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Brzezinski's Helping 'Twice Exceptional' Learners

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Vikings Executive Vice President of Football Operations Rob Brzezinski and his wife Leah recently hosted a fundraiser for Arete Academy of Exceptional Education, a special school Leah founded in Edina for "twice exceptional" learners in 2014.

"Twice exceptional is a fairly new educational term," Leah Brzezinski said. "I like to explain it by saying that twice exceptional learners are a group of students who are falling through the cracks. We just have a clearer idea of why some students fall through cracks in traditional education systems.

"Students who are 2e are very bright and also have learning disabilities," she continued. "These learning disabilities include auditory processing disorders, dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia and/or ADHD. These learning disabilities often go unidentified because their test scores in some areas are very high and they are often able to compensate in the earlier grades."

Rob Brzezinski welcomed the crowd to an evening at Winter Park that included live music, games in the field house, tours of the facility and visits with current Vikings Jeff Locke, Marcus Sherels, Charles Johnson and Carter Bykowski, as well as Vikings alumni Dave Osborn, Chuck Foreman, Rickey Young and Ryan Hoag.

"I want to thank the Wilf family, first and foremost, because they believe in using the Vikings and the NFL as a platform to make positive changes in the community," Brzezinski said.

One student sang Best Day of My Life, and another performed Lean on Me before Twin Star Rocket took the stage.

Johnson said he enjoyed learning more about the school and students.

"It's great to come out here," Johnson said. "What they're trying to accomplish and their goals behind this whole situation, it's amazing. To see the joy the kids displayed after they performed was exciting."

The Brzezinski family includes five children, ages 12, 10, 9, 8 and 5 that were separately adopted from their homeland of Korea. When the oldest son began to encounter some struggles, he was diagnosed as twice exceptional.

Leah Brzezinski, who has a doctoral degree in child and youth leadership, said she considered home schooling their son, but they then decided to found the school, which is the first of its kind in the Midwest and features a 4-to-1 teacher-student ratio that focuses on how to nurture the students' gifts and help with the challenges.

"One of the best things about our school is the teachers — they are not only special teachers but special people."

She said only a handful of "2e" schools exist in the United States, including a school in New York, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.  

"I thought about who I was personally and professionally, and I decided to open the school to educate not only our sons, but service the community, state and Midwest," said Leah Brzezinski, who also has a Bachelor's degree in elementary education and a Master's in speech language pathology. "I had Rob's support, and hopefully we'll be an example of how to educate these kids."

Leah Brzezinski said there's often a delay in diagnosis of a "2e" student because their intelligence helps them through early grades until curriculum becomes more challenging. Difficulties can lead students to become frustrated.

"It's hard, even for families who have a lot of resources," Leah Brzezinski said. "We are one of those families, and it is still hard. I'm continually asking questions and searching for answers. In one way, they are so bright, so people look at them as, 'lazy' or 'unmotivated' or think it is a behavioral issue, and really it's an underlying learning disability that hasn't been identified. It's tricky."

She suggested a neuropsych testing as a place to start if families observe similar challenges, often in third or fourth grade as academic expectations increase.  She said their son has made a "complete turnaround" from not wanting to go to school to waiting for her in the car each morning.

"He's here tonight with friends, which is beautiful," she said.

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