At Dearborn Academy, we understand that children do not all learn exactly the same way. Every child has different needs—and all children deserve teachers and schools that will respect and support them and help them achieve their dreams.

It's hard to imagine today, but as recently as 75 years ago, many people thought children who had trouble reading were less intelligent than average.

We now know, in fact, that many kids who have reading difficulties have higher than average IQ scores. We also know that reading difficulties are not all the same.

In the 1960s and 1970s, teachers and families called kids who could not sit still in a classroom "hyperactive," or they said they had minimal brain dysfunction. We now know much more about attention disorders, and we also know how important exercise, diet and sleep can be to growing minds and how the right classroom structures can help students learn.

And as recently as a decade ago, we assumed young children were resilient and that when faced with unspeakable trauma, they would forget and recover with the right support. What we know now is that emotions can change the brain and affect children's learning.

We have learned about learning.

Innovative from the Beginning

Dearborn Academy was founded in the 1940s as the first of Lesley University's “home-grown” lab schools. Known as the Cambridge Town School, the program delivered remedial educational services to struggling students. From the beginning, Dearborn Academy has focused on what it really means to learn—especially when a child learns in a different way. 

One of the earliest pioneers in the field of reading was Walter Fenno Dearborn for whom the school is named. Dearborn, a Harvard University researcher in psychology and education and one of the leading experts in the psychology of reading as well as intelligence testing, was the first scientist to realize that children with what we now call dyslexia were as intelligent and capable as children who had no trouble reading. What these students needed were simply different strategies for learning to read. After retiring from Harvard, Dearborn became head of Lesley University's educational psychology program. His work at the lab school helped him refine his theory of reading, develop highly effective strategies for overcoming reading challenges, and train hundreds of new teachers in these techniques.

Over the next three decades, Dearborn Academy grew to include three schools: the Carroll-Hall School (1957), the Dearborn Pre-Vocational Program (1970) and the Dearborn Secondary Program(1978). In 1981 Lesley University voted to divest itself from its lab schools, and these assorted schools came under the management of the newly formed non-profit organization, Schools for Children. Shortly thereafter the schools moved to the present location in the former Crosby School in Arlington, MA. In 1990 they were consolidated into a single entity—Dearborn Academy. Schools for Children, a thriving organization dedicated to creating and managing great schools, continues to manage Dearborn Academy to this day.

Responding to Children's Needs

By 1996 Dearborn had become widely respected for its expertise in reading and began to share its approach with other schools, including schools with typical learners. That same year the school also started consultation services. Dearborn teachers and administrators had visited school districts across the state to share their knowledge and teaching techniques.

These consulting relationships helped Dearborn become known for much more than the quality of its reading approach. The school is increasingly respected for delivering innovative special education and related services that help put kids back on track. For example, in 2002, Dearborn launched the Short Term Educational Placement program (STEP), a 45-day program designed to support students who needed a "time-out" from their public schools. The school continues to develop new approaches to teaching and meeting the needs of its students.

The Emotional Health of Children

Our programs currently help students from dozens of cities and towns from throughout the state. But the students we serve today also have a wider range of challenges that keep them from achieving success. To meet our commitments to children, we have evolved so that we can address a wider range of needs.

We used to think that the different parts of our mental lives existed in separate spheres. We now know that children who have experienced severe emotional challenges—the death of a parent, a crime, an accident—can often develop learning disabilities. A child who is stressed and can't trust or connect with an adult cannot learn successfully. The reverse is also true and learning disabilities can be traumatic. Over time they can destroy self-esteem and leave children afraid and disconnected. We are concerned about the mental and emotional health of children.

The Dearborn Academy program today weaves together learning, therapeutic and emotional support for children. At Dearborn Academy every student can find the support and care they need to recover, re-learn and re-enter the world happier, more capable and more secure.

  • You can find a history of Walter Dearborn here.
  • Learn more about Dearborn Academy's history with Schools for Children.