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Richard and Lori Hall started The New Renaissance Academy on their belief that every student could be successful, given the right set of skills and confidence. And now, feeding off their success of the Athens enrichment and college prep program, the Halls plan to open another location in Decatur this summer.
Daily photo by Emily Saunders
Richard and Lori Hall started The New Renaissance Academy on their belief that every student could be successful, given the right set of skills and confidence. And now, feeding off their success of the Athens enrichment and college prep program, the Halls plan to open another location in Decatur this summer.

Rebirth of learning
Couple sees fast improvement in students enrolled in The New Renaissance Academy in Athens

By Danielle Komis
dkomis@decaturdaily.com 340-2447

When sixth-grader Mary Claire Breakfield is released from school at 2:30 p.m. at Athens Intermediate School, she grabs a snack and happily heads to The New Renaissance Academy in Athens where she is excited ... to learn even more.

It boggles her parents' minds.

"I was really impressed when the kids came home (from the academy) and said 'When are we coming back?' " said Mary Claire's mother, Veronica Breakfield, a fourth-grade teacher at Athens Elementary.

The New Renaissance Academy, an enrichment and college prep program in downtown Athens, sprang from a local couple's belief that every student could be successful, given the right set of skills and confidence.

'A nice, fun environment'

Based on that simple principle, Richard Hall and his wife Lori — neither of whom are teachers, but rather, hold degrees in finance and marketing — designed a program to boost students' confidence, improve their math and reading skills and ACT scores. They opened the academy in 2003.

"Really we're here to help them help themselves," said Richard Hall, who is a stockbroker during the day. "I'm not trying to make it fun but we're trying to make it easier on them so they do it."

One of his former Athens High School teachers, Carole Patterson, serves as one of his advisers. Some extra tutoring and attention is often what classroom teachers long to give their students but can't, she said.

"There are a lot of people who need a supplemental program and need different learning styles," she said. "It's hard to accommodate in a classroom when you have so many different needs. Try as you might, classroom teachers can't do everything."

Not 'boring tutoring'

Last week at the school, several students were using computer programs to train their brains to read faster and remember more, while other students took a break and played in the front of the room. On any given day, the Halls may have up to 15 students.

Richard and Lori were everywhere at once, answering homework questions and cracking jokes with the elementary through high school age students — pulling off the "cool, fun teacher" persona that every child seems to crave.

"We're just kind of controlled chaos," Lori said, as she scrambled around the room. "It's fun and we pride ourselves on being very different."

Students typically are relieved once they meet the Halls.

"I thought it was going to be boring tutoring," Mary Claire Breakfield said. "But now I love it. They make it fun."

Many of the Halls' students are already doing well in school, and others just need a boost in certain subjects. Some are there only to improve ACT scores.

Stumbling onto idea

The idea for the New Renaissance Academy started when Richard's mother was diagnosed with cancer 10 years ago. Richard learned to speed read so he could quickly digest stacks of cancer research.

Years later, his stepmother asked him to teach her grandson to speed read and the high school student's score immediately shot up 6 points in the reading section of the ACT.

"After that we realized we were onto something here," Richard said.

Since that time, many students of the Halls have improved their test scores so drastically that they've received college scholarships — and nothing makes the Halls prouder. Their building holds bulletin boards completely filled with newspaper clippings of their students' accomplishments.

The Halls have already made great strides with her children in only three weeks, said Veronica Breakfield, whose two children attend the academy two to three times per week.

"They're positive with the kids. Just to feel a little bit of success is what they need," she said.

And now, feeding off their success in Athens, the Halls plan to open another location in Decatur this summer. They hope to get the same positive response in the new location, too — though they're used to some initial skepticism from students.

"I've watched parents quite literally drag them out of the car and then 90 minutes later they don't want to leave," Richard said.

A different kind of learning

The core of Richard and Lori Hall's program consists of computer programs that work on three skills: speed-reading, rote learned math facts and memory. The Halls theorize that these three skills help students in all aspects of school, especially on standardized tests like the ACT.

Students' progress on the programs is charted every week, and students often quickly see vast improvements in their computer test scores, as well as in their grades at school.

The two proudly tell the testimony of one of their fourth-grade students who moved up from the lowest reading group in school to the highest in a few weeks.

"She came in and I tell you we all cried and jumped up and down," Lori Hall said.

For more information, contact The New Renaissance Academy at 874-5359. Sessions cost $25 each weekly or $20 for two or more per week.

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