When Leah Brzezinski, the wife of a Minnesota Vikings executive and an educator with a doctoral degree, saw her young son struggling to learn, she started her own school.
At 4:30 p.m. Saturday at the team's training site at Winter Park in Eden Prairie, Brzezinski, with an assist from her husband, Rob Brzezinski, head of football operations for the Vikings, will host a fundraiser for the Arete Academy for Exceptional and Gifted Children in Hopkins. The one-year-old school has only a few students. Next year, about 16 are expected to enroll, all from an educational niche Brzezinski said has been ignored.
Arete is for "2e" students, kids who are "twice exceptional" because they are both gifted and have a learning disability. Brzezinski recognized the signs early on in her son and fought to get a proper diagnosis and an individual education program for him in the public school system.
Ultimately, she said, she wanted his education designed for his needs — something he couldn't get elsewhere.
While she had the funds to start the Arete Academy, more money is needed to keep it going. Tuition is about $17,500. Brzezinski said that amount either will have to be raised by half or "I need to find a creative way to fund this."
Her first step is speaking publicly about the school at the event at Winter Park, 9520 Viking Dr., Eden Prairie. Admission is $25 for adults and $10 for kids with adults. The event includes tours of the facility and locker room, a raffle of tickets and signed memorabilia, and a screening of the documentary "2e: Twice Exceptional" about a group of students in California.
"2e" students often do well until third or fourth grade, Brzezinski said. They tend to have high IQs. But these students often have dyslexia, dysgraphia or an auditory processing disorder. They may qualify as gifted, but are barely passing their regular classes. They get frustrated and have social difficulties.
Eventually, they may become disruptive because they're not getting what they need in school, Brzezinski said. "They're not being identified. They're basically on their way to juvie," she said, referring to the juvenile justice system.
Only a few schools exist solely for "2e" students, and they're not cheap because they have a 4-1 student-teacher ratio. For now, she has students in third to seventh grade. She's hoping to eventually add younger and older students, as well as postgraduate assistance for college kids.
Paramount to Arete is giving a child a "sense of belonging and fitting in," she said. "They're not easy kids," she said. "They're very bright, so they challenge everything."
Given her background in education, Brzezinski said everything in her life lined up for her to launch the school.
"There's no choice in this, because it's my kid," she said. "It's a huge need."