The partnership between American University and The Lab School of Washington began in 1975 when Sally L. Smith became an adjunct professor. Eight years prior, Smith founded The Lab School to teach students like her son Gary, who were severely learning disabled. The idea for the school began when Smith discovered that the elaborate, creative, hands-on birthday parties that she'd planned for her sons provided Gary with an environment where he could learn and remember academic material. What started as birthday parties soon became a teaching methodology as Smith realized that a multi-sensory approach to learning was helping troubled students to succeed.
In 1976, Smith became the director of the master's program in special education: learning disabilities, and in the thirty-plus years since then, hundreds of graduate students have learned that arts and academics are very closely related. They have each spent an academic year working in The Lab School, wherein they are able to experience what Smith's philosophy embodied: that all students can learn, and that the arts provide an invaluable vehicle for organizing the learning process for students with learning disabilities. Furthermore, through the coursework, graduate students are able to experience the philosophy of American University of turning ideas into action, and action into service. We strive to make sure our graduates leave AU with a thorough understanding of these fundamental principles and with the ability to implement them when working with diverse learners. With Smith's passing in December of 2007, we are all the more committed to keeping her spirit alive as we plan for continued academic and teaching excellence.