Academics » Learning Differences / Academic Resource Center

Learning Differences / Academic Resource Center

Bishop Feehan & Learning Differences (Special needs, IEPs, etc.)

teacher helping studentBishop Feehan serves many, many different types of learners.  It is a myth that only one type of learner can succeed (or be accepted) at Feehan.  Below we will share with you the powerful academic, curricular, cultural and personal supports that allow so many students to thrive so well at our school.

That said, we also know that there are students whose learning needs likely will not be met best at Feehan.  

We believe strongly that our professional responsibility is to explore every student application carefully and communicate clearly with families on whether Feehan is a place where each student can be best-served. We take this responsibility especially seriously when a student has an IEP, 504 or an identified learning difference.  Open, two-way communication between families, our admissions staff and our academic staff is the heart of our process for ensuring that Feehan can serve all of our students well.

Our most important take-away:  if you aren’t sure if Feehan can support your child with learning differences well, reach out to us, apply for admission and let our expert academic staff help you make that assessment. In recent years, more than two-thirds of such applicants have been accepted, and – more importantly – those students are succeeding at Feehan.

We are immensely proud of how we support all of our learners at Feehan.


The most important element of our process is a philosophy that believes in, challenges and supports all of our students to reach their full potential. Our experience confirms that high expectations, effort-based emphasis, finely tuned curricular levels (with freedom to move), and mission-driven teaching offer what is best for all of Feehan’s learners. 


Terrific teachers who go above and beyond for their students is key to the student’s success, as well.


And we do so much more, especially for our learners who need extra help: 

  • Trained guidance counselors who serve as a first point of contact for a successful academic path.
  • Personal attention from administration and our adjustment counseling office to quickly identify students that may have struggles requiring escalated supports.
  • Teachers who are available for personalized extra help before, during and after-school.
  • A comprehensive and fluid leveling process (we offer more academic levels than nearly all of our peer schools) that allows us to match levels to abilities on a per-subject and per-student basis. 
  • A full-time Learning Specialist in our Academic Resource Center whose sole role is to provide extra support to students assigned to her for short- or long-term assistance. The ARC is especially equipped to provide additional assistance for:
    • organization
    • time management
    • study skills
    • note-taking
    • writing
    • editing
    • proofreading 
    • goal setting
    • test prep and test taking skills
    • homework


A word on some things we do not do:

  • Feehan does not strictly follow any or all IEP or 504 plans. This is why it is so important that we have open communication during the admission process.  We have strong, proven-successful supports, but examples of things we do not offer at Feehan include:
    • Untimed tests or extended-time Feehan assessments 
    • In-class staff aides
    • Opting out of required courses
  • Every application with an identified IEP, 504 or other educational plan is reviewed carefully by a senior Feehan academic staffer (most often our Principal or Vice Principal for academics). If further clarification is necessary, those administrators or our Learning Specialist reach out to families before our acceptances deadline for more information. 
  • As mentioned, in roughly two-thirds of cases, it is determined that the applicant can succeed at Feehan with Feehan’s support, family support and strong student efforts and persistence. If we accept your student, we have made that assessment positively.
  • In a few cases per year – after review of all relevant information – our academic staff determines that the student needs more supports or different supports than those Feehan provides. In those cases, we communicate that, as well. 

For those students with learning plans who do eventually enroll at Feehan, our full-time Learning Specialist in our Academic Resource Center (ARC) meets with the family and student prior to or at the start of school for consultation and to develop a student success plan for that student. Those student success plans are shared with each of the student’s teachers and are updated throughout the student’s time at Feehan.

Feehan is especially able to support students with mild learning differences.  Our mission-focused, talented faculty and our standard professional practices along with the supports listed above work very well for students that fit the following profile: 

  • Has a demonstrated mild learning difference with the ability to learn in a college preparatory setting.
  • Has not demonstrated emotional or behavioral concerns that would interfere with teaching and learning.
  • Has the capacity to succeed socially and emotionally in the college preparatory high school classroom setting.
  • Has a genuine desire to grow in agency, persistence, and resilience
    • Agency
      • Practice initiative: take the lead in their own improvement
      • Practice effective interpersonal skills and seek out extra help when needed
      • Practice serenity: The wisdom to know what they can and cannot control in their lives
    • Persistence
      • Turn challenging or stressful situations into opportunities for growth
      • See challenges as skills building (not something to avoid)
    • Resilience
      • Learn to adapt in the face of adversity
      • See resiliency as a goal and a process

Note: while it’s very important for our students to demonstrate and grow in agency, persistence and resilience, it’s also important for parents to recognize that occasional setbacks, difficult days, hard work and redoubled efforts are part of this academic journey for all students and families, especially for those with learning differences. We can not promise perfection or a straight-line path; we can speak confidently about a track record of supporting learners who thrive in the long-run.

Not sure? Please reach out and discuss with our admissions and/or academic staff. We will proactively help you figure out if Feehan is a good fit for your student.
Dawn SmithMrs. Dawn Esposito-Smith
Learning Specialist
Bio: I have more than 20 years experience as both a Catholic school and public school educator for grades K-12. I look forward to working with you in the A.R.C. this year.

Academic Resource Center Hours
7:00am - 3:00pm

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