Wellness | Mental Health
Community Connections | Children And Youth

Foothills Academy Society

We help individuals with Learning Disabilities reach their full potential through our School Program and also through Community Services which is available to the wider community year round. We ensure families can access programs regardless of their finances.

Our Story

Why We Exist

“ I truly believe Foothills Academy has changed our lives for the better. I almost feel I cannot put into words exactly how grateful we are that Foothills Academy exists. My son never felt like he belonged in a school setting before Foothills Academy. Right from the first day the teachers and staff made him feel like he was understood and he has since felt very welcomed and comfortable. He also had trouble making friends before Foothills but now has the best group of friends he’s ever had. I will never forget our first parent/teacher interview at Foothills Academy. I was in shock as I heard the teachers say encouraging words that my husband and I have been wishing other school teachers had said (at least once) in the past 7 years of my son’s schooling. Finally, we have found a haven where people understood our son! We now have a happy 18-year-old who will graduate high school this year and go on to post-secondary education with confidence and the tools for success.”  Foothills Academy School Parent

“My son has benefited from Camp Amicus because this was the start of our ADHD/LD journey and we found supportive, professional and caring people. As a mother of 2, for the first time didn’t feel alone. I felt supported and met other people going through the same sojourn. This camp started to change our life for the better and the 3:1 ratio is amazing. The bursaries make this all possible.” Camp Amicus Program Parent

“My son went into the Read/Write program feeling frustrated with reading and therefore struggled with learning. His confidence was deflated and he was starting to give up on himself. We did the 75 hour Intensive Read/Write program in August. He never once complained about waking up every morning and going. Now he has a hard time putting a book down. He’s read over 2 novels in the past month!!! We are so proud of him and very grateful for his time with his instructor. Thank you!” Read/Write Program Parent

For parents whose child is struggling with learning, it can be difficult to find the right help. Learning Disabilities are an invisible disability that can affect academic skills, social skills, self-confidence and self-esteem. With the right identification and supports, these children have unlimited potential. Without the right supports, the outcomes can be grim – school disengagement and dropout, involvement in crime, poverty, addiction and homelessness are just some of the potentially negative outcomes.


Foothills Academy was born of the frustration experienced by Bill and Beth Mackasey as their search for an appropriate academic setting for their son, Patrick, proved futile.  Knowing how capable their son was, yet recognizing how little special educational programming was available for Patrick to be successful, the Mackaseys’ approached Gordon Bullivant and Tom Aylesworth, who were already working with special needs students, for help.

Over the next two years, from 1975 to 1977, a major research project documented the services available in Calgary and across North America and concluded there to be a need for a segregated school for students with Learning Disabilities.  Mr. and Mrs. Mackasey, Gordon and Tom, decided to continue to pursue the idea of a segregated school and formed a society whose purpose would be to start a private, non-profit school and centre.  Financial support was sought and in September of 1979, the first 33 students began their school year at Foothills Academy, located in the old St. Pius School in Capitol Hill.

For the next 35 years (1979 – 2015) Foothills Academy thrived with Gordon Bullivant as the Executive Director and Tom Aylesworth as the Business Administrator.  The current centre was built in Parkdale in 1990 and expanded in 2012 with a burgeoning student population which has now reached its maximum capacity at 296.  The expansion also provided a greater number of counselling, assessment, and individual instruction rooms, facilitating significant growth in all of those areas as well.  Since 2014, Foothills Academy has been the home of Camp Amicus and social skills programs formerly operated by the Learning Disabilities Association of Alberta – Calgary Chapter.

The vision of these founders and the commitment and dedication of the employees over the past four decades has had a profound and positive impact on thousands of young people and families.  The impact of Gordon and Tom cannot be understated, as they always wanted to ensure that no child or family would be turned away due to financial need.  In accordance with their vision, Foothills Academy Society continues to raise close to $1 Million annually to support the bursary fund, allowing access to our school and community services for all.

In June 2015 the Board of Governors chose a new Co-Executive Director governance model to oversee the School and Community Services and appointed Mr. Simon Williams and Dr. Karen MacMillan into these roles.  Together, with their respective backgrounds in education and psychology, Simon and Karen have forged on; strengthening the expertise within Foothills Academy in alignment with the original Founders’ vision.  They have also expanded the services offered to families in the community; increased the educational opportunities for educators across Canada; and renewed partnerships and the leadership of Foothills Academy in the LD/ADHD community.

For more than 40 years, the drive to ensure that no child or family would be turned away due to financial need has remained a core value of Foothills Academy.  The commitment and dedication of the Foothills Academy staff members, the Board of Governors, and numerous supporters in the Calgary community over the past four decades have had a profound positive impact on thousands of young people and their families.

Our Impact

What We Do

A School and So Much More! Foothills Academy Society meets a unique need in Calgary for children diagnosed with Learning Disabilities.  The Society’s mandate has two parts:  to serve children and youth with Learning Disabilities in a School Program and to serve the greater community through Community Services. We directly serve over 5,000 people each year.

Foothills Academy School is a non-profit private school for students with diagnosed Learning Disabilities in grades 3 – 12. The school offers a safe haven to children who have been frustrated by traditional schooling, disheartened by a lack of support for their unique learning style and perhaps been bullied because they just don’t fit in.

Estelle Siebens Community Services assists children, youth and adults who are experiencing difficulties in their school, work and/or home environments as a result of Learning Disabilities or ADHD and the social/emotional challenges that frequently accompany these conditions. Community Services provides programs and services to residents of Calgary and beyond on a year-round basis. We offer psycho-educational testing, individual and group counselling, intensive reading/writing/ mathematics individualized instruction programs, social-skills based summer camps (Camp Amicus) and year-round recreation (Amicus Recreation), parent education and professional development for educators.

It has always been part of Foothills’ philosophy to never turn someone away due to financial circumstances. As a result, close to $1 million must be raised each year to support the bursary program at Foothills. Donations are always welcome to help support the needs of individuals and families affected by Learning Disabilities and ADHD.

“(Foothills Academy) is perceived by the learning disabilities community across North America to be an excellent role model for private education for children who need special help. The success of the school’s graduates and their loyalty to the school over the years speaks volumes. I think everyone in Calgary knows that a child is lucky to be admitted to this school.”  – Dr. Bonnie Kaplan, University of Calgary


Foothills Academy continues to have overwhelming demand from the Calgary area community for placements in our school program. Therefore, we are striving to support the LD/ADHD community in other ways through Community Services, where the demand is similarly high across all four departments: psychological services; individual one-to-one remedial instruction; Camp Amicus and recreational programming; as well as our numerous educational opportunities for parents and professionals across Canada.

  • 296 students were enrolled in our School Program (grades 3 to 12) who received accommodations and supports according to their individual needs. We’ve reached the maximum number of students that our building will accommodate with most grades having a waiting list. A complete school performance report and three-year plan are available on our website.
  • 108 or 41% of our school families applied for and received financial assistance totalling $950,000 through the Foothills Academy Bursary Fund.
  • Community Services directly served more than 1,400 children and youth.
  • Community Services provided 340 parents with increased knowledge through our Parent Workshops and Support Groups.
  • Community Services provided professional development to over 1,270 educators whose increased skills and knowledge would have benefitted at least 25,000 students.
  • In 2019/20 for Community Services, over $140,000 was provided to more than 200 people on a sliding scale basis to access programs and services.

Our Programs

How We Do It

Foothills Academy Society consists of two parts – a full-time School Program and Community Services.

1. Foothills Academy School is a Designated Special Education private school serving over 296 students with Learning Disabilities in grades 3 – 12 following the Alberta Education curriculum. Classes typically have no more than 14 students with a teacher and a part-time assistant. We focus on a wide range of strategies to help students find success ensuring students reach their full potential. The goal for our students is to go on to successful and meaningful post-secondary education. We build on students’ strengths to enable them to become the great individuals whom they are capable of being.

The School Program focuses on the well-rounded child ensuring academics are of a high standard as well as prioritizing the social and emotional development of our students. The high school completion rate and zero dropout rate are testimony to the safe and caring environment both socially and academically that is fostered by supportive staff at Foothills Academy. It is the goal of Foothills Academy that any qualified child should be able to attend the school program regardless of a family’s financial circumstances. Therefore, while Foothills Academy is a private school, it is also a charitable society that raises money every year to support its bursary fund. In order to support this goal, all families of children attending Foothills Academy are required to participate in and support the fundraising efforts of the society.

2. Estelle Siebens Community Services offers year-round programs and services to support people affected by Learning Disabilities and ADHD. In 2019/20, more than 1,400 children & youth accessed our direct programs and services. We also provided parent education to over 350 parents increasing their knowledge of how Learning Disabilities and ADHD affect their children. More than 2,700 educators (reaching over 25,000 students) increased their knowledge and skills for working with the diverse learners in their classroom by participating in one of our Professional Development workshops or online courses.

  • Assessment & Counselling: Psycho-educational assessments and counselling for challenges related to Learning Disabilities, ADHD & related conditions are available for children, youth and adults. Small group programs are offered during the school year that focus on social skill development, executive functioning skills, study skills and leadership. Currently, we offer Let’s Be Social, Acting Social, Survive & Thrive in Jr. HighGirls Only!: Empowering & Connecting Girls with LD/ADHD, and, Moving Forward: Empowering Young Adults.
  • Camp Amicus & Amicus Recreation: Camp Amicus is a specialized camp for children & youth with LD/ADHD with a focus on developing social skills, self-esteem & self-confidence while having a lot of fun. Overnight, day camp, Teen Leadership and Counsellor-in-Training options are available. Amicus Recreation offers recreational opportunities throughout the school year with the same emphasis on developing positive social skills while engaging in fun, recreational activities.
  • Read/Write & Math: We provide remedial instruction for people experiencing reading, writing and/or math difficulties. Our trained, qualified and experienced staff works 1 to 1 to provide personalized assistance for learners from 6 through to adult. The Read/Write programs teach effective research-based, multi-sensory strategies.  Math tutoring is based on the Alberta Education curriculum.
  • Parent Workshops and Online Courses: In-person and online workshops for parents are offered on topics related to LD, ADHD and related issues. Online courses offer self-paced opportunities for parents and other family members to increase their knowledge and strategies for their children with LD & ADHD.
  • Educator Workshops and Online Courses: In-person and online Educator professional development workshops are held throughout the year. Foothills’ Professional Development workshops and training focus on strategies and programs to assist educators and support staff in meeting the diverse learning needs of all students. Online courses allow educators to increase their knowledge of students with LD/ADHD and strategies to help them be successful in the classroom.
  • And more…Foothills Academy Society participates in research and advocacy efforts at a local, national and international level.

Our Requests

What You Can Do

Foothills Academy Society’s philosophy is that no individual with Learning Disabilities should be left behind irrespective of their family’s financial circumstances.  Close to $1 million is needed each year to support our Bursary Fund. School parents, students and staff commit each year to fundraise for the Bursary Fund but we also need the support of the broader community to help us achieve this goal.  Donations are also accepted to support a specific program, capital purchases and sustainable funding.

You can be a sponsor or donor to:

“Foothills Academy has created an environment where teachers have the expertise to understand children who have not been able to learn in larger classrooms…Sean’s success has not only been very gratifying for us but he is fulfilling an important function in our society.  His success demonstrates the impact Foothills Academy has on the lives of individuals who learn in different ways.”   – The DeWiel Family



Janice Nelson

Foothills Academy Society


Charitable Number: 118927060RR0001

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