Barbara Cordoni and Carol Brehm, at the October
1982 Brehm groundbreaking ceremony (left to right).
With the help of professionals in the learning disability field, Mrs. Carol Brehm founded Brehm Preparatory School in 1982. Mrs. Brehm was the mother of Tyson Brehm, a high-school student with learning disabilities whose unique needs were not addressed by the public school system or by traditional boarding schools.
Tyson Brehm’s mother had a dream. She dreamed of a school in the midwest where her son and other students could learn. In 1982, Carol Brehm founded Brehm Preparatory School, a not-for-profit boarding school for students with learning disabilities. The honorary shovel broke ground on the nine-acre campus in April of that year. By late August, four humble dorms and two modest academic buildings were built at 1245 East Grand Avenue, in Carbondale, Illinois, a location selected for its nearness to Southern Illinois University. The school doors were opened that fall for 19 students who were supervised and taught by 17 full- and part-time staff.
The small staff, like the founder, had big dreams. Emerging pedagogical practices of this core personnel were grounded in the premise that every child could learn and that each child learned differently. The approach focused on using a combination of learning modalities: visual, auditory, kinesthetic, and tactile — commonly referred to as VAKT. The Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EAHCA), which would later be revamped as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), was in its infancy. Brehm, even in its early years, had a remarkable head start on how to honor individual differences and provide a learning environment where such students could succeed. One of Brehm’s first students had a history of school failure and could learn only through engaging his tactile modality. After attending Brehm, he went on to earn a master’s degree in art and to become renowned for his sculptures. Success stories like his have been repeated over and over since the doors of learning were opened at Brehm.
By the end of its first year, Brehm had an enrollment of 36 students. Brehm visionaries, however, continued to dream of better facilities and programs for more students. During 1996 and 2006, Brehm underwent major expansions led by a strategic planning process open to all stakeholders. The plan resulted in the addition of two new academic buildings, a new girls’ dorm, a therapeutic and administrative building, increased square footage of existing dorms and academic buildings, and a multi-purpose building with a dining hall, gym, cyber café, and stage. Brehm now has the capacity for up to 100 students between the ages of 11-22 who have learning disabilities, speech and language impairments, other health impairments, and social-emotional disorders. The program is staffed by more than 150 full- and part-time employees who participate in ongoing professional development to further expand their repertoire of best practices to meet the academic, social, and emotional challenges that Brehm students present.
Despite the radical changes in the physical plant, student population, and personnel, the mission and vision have remained constant and true to Carol Brehm’s dream. Her passion and spirit continue to be a motivating presence, guiding leadership and stakeholders on a daily basis and in long-range strategic planning.
Since 1982 we have evolved while remaining true to our mission. Thank you, Carol, and all of the other Brehm heroes who stay true to our mission — the empowerment of our students.