Benilde Program

Benilde Program Overview

The Benilde Program at Saint Raphael Academy is a nationally recognized, unique approach for bright students with mild learning needs, health problems, or other circumstances that may prevent them for realizing their full academic potential. Now in its second year at Saint Raphael Academy, the program works with Benilde students as they integrate in the same classes and activities as all other Saints students, allowing them to pursue a college preparatory course of study. The program helps students to understand and take responsibility for their own learning needs, and successfully complete high school.


A Note from the Director

Dear Prospective Saints Parent:

When I was as a child, I fell in love with school, and getting an education changed my life. As I pondered a career, I began to wonder why I had enjoyed school and had taken advantage of educational opportunities that others seemed to overlook or throw away.

After decades of wondering, studying, and learning from amazing colleagues, I can tell you that the reasons why some students happily excel and others do not are very complicated.  It isn’t as simple as some students are smart and others are not, some schools are good and others are not, or some families value education and others do not.

What is true is that an excellent education is one of the finest gifts a child can receive.  The Benilde Program is designed to find those students who need support in order to accept that gift and take full advantage of it.  It began 16 years ago, when I was asked to design a fresh approach for working with a small group of students at St. John’s College High School in Washington, D.C.  These students had a variety of conditions that can make school difficult: AD/HD, learning disabilities, and serious health problems.  The Benilde Program became an award-winning model which is now available at Saint Raphael Academy.  This approach truly is different and not related to public school models or tutoring methods that you may have experienced at other schools.

Does the Benilde Program work?  Yes, it does.  There is a strong research basis, but nothing succeeds like success. Perhaps the nicest thing about being in my fifties is the pleasure I have had of seeing so many students begin to experience in high school what we wish for all of our children: the joy of learning and the confidence the comes with success. This, in turn, leads them to choose a path where they can make the most of their talents and interests by succeeding at the college of their choice.  My former students now have a variety of interesting careers. Even more—they are educated.  They can think critically, communicate effectively, plan logically, and appreciate other points of view.  They can advocate for themselves and for others.  They take their civic duties seriously, and—to me, the most important—they have pondered and prayerfully considered God’s role in their plans, and their role in His.

If your child is challenged by a learning difference and having a hard time working happily to his or her potential, I invite you to talk with me about how the Benilde Program works and why Saint Raphael Academy could be right for him or her.

With sincere wishes for your child’s happiness and educational success,

Doreen Engel

Benilde Program Director


Recent News

Rhode Island Catholic, September 7, 2017, “New school year, new opportunities for Rhode Island’s Catholic schools”


Frequently Asked Questions


What is the Benilde Program?

Named for Lasallian educator St. Benilde Pierre Romancon, who was considered an extraordinary and innovative educator, the Benilde Program is based on a model developed 16 years ago at another Lasallian school, St. John’s College High School in Washington, D.C. The program was recognized in 2000 and 2004 with a SPiCE Award (Special People in Catholic Education) from the National Catholic Education Association (NCEA) and the Lynch School of Education at Boston College as one of the 10 best Catholic education programs in America. Subsequently, the program was adopted at schools around the country, although often under a different name. The Benilde Program at Saint Raphael Academy began in 2014, and was recognized at the Lasallian Association of Secondary School Chief Administrators (LASSCA) Annual Conference.

How does the Benilde Program work?

Students in the Benilde Program at Saint Raphael Academy study the same curriculum, attend the same classes, and meet the same requirements as their peers. Benilde students may take classes out of sequence, if it is in their best interest to do so; receive daily coaching by a learning specialist;  learn advanced study skills, test-taking techniques, and other strategies for maximizing academic success; and study meta-cognition (or “learning about learning”).

Other accommodations may be made as necessary, so that their learning style will more likely fit with the academic presentation at Saint Raphael Academy.

Who runs the Benilde Program?

Doreen Engel is the director of the program at Saint Raphael Academy, as well as the designer and original director of the program at St. John’s. Mrs. Engel has a Master’s degree in special education from Catholic University of America, and is the former principal at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Academy in Central Falls. Previously, she was director of special education at the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., supervising programs for 100 area Catholic schools. She often speaks at national conferences and has had articles published in trade journals about the Benilde Program.

Is the Benilde Program at Saint Raphael Academy right for my son/daughter?

Parents should determine if their son/daughter:

  • Has a sincere interest in becoming a part of the Saint Raphael Academy family and the Benilde Program.
  • Has had a psycho-educational evaluation completed in the last three years by a licensed psychologist which indicates that the student has a diagnosed learning difference, an IEP, or other documentation of a learning difference.
  • Has demonstrated the ability to learn in a classroom of approximately 25 students.
  • Can handle the demands of a college preparatory curriculum.
  • Has not demonstrated any emotional or behavioral problems that would significantly interfere with classroom learning.
  • Is interested in taking responsibility for “learning how to learn.”


Furthermore, the Benilde Program at Saint Raphael Academy is prepared to assist students who are on track to becoming college students.

Will he/she still be able to earn their diploma?

As previously mentioned, students in the Benilde Program study the same curriculum, attend the same classes, and meet the same requirements as their peers at Saint Raphael Academy. Thus, their diploma and transcripts are identical to their peers. They are also completely involved in the extra-curricular experiences of the school. Many Benilde graduates go on to graduate college and begin successful careers.

Are there extra costs for the Benilde Program?

There is an additional annual fee of $1,500 for the program. Students may choose to enroll for one year at a time, but may continue in the program as needed all four years of high school.

How does my son/daughter apply to the Benilde Program?

In order to participate in the Benilde Program, students must apply to Saint Raphael Academy and the Benilde Program separately. Students are identified through the school application process; parents are encouraged to describe any challenges their student has that may indicate a strong match to the program. Students in the past who have had the following types of learning needs have shown to benefit most: AD/HD, dyslexia, and executive function disorders; this list is not exclusive, so please contact Mrs. Engel to further discuss your student’s situation.

Space is limited to 10 percent of each grade’s student body. Interested parents may contact Mrs. Engel to discuss the student’s appropriateness for the program. Parents are also strongly urged to attend an information session in the fall prior to their son’s/daughter’s application for admission. (Specific dates will be scheduled in the fall.) Contact Mrs. Engel if you have a conflict or if you have additional questions.

As part of the application process, students must submit a psycho-educational evaluation and other information (i.e. Individual Education Plan, 504 plan, or other documentation) as needed so that their learning needs may be completely understood.



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