State of the school: Coles talks Fortune Academy past, present, future 


Lawrence-based Fortune Academy Head of School Vanessa Coles delivered the State of the School Jan. 10. She reflected on the school’s past, present and future.

With regard to the past, Coles said school officials looked into what works for students.

“We really did a deep dive into what does it mean to make our students competent and what does it mean to make our students confident? We really took time at the beginning of the year to lay that out, and what does that mean,” she said.

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The Fortune Academy is a school where students are taught through the Orton-Gillingham Approach.

Coles said students at the private school are taught through the Orton-Gillingham Approach. The method is used for students with learning difficulties. It is a direct, multisensory and structured way to teach reading, writing and spelling to students with learning challenges, such as dyslexia.

“Every one of our teachers is not only licensed-degree teachers, but they are highly trained in the Orton-Gillingham Approach,” Coles said. “One hundred percent of our teachers are trained in the Orton-Gillingham Approach as well as all of our tutors.

“Not one person in any of our programs sits in front of our students that hasn’t gone through that rigorous training.”

Coles also talked about instruction at the school through the academic intervention model, whereby students spend 80 percent of their time in an instructed intervention model and approximately 20 percent with larger groups.

An in-house licensed family therapist also is available for students and their families.

“We have an in-house licensed family therapist who comes to us with 40 years of experience in therapy,” Coles said. “We also have in-house speech and language pathologists. We have two. All of our students receive speech and language services.”

Coles said performance-based learning and assessment are emphasized.

“This is really important for our kids and another area where our kids really shine,” Coles said. “Our fifth- and sixth-graders did a mission to Mars engineering project where they tried to give solutions to what could astronauts use when going to Mars. Engineers came in, and (the students) had to give their presentations, so they learned a lot about Mars, but they also learned about how to make real-world solutions. It wasn’t just learning about Mars and taking a test.

“They are taking curriculum and dropping it down to the real world and using all of those skills to help them solve different problems.”

Coles shared student quotes and stories.

“We are here to hear things like, ‘This is the best day of school in my life’. We are here for the kids,” she said.

Coles presented statistics showing 100 percent of Fortune Academy graduates who applied to college were accepted. Seventy-five percent participate in extracurricular activities, including seven clubs, six sports and two theater productions. Nearly half of  students participate in more than one extracurricular activity.

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Andrea Corey, left, talks about The Topaz Event.

The Topaz Event

Fortune Academy conducts an annual fundraising event in the spring, and this year’s event is called the Topaz Event, to take place May 2. Last year, the event raised $70,000 for a teacher training center and learning labs.

The school hasn’t yet announced where this year’s fundraising money will be applied.

Fortune Academy Director of Development Andrea Corey said the fundraiser has grown significantly through the years.

“We started a few years after school started, and today we have between 350 and 400 guests,” she said. “We decided to call it the ‘celebration’ a few years ago and just have themes. It really is a time to celebrate. There’s a lot going on in our lives and in our kids’ lives, and it’s a time to celebrate.

“We also want it to be meaningful. Yes, it is a party, but it’s about our mission and what we have done.”

The band Stella Luna will perform and a silent auction will be available. More details will be announced at a later time.