the best times in my career have been in the PK-12 science classes with the students,” Ledbetter said. “It’s always fun to teach science in such a way that the kids’ eyes light up and they understand why what they are learning is important. Professionally, this is the first time I’ve worked with classes of learning-different students. I’m learning what they can and can’t do, and the best ways to teach them. They continually surprise and delight me with their curiosity and the way in which they interpret the lesson.”


Media Contacts: Brandon V. Webb, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, Brandon.webb@utdallas.edu
or the Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, newscenter@utdallas.edu

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Oak Hill Academy science center architectural drawing

An architectural rendering shows how the Science Center at the Oak Hill Academy will look on completion in August 2009.

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