Curriculum Overview

Courses are consistent with the Illinois State Standards in both content and processes. To meet the variety of student needs, classes can be adapted from remedial to standard. This allows students to work comfortably through Illinois and national standards as well as the Brehm competencies at a pace and manner suiting his or her needs. Aside from the remedial classes, our students are capable of learning the standard material but not necessarily in the standard time frames or in the standard manner.

Each class offers pre-testing to assess their level and plan their individualized instruction and post-testing to assess their growth and learning throughout the course. Teachers use a variety of lectures, presentations, class discussions, and small group work to accommodate each student’s learning style. Technology is provided to support students’ educational needs and allow them to create quality work in each area.

English Department

By providing individualized instruction in literature, writing, and grammar, we give students the necessary skills to become independent readers, writers, and thinkers.

Sixth through eighth grade students focus on reading, comprehension, writing skills, and vocabulary building. High school classes expose students to a variety of literary genres, giving them opportunities to explore character motivation and author intent, make predictions and inferences, and make connections between what they’ve learned and what they already know. Writing classes focus intently on the process and use assistive technology to brainstorm, organize, present and reference information.

All texts, novels, and short stories have been digitized and are accessible to students with documented dyslexia. Kurzweil 3000 software allows students to either read or listen to the text, highlight pertinent information, insert questions, and take notes from the reading. Inspiration 9 is used for brainstorming ideas, literary maps, and organizing information for outlines. Students use Pages for their written assignments. They will also create slide shows, podcasts, movies, and interactive speeches.

Mathematics Department

For many of our students, mathematics has been a source of anxiety, frustration, and—oftentimes—failure. To empower students, we begin with developing the sense that mathematics is worthwhile and that success is attainable.

Other students are capable or even excellent math students who need support in reading, writing, executive functioning or self-management. Consequently, the math department designs, modifies, and implements curriculum that meets each student’s individual math strengths and weaknesses.

The whole child takes center stage as they develop their potential, whether it is as the remedial level, algebra 1, pre-calculus or beyond. We carefully teach for mastery and skill development, while at the same time extend their boundaries to the higher ends of upper level math and its rigor. We make sure to progress forward while not repeating a pattern of anxiety, frustration, or failure.

The math curriculum is aligned with the goals set forth by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. The core goals encompass: Numbers, Calculations, Measurement, Estimation, Algebra, Geometry, Trigonometry and other advanced math topics, Statistics, data manipulation, and probability

Laptops are equipped with standard and scientific calculators as well as Geometers Sketchpad, Grapher, and Numbers—all of which have direct mathematical applications. Additionally, Pages, Keynote, and Inspiration provide ways to manipulate and explore content and to communicate more effectively.

Social Studies Department

Students are taught using a holistic approach that teaches how everyone plays a vital role in society, addresses critical issues in the world, makes decisions using democratic principles, and shares skills necessary for civic participation.

All classes are designed to help students use creativity, innovation, critical thinking, communication, and technology to further examine the broader world and become better informed citizens who can fully participate in our society.

With social studies, many students ask, “What does this have to do with me?” To address this, teachers refocus student attention from historical “celebrities,” events, and locations to stories of everyday citizens who lived in and shaped the past. Focus is directed to context and problems—beyond dates and locations—as students link the past to the present by revealing how the same problems faced by earlier civilizations may exist today. Students are guided to comprehend, apply, analyze, and think creatively and critically. We use vocabulary, group discussions, Bloom’s taxonomy, and through both modified and standard social studies classes.

Standard classes are divided into three 15-minute time periods each utilizing a different teaching strategy. Those strategies include teacher-driven discussions, student-led discussions, Keynote presentations, guided note taking, independent student work, movie presentations, supplemental activities, readings of historical novels and primary sources, and writing opinions of historical ideas.

Science Department

A foundation in scientific questioning and investigation is the platform from which all effective learning takes place. Understanding how the scientific method pertains to science concepts can then be generalized into other disciplines such as history and literature. These same skills are the cornerstone of problem solving throughout a student’s daily life.

Earth Science and Physical Science are offered interchangeably for middle school students. Environmental Science, Biology, Anatomy and Physiology, Physics, Forensics, and Chemistry are offered for high school students.

The Science Department has general objectives. First, teachers provide direct instruction of concepts to help students develop an understanding and an appreciation of the surrounding world as scientifically literate people. Varied teaching techniques ensure that each student possesses the necessary knowledge to make sound critical decisions individually and as group members in society. At the same time, the curriculum fulfills college admission requirements and prepares students to meet college expectations competently.

All science teachers offer extra help outside of regular class time, especially after school or during lunch time.

Instructional Technology

We integrate technology into each class whenever possible. Multiple modalities, programs, and strategies allow us to offer a unique learning plan and allow classroom teachers to better differentiate instruction for their students.

The majority of the instructional technologist’s time is spent in direct contact with students, providing initial training on how to use software. Students who need further assistance meet with one-on-one or in small groups to address deficits and create goals. In these meetings, software or hardware compensates for gaps or issues with fine motor skills, written expression, organizational skills, note taking, reading comprehension, decoding, and study skills.

When needed, the instructional technologist will co-teach. The content teacher teaches the curriculum and the instructional technologist enhances the delivery method or offers new ways to complete assignments and create material.

Special Subjects

Special subjects develop students’ strengths that may not lie in traditional academics. These courses help the students become well-rounded and explore other areas of interest.

Fine Arts:

We foster mastery of the basic art fundamentals, develop an appreciation for a variety of artists and art forms, strengthen problem solving skills, and facilitate use of art as a vehicle to express emotions and creativity. We nurture and expand the inherent creativity of students whether art is a therapeutic outlet or vocational pursuit.

Students are not separated into sections based on their developmental level, artistic abilities, or year in school. Therefore, a wide range of skill levels is the norm in any given class.

Students often collaborate on school projects such as the Lights Fantastic Parade float, theatre set design, Prom decorations, and yearbook production. They also create with Photoshop, InDesign, Digital Imaging, and Illustrator as well as digital cameras, scanners, and green screens. In sculpture classes, they practice safety and develop skill in using the lathe, bandsaw, kiln, soldering gun, blacksmithing equipment, and various power tools. The general art classes become familiarized with silkscreen equipment, heat waxing for Batik, furniture restoration tools, and overhead projectors for image enlargement.

Drama: In most schools, students with learning disabilities can’t find the courage to try out for a play or don’t believe they have a chance at getting cast. At Brehm, where students feel comfortable around other students with similar issues, the extraordinary happens regularly.

Students with dyslexia develop great confidence, wonderful stage presence, and the ability to wow an audience. Students who like to be on stage can focus on character development and story, while those who prefer to be back stage can help with the creation of sets and other aspects of the production. Sets are created with the assistance of art classes and wood shop, and the plays showcase drama, dance, singing, and many other types of artistic expression.

Past plays have included Wishful Thinking, Pirates of the Great Lakes, An Actor’s Nightmare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and A Saturday Night Live Review.

Physical Education: Physical Education and Health classes are designed to help students make wise choices regarding exercise, diet, nutrition, hygiene, drugs, alcohol, tobacco, and sexual activity. By promoting a healthy lifestyle through encouraging, modeling, and educating, we hope to help our students become physically fit and avoid future fitness problems.

Consistent participation in a regularly scheduled Physical Education and Health class is the primary goal of the Physical Education Department. All students whose schedules permit are scheduled for a PE class that meets each day for 48 minutes. Student fitness levels are assessed using observation, data from student files, anecdotal information from parents, student self-reporting, and testing developed by the teacher. The smaller class size allows the teacher to constantly monitor, encourage, redirect, and guide students to design a workout program, set goals, and have fun. Frequent informal discussion with each student allows the teacher to fine tune a plan for optimum personal fitness.

Health: Health class is a requirement for graduation and we believe this important class should be taken freshman or sophomore year. Major topics covered are wellness and total health, conflict resolution, preventing violence, nutrition, substance abuse, wellness and body systems, sexually transmitted diseases, and parenting skills. Health students can be seen carting around custom-designed “flour babies” near the end of each semester.

Real World Prep (RWP): Our RWP class covers consumer education the first semester and career exploration and independent living skills the second semester. Consumer education enables students to recognize their role as consumers in our economy and to develop personal economic decision-making skills. Topics include consumer law, banking services, credit loans, credit card fraud, installment buying, budgeting, housing, informed and skillful buying, consumer protection agencies, and the role of business and government in our economy.

During second semester they discuss career exploration and independent living skills. Students take interest inventories to determine their likes and dislikes and select a career area to research and share with other class members. Independent living skills are achieved through units on cooking.

Speech Class: Students learn about the basics of communication, including nonverbal signals, how impressions are created, and the criteria for competent public speaking. Students develop speeches using outlining rubrics and technology they have learned in other classes, and practice them with the built-in video cameras and Photobooth software.

Foreign Language: Many four-year colleges require two years of foreign language credit and some will not permit waivers for students with learning disabilities. Due to the small student census at Brehm, we have the capacity to only offer Spanish One and Two as electives. The ability to read, speak, and write Spanish is taught along with understanding the culture. While a foreign language is not always easily grasped by students with language-based learning disabilities, some students excel when provided multi-sensory teaching techniques. The Spanish courses use a variety of teaching strategies including constant review, slower presentation, peer tutoring, and cooperative group work.

Driver’s Education:Driving to work and recreational activities is a life skill that helps students be independent and mainstreamed into society.

Driver’s Education is taught by a certified driver’s education teacher. Students first participate in classroom hours that teach the rules of the road. If students pass the Illinois state driver’s permit test, they are able to begin logging driving hours behind the wheel of the driver’s education car with the instructor. Students get additional practice using a simulator, and driving hours must be logged with parents over breaks and the summer.

Learning Disability Program

Our entire program attends to unique learning needs and supplements our core curriculum by providing additional courses, processes, supports, and services. Students move beyond their disabilities to successfully navigate the world by applying their strengths in a way that minimizes their weaknesses.

Learning Cognition:

We provide students with a knowledge of how their brain function impacts all areas of their personal, academic, and professional lives. Then they acquire strategies to succeed despite these obstacles. The classes provide the structure and scaffolding needed to help students throughout their secondary and post-secondary education. Students work on these skills within the curriculum of their core academic subjects and within their dorm families.

Middle school students are offered Learning Cognition Art, which explores likes and dislikes; strengths and weaknesses. Depending on their academic, cognitive, and personal profile, high school students can take Learning Cognition, Executive Functioning, College Strategies/College Study Strategies, or Real World Prep. Due to the nature of our students and their disabilities, students are encouraged to take the full progression of Learning Cognition.

A direct emphasis is placed on students’ abilities to identify problems, brainstorm possible solutions, and make sound decisions based on what they have researched. In order to do this, students practice skills that directly relate to their specific learning disabilities and to their ability to focus, plan, organize, study, initiate tasks, schedule, set goals, and monitor progress. We also discuss the rights of students with learning disabilities, helping them become their own advocates.


An advisor is a faculty member who has been assigned three to five students each year. They are committed to addressing student needs in a family model. Advising includes three components: supporting the student, communicating with family and staff, and maintaining IEP documentation. The primary role of the advisor is to holistically support advisees, taking into account their academic, social, and emotional characteristics. The advisor becomes a specialist, knowing a student’s history, diagnoses, disabilities, likes, dislikes, strengths, abilities, recommendations from other professionals. They act as the case manager for Individualized Educational Plans (IEPs) and a liaison between the student, the rest of Brehm, and the family. (Some information, such as medical, psychological, and psychiatric, may not be disseminated due to confidentiality issues.)

To the students, the advisor is an ally who helps with academics, executive functioning, self-management, time management, and post-high school transitions. They provide consistent social and emotional support by stocking the student’s favorite juice, acknowledging birthdays with a card and a big cookie, taking the student to lunch to celebrate successes, or bringing them a stuffed animal if sick in the infirmary. All of this helps students take on personal challenges, meet Brehm expectations, and ultimately become empowered.

One parent reflected that an advisor had been like a “co-parent” in the student’s four years at Brehm.