"I'm not an original thinker," DeBoer insists. "I just find interventions that work." Although some of New Visions' programs are expensive (the EEG neurotechnology computer and program costs about $10,000 per unit), the school scrapes by on about $4 million a year. Per-pupil spending averages about $10,000 a year, the same as the Minneapolis public schools. "For us, instead of having a band program, we have neurofeedback," says DeBoer, who allows that the school has had to make do with less; for instance, there are no art or music teachers at the school.
For grateful parents, like staff neurotechnician Michele Repke, such sacrifices are acceptable. A former therapist, Repke first learned of New Visions after sending her then eight-year-old son C.J. to a summer Boost-Up program in the early Nineties. At the time, Repke says, C.J. couldn't tie his shoes, ride a bike, catch a ball or, more important, read. "I was told he would never be able to read. Everyone said the same thing: The connections in his brain aren't there." After a few weeks in Boost-Up, Repke says, C.J. demonstrated a marked improvement in physical coordination. One day, as mother and son were heading to the corner store, C.J. got on his bicycle, turned up his training wheels, and "started riding circles" around her.
Bob DeBoer, cofounder of New Visions School, uses unconventional means to develop reading skills
"We never got to the store, and I was a blubbering idiot," Repke recalls fondly.
The following year, C.J. enrolled at New Visions; by the time he reached sixth grade, he was reading at an eighth-grade level. After he graduated, Repke, who had long volunteered at the school, took a job as a neurotechnician. Since then, she has seen similar success stories unfold again and again.
"I worked as a therapist for 30 years, but I have had more sense of accomplishment here than anywhere else I've been. You really feel it when you see these kids grow as much as they do. I'm lucky I can work at something I love," she says. "But if you don't think out of the box, you don't fit in very well here."