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The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

Vanderbilt launches Roberts Academy and Dyslexia Center for K-5 students, programs to begin Fall 2024

Undergraduates in Peabody College will be able to complete pre-professional and practicum hours at the academy, to be housed on Peabody’s campus.
Brina Ratangee
Japanese maple tree planted at the launch announcement of the Roberts Academy and Dyslexia Center, as photographed on Sept. 26, 2023. (Hustler Staff/Brina Ratangee)

Vanderbilt announced the establishment of the Roberts Academy and Dyslexia Center at a launch event on Sept. 26. The new initiative was made possible by a donation from Hal and Marjorie Hollis Roberts and will host its inaugural class of K-5 students in Fall 2024. 

Chancellor Daniel Diermeier offered opening remarks, followed by a panel discussion, comments from Hal Roberts and the planting of a Japanese maple tree at the center of the stage. The event was held in an outdoor tent at 1207 17th Ave. S.

“The Academy and Center will build on notable scholarship already happening within Peabody and continue to attract the world’s best and brightest scholars, who will collaborate across disciplines to make advancements that shape how we educate students challenged by dyslexia,” Diermeier said. 

The Roberts couple explained that the decision to invest in the academy and dyslexia research was inspired by three of their grandchildren being diagnosed with dyslexia. The first Roberts Academy was established at Florida Southern College, located in the Roberts’ hometown of Lakeland, Fla. Hal Roberts said that the family chose Vanderbilt as the recipient of their donation due to the reputation of Peabody College, which ranks No. 6 in Best Education Schools on U.S. News & World Report.

“We believe that Peabody College is the best school to host the next Academy for kids with dyslexia and to train teachers to educate and inspire those children. The Dyslexia Center is a major step forward that will benefit thousands of children and their families,” Hal Roberts said.

The Tennessee Department of Education officially began recognizing dyslexia as a learning disability in 2014 with the passage of the “Dyslexia is Real” Bill, requiring dyslexia training be included as part of annual in-service teacher training. Two years later, the “Say Dyslexia” bill was passed to require school districts to screen all students for dyslexia. Current estimates show that at least 100,000 K-12 students in Tennessee have dyslexia.

Chair of Vanderbilt’s Department of Special Education Joe Wehby said that, though no director for the Academy has yet been chosen, he is among those involved in its early stages. He emphasized that both the leadership team and Roberts family are prioritizing accessibility within the Academy for students from varying socioeconomic backgrounds.

“Schools like this often are filled by students of means. We’re very intentional about the idea of recruiting widely and really identifying students who might be under-resourced, to provide them with the opportunity to have the same access as other students have. That is a part of every discussion,” Wehby told The Hustler.

Wehby added that financial assistance for the Academy would be apportioned similarly to aid at the undergraduate level, with Opportunity Vanderbilt assisting those who may not be able to afford the full tuition of the Academy. The exact annual tuition fees have not yet been determined.

Julia Roberts, daughter of Hal and Marjorie, told The Hustler she hopes Vanderbilt undergraduates are able to engage with the academy and center, as students have done at Florida Southern.

“The undergraduates and student teachers came and worked at the Academy, so they got hands-on experience working with children with dyslexia,” Julia Roberts said. “Some students actually came to the college [Florida Southern] because they themselves had dyslexia, so they saw themselves as the children they worked with.”

Camilla Benbow, Dean of Peabody College, affirmed Roberts’ wishes, explaining that students and the Academy would influence each other.

“Faculty and students will be bringing the best practices to the school to benefit children, but in so doing, they get to practice their craft and art of teaching, so they would be able to use that as a training ground,” Benbow said.

Sophomore John Abad ran the “Music City Run for Dyslexia” 5K on Sept. 30 on behalf of the Roberts Academy and Dyslexia Center. 

“Running that 5K for dyslexia was more than a race; it was a stride toward unlocking the potential within every dyslexic learner,” Abad said. “Thanks to the Roberts Academy and Dyslexia Center, I was not just running for a cause, but sprinting towards a brighter future for every child with dyslexia.”

Abad added that he is open to getting involved with the center when it opens next fall.

“I have worked with children a lot due to my non-profit in Peru, and after researching more about it, the intersection of dyslexia and social impact is so interesting,” Abad said.

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About the Contributor
Brina Ratangee
Brina Ratangee, Editorial Director
Brina Ratangee ('24) is a student in the College of Arts and Science majoring in medicine, health & society and neuroscience. She previously served as News Editor. When not writing for The Hustler, she enjoys trivia nights, solving NYT crosswords and biking around Nashville. You can reach her at [email protected].
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