Last October, officials from the Dynamic Dyslexia Design and Evaluation Center – better known as the 3D School – announced the construction of a new $1 million building that will bring six additional classrooms to its campus on South George Street in Petal.
Six months later, workers are putting the finishing touches on the building, which is expected to be completed in about a month. In addition to the extra classrooms, the 5,000-square-foot building will offer two more therapy rooms, which will allow the school to up its current enrollment from the current 147 children to 200.
“We’ll be starting school in July this year, because we’re going to the flexible schedule like Petal (School District) is,” said Cena Holifield, executive director of the 3D School. “So our fifth and sixth grade children will be in the new building starting in July.
“We’re thrilled; we’ll be able to get them out of the gym – they’re in our gym right now – and we’ll be able to have that back for rainy-day play and other activities. The rooms are larger, because these children are larger, and they need a larger room. It’s just going to be a wonderful facility to serve them in.”
The new building is the latest expansion for the 3D School, which was established by Holifield and Trudy Abel in 2008 to meet the academic needs of students with dyslexia. At the time, officials from the City of Petal had plans to turn the building into a senior center, but city and 3D School officials were able to work together to receive a $357,000 grant from the United States Department of Agriculture to renovate the current building.
From there, the school grew from its initial 24 children to double that size over the course of the next year. Within the next five years, the school had grown to the point where officials had to utilize the entire building, which required the city to relocate the seniors to another location.
3D School officials also were using the building next door, which at the time served as the Petal Performing Arts Center.
The school continued to grow until 2012, when Mississippi House District Representative Larry Byrd wrote a bill to help the school.
“What the bill did was allow the (Mississippi Adequate Education Program) money to follow children with diagnosis of dyslexia to a special-purpose school, which is what the 3D School is,” Holifield said. “That money allowed families who could not otherwise afford to get their children the help they needed, that financial support.
“So our school population, at that point, just doubled. Now, this year, we’re serving 145 children, to the point where we outgrew the building that we’re in.”
Two years ago, 3D School officials were able to purchase the building from the City of Petal, along with the land on either side of the site. The school now serves children from at least 15 school districts from around the state.
The 3D School is accredited through the Mississippi Department of Education as a non-public special purpose school. It offers a full-day program to students who are entering second and third grades, who must remain in the school for a minimum of three years – through sixth grade – to complete the comprehensive dyslexia therapy curriculum.
That schedule includes dyslexia therapy, language arts, math, social studies and science, as well as art, music and occasional field trips. All instruction is delivered by licensed dyslexia therapists trained in the William Carey University Dyslexia Therapy master’s degree program.
“People move here to our area to bring their children to the school,” Holifield said. “Sadly, we have families that have to drive a long way – we have two families right now that are driving from Picayune every day to bring their children to school, and they’ve been bringing them for three years.
“We don’t like to see that, because we don’t like our children having to drive that far to get the intervention they need. We would love to see these children getting intervention, or having it available for them at least, in their hometown. But a lot of times, that’s not the case, so we’re just glad we’re here to offer the services.”
Since the inception of the school 14 years ago, many students have benefitted greatly from instruction and have gone on to be successful when re-entering a regular school.
“Our children leave us ready for learning in their regular schools, and we’ve had a very high success rate when they leave us,” Holifield said. “Of all the children that have left us – we’re starting our 15th year next year – we have 100 percent high school graduates.
“One hundred percent of our children that have left us have gone on, and have now entered high school and beyond. All have finished high school, and we have a large number of them in college, so we’re very proud of our children.”
Holifield said she and her staff are motivated by the children’s potential.
“If you can teach a child to learn to read, there’s nothing they can’t do in life if they set their mind to it,” she said. “But if they’re handicapped by being unable to read, there’s very little that life has to offer them.
“It’s just very important to us that we set children up for success.”
For more information on the 3D School, call (601) 450-3333 or visit www.the3dschool.org.
For the future, officials hope to start another building project within the next two years, particularity a multi-purpose site on the campus.
“(It) will be a larger gymnasium area, that we can also have art and music classes in,” Holifield said. “That way, we can take what we’re using as our current gym and turn it into more classroom space as needed.
“Our goal is just to continue to serve the children that need us, and that come to us for help.”