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A Personal Journey Influences a Future Path for PLANS

African Nova Scotians are a large racially visible group in Nova Scotia. The current workforce, including health care, is not representative of the diversity that exists in Nova Scotia. PLANS was established in 2013 with the goal to increase the number of African Nova Scotians within the fields of health, medicine and dentistry. PLANS works to achieve this goal through many recruitment and retention activities that aim to expose youth to the various health programs, assist with navigating the application process and provide support across their academic journey. Recently the PLANS program manager position has become a permanent position at Dalhousie University. This strengthens Dalhousie’s commitment to this program and the priorities for healthcare in the region.

The work of PLANS has been enhanced by the funding received from the Johnson Scholarship Foundation, which has aided in the development of programs as well as bursaries and scholarships to reduce barriers and to increase the enrollment of Indigenous Atlantic Canadians and African Nova Scotian students who are engaged in the study of Health, Dentistry and Medicine.

How my journey informs my work with PLANS

I am very honored to be able to continue the very important work that PLANS has undertaken as the now permanent PLANS Program Manager. Having grown up in rural Nova Scotia and experiencing firsthand the barriers of navigating post-secondary, I know how important this program is. Lack of awareness of resources, limited knowledge of what programs are offered and the financial impact of attending post-secondary, especially in a new urban area can be overwhelming. Being the first in your family to attend post-secondary you don’t often have the supports or resources in place to be able to do so easily, and it can be a deterrent for many, including me. Attending university was not an immediate option for me following high school, and it required attending community college and working before I was able to pursue university myself. I reflect on the programs and initiatives that PLANS offers and the impact that it would have had on my own career progression if it had been in place at that time. This is what motivates me to ensure the work we do with PLANS has the largest reach possible to make sure we are capturing youth like myself who did not have the support or resources to navigate post-secondary. I believe that my educational and professional journey lends great insight into areas for future development. I have had the opportunity to work in varied roles within health care and to work with many others on interprofessional teams in various settings. I am able to draw upon those experiences to inform some of the programs and supports that are offered through PLANS. My experience working in community health systems as well as within the schools affords me better insight into how those areas can interact and how to best collaborate when looking to deliver programs for PLANS in the future.

The PLANS goal of creating a more diverse health care workforce has always been important to me. The ability for members of our African Nova Scotian community to feel represented and comfortable to receive health care services is important as is the importance of our youth to experience this. For our African Nova Scotian youth to be able to see themselves represented in various roles throughout the spectrum of health care (health educators, practitioners, those in leadership roles) is important to let the youth know that this career path is within their reach.

My vision for the upcoming year

The challenges of COVID-19 over the spring and into the summer has changed the way that PLANS has traditionally operated. A key component of the PLANS program has been our summer camps, which allow youth to experience the various health programs in a very experiential way. It gives them the opportunity to become familiar with some of the local universities, faculty and students, which is key to assisting potential students to feel comfortable. This year we have shifted how we engage with youth to an online virtual platform. This change affords us the option to reach more youth in ways that our traditional camps could not allow. In the upcoming year I look forward to the opportunities for growth and reinvention that this change has brought. My passion has always centered around providing opportunities to African Nova Scotian youth in rural areas, and my continued goal is to identify additional and innovative ways that PLANS can engage and support these youth. I am excited to continue the work of PLANS and look forward to many of the upcoming projects and collaborations PLANS has in the upcoming year. I am so thankful that I get to be a small part of a students’ journey and to be able to support their educational goals.

PLANS seeks to increase representation of African Nova Scotians in the health professions through recruitment and retention, community collaborations and partnerships to improve health outcomes within the African Nova Scotian community. PLANS offers programming, provides resources, and attends community and school events to provide health career support and preparation. Learn more here!

Staying the Course – Mentoring First-Generation College Students During High School

The President’s Challenge Scholarship (PCS) Program at SUNY Ulster assists first-generation local students with overcoming socio-economic barriers associated with attending college. Selected in eighth grade, students receive counseling and mentoring throughout high school.

The PCS College Mentor team, comprised of SUNY Ulster’s Enrollment and Success Center Counselors, is charged with supporting nearly 100 scholarship recipients from nine school districts across Ulster County. Their primary goal as mentors is to be a consistent resource for students – keeping them motivated and on the college-bound track.

The PCS college mentors visit with students on SUNY Ulster’s campus and several times throughout the year at their high schools. Mentors have found the most success in creating small discussion groups where they are able to assess student needs and offer individual attention. During their in-person sessions, mentors were able to use a career assessment tool called FOCUS2 to get students thinking about future career options based on their interests and strengths.

Rebecca Mercado with some of her students at Ellenville High School in early 2019.

“The PCS students have consistently surprised me with their enthusiasm and varied interests,” said Rebecca Mercado, PCS College Mentor for Ellenville and Rondout Valley high schools. “The College will be lucky to have such amazing young people as a part of our community!”

Students also have an online component to complement what they are exploring in their in-person mentor sessions. These sessions will offer them remote access to college readiness material, discussion with other scholarship recipients, and guidance from their mentor in between in-person visits. Online content will further expand each year the student is in the program as they move toward graduation from high school and entry to SUNY Ulster. Due to COVID-19, this summer’s College Mentor engagement session now includes an online connection with mentors and SUNY Ulster student leaders to challenge scholarship recipients to reflect on their experience over the past few months and encourage them to try something new before their next session.

In addition to providing a support network and getting students acclimated to online learning, mentors are also a resource for college planning. Through SUNY Ulster’s Collegian Program, students are able to complete college-level courses right at their high school. These courses not only give students a jumpstart on their college experience by offering them transferable college credits, they also are funded through the student’s scholarship. Mentors advise students on course options, including how courses will fit into their college degree programs.

While most of the PCS recipients are still in high school, this fall, four of the original group of six students from the 2016 Rondout Valley Central School District pilot program will attend SUNY Ulster full-time. One of the students from this cohort is entering her second year at SUNY Ulster, as she entered a year early. Mercado, the students’ college mentor, offered support with the admissions and financial aid process as well as with course registration. While two students chose to attend college elsewhere, Mercado was happy she was able to advocate for them on their road to college.

Dr. Alan P. Roberts

The lives of the students who attend the PCS program will be forever changed, noted Dr. Alan Roberts, SUNY Ulster President.

“PCS recipients not only accept our challenge when they enter this program, but they also make a PCS promise and sign our pledge book by committing to being responsible students who are active in and out of the classroom by choosing and acting with kindness, having an open mind and being ready to learn new perspectives, setting a good example for others, and making every effort to participate in PCS activities. In turn, we promise to build relationships through mentorship experiences and donor engagement opportunities during their time in high school, continuing to motivate them to act on their future educational plans in real-time.

“The students entering universities in the fall are stellar success stories who have become the ultimate beneficiaries of the support and guidance received from four years of mentorship in the program,” Roberts added. “I am proud to serve as a champion for the success of PCS students through their educational pathways and entry to SUNY Ulster.”

To learn more about the PCS Program and how you can support these first-generation college-bound students, visit our website: www.sunyulster.edu/presidentschallenge.

Nancy S. Clarke is Administrative Program Coordinator for the President’s Challenge Scholarship Program at SUNY Ulster. Fourteen of the President Challenge Scholarship students have been sponsored by the Johnson Scholarship Foundation.

Are We There Yet? What the ADA Set Out to Do and Where We Are on its 30th Anniversary

Celebrating the landmark legislation three decades later

To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the landmark ADA legislation, Perkins School for the Blind is digging deeper into the topic on its blog this month. Their first post examines what the ADA has accomplished and some of the work remaining to create a more equal society. Read on for an excerpt and visit the Perkins site for the full post. This article was posted with permission from Perkins School for the Blind.

Ahmed Alenezi, a 21-year-old graduate of Perkins’ Deafblind Program, never imagined he’d find himself putting on a pair of gloves and getting in a boxing ring—until his senior year.  Then, thanks to the Perkins adapted PE program, in which students and teachers work to explore activities that will help them to lead active lives post-graduation, Alenezi began working on his moves in a gym in Watertown, Massachusetts. He hopes to continue boxing and possibly work at the gym where he fell in love with jabbing and hooking.

That’s a far cry from the world before Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) introduced the Americans with Disabilities Act, which was then signed into law by President George H.W. Bush 30 years ago. The ADA’s four primary goals include full participation, equal opportunity, independent living and economic self-sufficiency.

Continue reading on the Perkins School for the Blind site.

Early Intervention – Creating Belief in the Eighth Grade

In 2015, the sixth and newest president of SUNY Ulster, Dr. Alan P. Roberts, arrived at SUNY Ulster with an inspirational plan to reach eighth-grade students and to engage them in college during grades nine to 12. Embarking on a bold plan of early intervention to reach all nine school districts in Ulster County, President Roberts engaged the Ulster College Foundation, Inc. in rolling out the pilot plan for the President’s Challenge Scholarship in 2016.

Dr. Alan P. Roberts and a President’s Challenge Scholarship recipient

Dr. Roberts felt that the important aspects behind the creation of the President’s Challenge Scholarship were that students need to be engaged academically at an early age, but also that they are engaged in the big picture aspects of college preparation as early as eighth grade. A broad scope of engagement was envisioned and incorporated as core components of the scholarship with the idea of building a belief in each student in their successful futures. The program started with the goal of changing lives by helping first-generation economically disadvantaged students with overcoming socio-economic barriers associated with attending college. Six students were identified as inaugural recipients who would most benefit from a mentorship program during high school to guarantee their success and make higher education a reality as first-in-family to (potentially) graduate college. Key donors met the challenge to sponsor and support them on this journey. By the 2019-20 school year, 49 eighth graders from all nine school districts in Ulster County were added to the scholarship classes. Today a scholarship contingent that is approximately 100 strong is growing by 50 new eighth-graders from all of the nine school districts to form a formidable group of diversified and dedicated students who have committed to “Taking the President’s Challenge.” The scholarship provides the solution to our students’ first obstacle – how their education will be funded! Imagine the impact of this overture of belief! Empowering first-generation college students on the path to and through college is the impetus for this challenge, and we see that impact firsthand in the faces of the recipients – and in the pride they feel when arriving on campus. SUNY Ulster assigns college mentors to PCS recipients and provides counseling and support for these students at their high school, at events on the SUNY Ulster campus, and online. Imagine a ninth-grade student meeting their mentor at a campus-based event. Imagine 10th- and 11th-grade students receiving program content and college enrollment guidance while on SUNY Ulster’s college campus. Students take campus tours, meet faculty, obtain college I.D. badges, and have lunch with the President. We wrap up the days on campus with college notebooks, hats, drink containers, and other college identified items to help our students bring home with them a small part of their newly developed opportunity.

At the school districts, college staff meets with PCS students four to six times per year and collaborates with school administration to schedule visits, monitor students’ academic progress as it relates to scholarship requirements, and identify possible support needs as they relate to student success.

Engagement opportunities for PCS students are also created at the high schools on various topics including academic planning, financial literacy, career exploration, college lingo, progress reports, portal engagement, and leadership. They also discuss college readiness topics such as time/stress management, networking, conflict resolution, civic engagement, and emotional intelligence.

This year has been a challenge for all of us given COVID-19 precautions, and so in 2020-2021, support for virtual/remote learning opportunities will be added to the programming for PCS, as well as online student group discussions. PCS college mentors will also support new PCS students as they become familiar with SUNY Ulster technology including email and online learning.

Through the college mentors, students are advised on Early College (on-campus) and the Collegian Program, which allows students to earn credits towards an Associate’s Degree in their high schools. They also learn about admissions, financial aid, and SUNY Ulster campus resources.

Belief might begin with the notice of acceptance into the President’s Challenge Scholarship program and the knowledge that someone is dedicated to their education. But ownership of one’s future is what is born once a student is engaged in the program, and for that, we find ourselves eternally indebted to those who funded this opportunity and those who continue to do so. Exposure to opportunity might have a quantified value, the cost of an education for this year, for example; but belief in oneself is a gift that stays within a student forever. It informs them in a manner that permits them to take risks and to be bold and to speak up for themselves – this is a gift that has no price tag – it is character-forming and life-changing, and that is what comes from belief.

Lorraine Salmon is Executive Director of Institutional Advancement and External Relations for SUNY Ulster and the Ulster Community College Foundation, Inc. Fourteen of the President Challenge Scholarship students have been sponsored by the Johnson Scholarship Foundation in West Palm Beach, Florida.

Online Learning and the Impact on Students – Will Some Students Get Left behind?

I believe that the pandemic created by the coronavirus is causing some significant learning issues at all levels of the education system. Early in my career I was the Director of an Upward Bound program that prepared American Indian students for college. During that time, I learned about students’ learning styles and modalities. I found that it was common for American Indian students to rely on kinesthetic learning as their preferred learning style. American Indian students also learned better in darkened environments and were equally strong as visual and auditory learners. Many students had photographic memories that were geographically based. The most effective strategy we utilized was informal peer teaching. Peer teaching worked because the students were able to communicate with each other more effectively at their level of comprehension. There are a multitude of factors that enhance peer teaching success, including language, cultural backgrounds, cultural norms, ability to interact and understand communicative instruction at various levels and many others. Perhaps we need to learn more about peer teaching strategies given our current crisis.

man holding a baseball batMany of the American Indian students were gifted athletes having exceptional eye-hand coordination. This probably was inherited from a day when they had to survive using a bow and arrow, atlatl or spears. Total geographic recall was absolutely necessary for survival in the environments that they lived in at the time. Back then getting lost would have been fatal in almost every instance. It was very important for us to know the cultural backgrounds of our students and the mode in which they learned best. One approach was not congruent to success given the varied backgrounds or our students. Our approaches to learning styles were individually focused to better help the students maximize their learning potential. Fast forward to today, where there is a considerable body of research that suggests that learning styles are questionable. I am not intimately involved in education as I was 20 years ago, thus my expertise on this matter may be somewhat dated. However, a compendium of research suggests online learning is less effective than face-to-face classroom experiences.

In those early years in Upward Bound the majority of our students were bilingual, speaking their Native language from birth and later learning English when they attended boarding schools. The primary methodology involved writing and reading following the western methodological theories and pedagogical practices which often times created learning challenges for many of the Native students. Many bilingual Native students overcame the educational challenges by creating their own internal cognitive processes and methods. Many of these students mastered both their world of learning and the educational challenges of Western pedagogical approaches. These students excelled in college because they were able to use multiple ways to process and evaluate information within their learning styles and modalities.

This was equally true for American Indian students who primarily followed their natural learning styles. Being able to learn using both methodologies enhanced their cognitive processing skills and generally created a student who was better prepared when they went on to college.

The reason that I have concerns is that almost every college has moved to online learning. This could hinder students who rely on alternative learning modalities, styles and differing world views to be successful in the classroom. Peer interaction is diminished in virtual interactions and the opportunity to socially interact while teaching and learning from each other hurts some students. As educators who have been thrust into a new learning/teaching reality, we must not lose sight of how we can best help our students.

girl at computer pc workplace home officeIt is clear that the coronavirus is not going away soon and it is imperative that we implement strategies and identify new resources to help students who need additional support during this period of time. One of the things that is helpful would be a review of strategies that were developed over the last decade to assist all students with disabilities. For example, the Center for Online Learning and Students with Disabilities has an excellent website with updated information and promising practices that will help our students achieve. If you are a teacher, it is important to be more interactive with your students. Teachers should be looking for behavioral changes, increased frustration and any other indication that the student is being distracted from learning. The website for the National Disability Rights Network is another resource for information to help guide your performance while working with our students with disabilities.

We have to continue to find ways to reach those students who are not learning and growing in this new reality. I know this first-hand as my little 2nd grade granddaughter is struggling and I know she is brilliant, no bias here. She is exactly the kind of student who could face challenges going forward. THINK!

Sweat Equity, Delayed Gratification, and One Senior’s Story of a Big Payoff

Meet Evan Cabrera, a member of the Johnson Scholars-Take Stock in Children program and recent graduate of Lake Worth High School. Cabrera will be heading to Florida Atlantic University in the fall on a full ride scholarship as a participant in the Kelly/Strul Emerging Scholars Program. He is one of four students in the Johnson Scholars-Take Stock in Children program to receive the honor for academically talented, first-generation students. They are among 15 high school seniors in Florida to receive the scholarships.

In a recent conversation with us, Cabrera shared his thoughts about his success, some private struggles, and his advice for other students.

JSF: Evan, tell us a little about what it took to receive not one but two full scholarships.

EC: In my junior year I was asked to apply for the Leaders for Life scholarship. (The Leaders for Life full scholarship is awarded to six Take Stock in Children scholars from across the state.) At that point, that was the first scholarship I was applying for. It was a pretty big packet. (Take Stock in Children Palm Beach County Executive Director ) Nancy Stellway really helped me a lot. I turned out to be a semi-finalist. It put me down a little bit. But she said my application was really good, and told me I could apply for this other scholarship. I thought of it as a little failure that I had. But I realized a lot of people who might have edged me out didn’t even apply. And I realized it’s just some more minutes to put into it.

Evan Cabrera in Graduation Gown

I remember hearing the term “sweat equity.” I thought about that a lot. I have to put in the work now. I applied for the Kelly/Strul and another from the Scholastic Achievement Foundation. I remember thinking ‘I’m applying for two separate four-year scholarships to the same school. How crazy if I got them both.’ And I did! I know I’m really grateful just being in this position.

JSF: In your essays, you talk about some difficulties in your family during high school. How did that affect you?

EC: In my sophomore year, my brother was arrested at our house. When the police came to our house, I was the first one handcuffed, interrogated. It was traumatic. It’s still traumatic to think about sometimes, even though I know the police are not going after me. I didn’t share it with many people. It gave me insight into what I was doing in my life. (At Johnson Scholars-Take Stock,) only a few people knew. My mentor knew. Anytime I was in that environment it was always happiness. I liked the meetings we had. It helped me a lot without them really knowing.

Evan Cabrera in mangroves with trash bag

I never questioned if my school or other potential outlets were worthwhile. I cannot set my expectations too high. My goal was not to get straight A’s. I just thought, ‘let me do good and care,’ and I got straight A’s. I started my own club outside of school. That’s where I devoted a lot of, let’s say, my bottled emotions. It’s called PB4Planet. I found out there was a climate strike in West Palm Beach. I contacted the organizer and said I wanted to be involved. I’ve always been interested in renewable resources and renewable energy. I was always into science. I wanted to make some difference. I knew political change is very difficult. I started that club with high school kids to make inspirational change. We’ve done beach cleanups, we did a mangrove cleanup in Boynton Beach. It’s something I’m going to continue while in university. Since I’ve always been interested in renewable energy, I hope to become a civil engineer and focus on building homes to a more eco-friendly standard.

JSF: What advice do you have for other young people contemplating their future?

EC: It’s extremely hard for someone, especially in my generation, to see the long-term goal. So it’s hard to put in the effort initially. I think that’s the perspective of why so many people are complaining about us. For me, just putting in that sweat equity without even knowing what that end goal would be, it fulfilled me. When I started doing well in school, I had some guys say, ‘oh, he’s probably a nerd.’ If you know you have potential within yourself, don’t go for the mainstream mentality of immediate rewards. Too many guys think, ‘I have to do certain things to fit in.’ Well, sometimes you don’t need to fit in. After I started getting all this positive attention for the things I was doing everybody just started respecting me. It’s all worth it. I only realize these things because I’ve had an open mind to learn from mistakes.

Evan Cabrera is a recent Lake Worth High School graduate and recipient of a full-ride scholarship to Florida Atlantic University through the Kelly/Strul Emerging Scholars Program.

Struggles and Success: The Impact of COVID-19 on an Aboriginal Youth Entrepreneurship Program

A year ago, I posted an article on “Giving Matters” about the Martin Family Initiative’s (MFI) ground-breaking project: the Aboriginal Youth Entrepreneurship Program (AYEP). At that time, AYEP was offered in 51 schools across Canada and there were plans to expand to additional locations.

The 2019-20 school year started off very well. AYEP teachers were very impressed with their students’ progress; many reported evidence of students’ increasing knowledge of the economy and business, improved motivation to complete current studies and pursue further ones, increased self-confidence, and heightened awareness of the needs of their communities.

All this changed on March 11, 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic was declared. Almost immediately schools across Canada were closed – many are still unsure when they will re-open.  Students were encouraged to participate in at-home learning for the remainder of the school year even though they were deemed to have completed their courses as of mid-March.

MFI determined that the best way to support AYEP teachers and their students was to upload the AYEP lessons and supporting resources to the Google Classroom platform. We also instituted weekly calls with AYEP teachers to provide support and advice. Many of the schools that offered AYEP-implemented remote learning using a range of tools and approaches including synchronous activities.  

Photo of young woman with blue earring

MFI has experience with distance learning, but over the past months some Aboriginal student-focused issues have emerged: difficulty to complete on-line lessons, the lack of access to connectivity and devices, and concerns directly related to poverty that many face.

AYEP educators highlighted the IT-related obstacles that their students experienced including unstable or the lack of  internet connections and the need to share a single device – including one cell phone – with many other children in a family as they all attempted to complete on-line activities.

In one school, AYEP students rode their bikes to the school parking lot to connect to the internet in order to do their assignments.

Some of these students were forced to abandon their studies to find a job to help support their families. One student went to work on a fishing boat; others started jobs in grocery stores, in drugstores, delivering food, and as cooks in fast food restaurants.

Over the past months MFI has been very impressed with the deep dedication, flexibility, creativity, and compassion of AYEP teachers across the country. Besides using Google Classroom, they connected with their students using Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Brightspace, Edsby, Google Docs, email, and phone. Some also delivered AYEP materials to their students’ homes.

Three students writing in books

Despite their difficulties, many AYEP students have persevered and completed their lessons thoroughly and on time. Many created video business plans for their proposed ventures instead of traditional hardcopy versions. One student was recently awarded a prize for academic merit and community involvement. Another is applying for a start-up grant to be able to launch his business.

MFI is very proud of the accomplishments of AYEP students and their teachers. They were faced with unexpected and momentous upheaval – and they are succeeding. 

Dr. Carlana Lindeman began her career in education as a teacher and principal before joining the Ontario Ministry of Education (EDU). For 18 years she worked with school boards, and First Nation schools and organizations, to improve student achievement. In July 2008, she became the Education Program Director for the Martin Family Initiative, where she supports various strategies and activities related to Indigenous students across Canada. In 2009, she was awarded the Sandra D. Lang Lifetime Achievement Award by the Ontario Government for the depth and quality of service she provided to students, families and communities across Ontario.

Clarke Schools for Hearing and Speech – Lessons from the 1918 Flu Pandemic applied to COVID-19

Our Reach.

Since our founding in 1867, Clarke Schools for Hearing and Speech (formerly Clarke School for the Deaf) has prepared children who are deaf or hard of hearing to succeed in mainstream schools and the wider world. But soon after its 50th anniversary, Clarke faced catastrophe.

In 1918, an influenza pandemic began spreading worldwide. One-third of the global population became infected, with records indicating an astonishing 50 million deaths.

In Clarke’s 1918-1919 annual report, Alexander Graham Bell, President of the Board, wrote:

“The year past has been one of grave problems for the school, but problems we feel bravely and wisely faced. The epidemic of influenza occurred at the opening of the year and undoubtedly its influence was felt long after its disappearance.”

In that school year, the Clarke community sadly lost several members. The school also matriculated 159 students in its elementary, primary and intermediate grades, with 14 graduates venturing off to new chapters—some bound for high school and others taking teaching jobs in California, Indiana, Georgia, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Canada. One graduate was even headed to the Carnegie Institute of Technology, the present-day College of Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University.

Through philanthropic generosity Clarke managed to support this number of students during a crisis.

In the annual report, Bell shared that there were significant financial losses during this time, which forced the organization to consider increasing fundraising efforts. So, to support the important work of the school, the Board voted to double the endowment.

“The school,” Bell wrote, “…cannot fail to engage the continued interest and support of those who stand ready to help forward educational and philanthropic work.”

By viewing philanthropy as a priority, Clarke leadership was able to support the needs of 159 children who were deaf or hard of hearing, providing them with the education and tools they needed to thrive.

Our Work: Clarke and COVID-19

Years later, Clarke Schools for Hearing and Speech faces another crisis. The COVID-19 global pandemic has caused suffering and death, mass unemployment and an economic downturn—upending lives and taking a drastic toll on vulnerable communities.

Today and every day, Clarke is stepping up for the futures of the vulnerable. Our team’s response to the crisis has been inspiring. Clarke’s services have rapidly evolved from in-home, at-school and center-based learning, to meet the critical needs of our vulnerable community from afar. Clarke teachers of the deaf, speech-language pathologists, audiologists and early intervention specialists have gone above and beyond to ensure that all Clarke children are set up for success. Because without the ability to learn listening and language skills, access speech therapy and increase self-advocacy, their futures are in jeopardy. 

We have rallied as a community by delivering hundreds of virtual and remote classrooms, coaching sessions and learning experiences to infants, preschoolers, school-age children and families along the east coast.

Withstanding this swift transformation has been exceptionally difficult, but with the support of donors, local sponsors and foundations like the Johnson Scholarship Foundation, the Clarke team can continue to keep progress and learning on track for hundreds of students and families.

We now regularly see philanthropists uniting to support collective impact initiatives. Corporations are stepping up by making masks out of shopping bags, converting distilleries and perfumeries to sanitizer production facilities, increasing mobile data for free and writing large checks. All citizens, but especially our at-risk communities, rely on these initiatives for safety, connection and access to services.

Closing his letter in the 1918-1919 annual report, Alexander Graham Bell wrote, “The Corporation [Clarke] desires to urge upon friends of the school active interest and co-operation in this work.”

Your Role.

Now more than ever, Clarke relies on the support and generosity of many dedicated friends who believe in our work and mission. With this support, we can continue to provide every Clarke infant, child and school-age student with the tools and support they’ll need to sustain their listening and spoken language success through this historic event.

To learn more about how you can support Clarke Schools for Hearing and Speech, please visit clarkeschools.org/donate.

Cindy Goldberg is the Chief Development Officer for Clarke Schools for Hearing and Speech. She’s dedicated her career to helping children and communities thrive through strategic fundraising efforts. 

From the Classroom to the Boardroom – One Journey of Teaching Executive Functioning Skills

This content was republished with permission from Groves Academy. a grantee partner of the Johnson Scholarship Foundation. It was published originally in the February 2020 edition of “Connections,” Groves Academy’s biannual magazine. In response to COVID-19, the program and all of Groves Academy’s teaching went virtual earlier this year.

The Groves Upper School is midway through our second year of an exciting experiment – an experiment that has already begun to show promising results. It was a radical move, devoting an entire class period each day to explicitly teaching skills that many schools hope students will absorb more implicitly – executive functioning skills.

Executive functioning (EF) skills are the tools, strategies, and habits of thought and action that allow us to set and reach goals. Or, as one student put it, “Adulting 101.” It is a class about the brain, a class about new tools for work and learning, and a class for thinking strategically about success, setbacks, and growth. Students engage in daily mindfulness practice, and connect what is happening in the classroom now to the life that awaits them and the goals they have set for themselves outside of a classroom’s four walls. They explore their own learning profile to build a strength-based narrative of who they are and move towards self-advocacy.

As I tell my students each September, I want them to learn at 16 what I, an adult with ADHD, did not really learn until I was 26 – how to own and even love your strengths and weaknesses, how to relate what you do day to day to the bigger passions and values that fuel your life, and how to plan it out and get it done with the brain you have, not the brain you wish you had.

Group of students in front of hockey stick statue

One of the best experiences we have had as students and as teachers has been working with a curriculum from a dyslexia education and advocacy organization called Noticeability (founded by Dean Bragonier, who was the 2018 Groves Gala speaker). In the Entrepreneurs and Innovators curriculum, our students formed small groups, came up with creative solutions to problems big and small, and fine-tuned sleek, professional pitch presentations that offered a value proposition to a target market. They delivered these pitches at our culminating “Groves (Shark) Tank” event held last May. Local entrepreneurs, HR bigwigs, and corporate marketing types descended on the school (along with the KARE 11 news van), and our students blew their proverbial socks off.

It could have ended there, but for five of our executive functioning students, the moment they spent basking in the glow of a successful Groves Tank was the calm eye of the storm. Mr. Bragonier, the aforementioned Gala speaker and mastermind behind the Noticeability curriculum, is quite the dapper dresser, a bit of a clotheshorse actually. That is to say, Dean knows a good thing when he sees it.

In our case, the ‘good thing’ in question was a doozy – what he saw was the same potential in our students that we see, and he knew where it could take them. Their idea, shoes that have replaceable soles, and soles suited to a variety of purposes, athletic or otherwise, caught his attention. When he saw their prototype (a dissected Nike sneaker with sole held firmly in place by 3M hook-and-loop and a sliding clasp harvested from a Nerf gun) they captured his imagination. It turns out that Dean knows a guy who knows a guy, and that guy is in the shoe business.

After a few breathlessly optimistic conference calls and a little help from a pillar Groves family that saw the same great opportunity for our students that we did, I was able to make some of the most exciting phone calls of my life, calls to my students that went something like this:

ME: Do you remember our Groves Tank from last spring?

STUDENT: called by a teacher in the middle of summer…Yes?

ME: Do you want a chance to do your pitch presentation again?

STUDENT: knows something is up…Ye-Yes?

ME: Do you want to fly to Boston with the rest of your team to pitch your shoe idea to New Balance?

STUDENT: screams in growing comprehension and glee

 

Yeah, that was lots of fun.

You know how grandparents can tell you how great their grandchildren are without it being bragging because, well, that’s their privilege as grandparents? I hope something similar applies to teachers and their students. If not, you’re about to hear me brag a little bit.

Student holding a nike shoe

As I tell you about the trip, I could tell you about the excitement my students felt in a new city. I could tell you about the eager (dare I say aspirational?) stroll we took through Harvard’s campus, about the meals we ate (high schoolers really know how to put an omelet away in a hurry), or even about the pitch itself, but the highlight of the trip was seeing my students step boldly into an adult world and get accepted by its rules, succeeding on its terms.

First of all, my students were prepared. They reworked their presentation (new audience, new purpose, new presentation), they knew each other’s areas of strength, they trusted each other to support and offset their relative weaknesses, and on game day they knew each other’s roles as well as their own. After a day of travel and a night of diligent rehearsal in their hotel room, my students were hardly nervous.

On the bus ride to New Balance’s corporate campus, I considered how far they had come, and what they were about to do. New Balance knows footwear, it is their industry, and accordingly, blowing their socks off would be a bit of a challenge.

I knew our students had accomplished something amazing when their pitch had ended and New Balance’s lead designers and product managers could barely wait their turns to give them feedback. In a standout moment, one of the designers whispered something to Ken Thornby, our host and New Balance’s general manager, and Ken gave his assent; the designer had asked to give the Groves group “the same kind of feedback [they] give each other.”

He walked them through some of the practical aspects of their shoe—where the foot puts stress on the sole, other ways they might attach their swappable soles, and he gave them sound advice about narrowing their focus and fine-tuning their market.

Would my students see this as criticism? Would they be discouraged? I should have had more faith. On the contrary, this meant the world to my students, and to me – they had gotten the nod, the implicit “you belong here” from someone who would know.

What happened next? After their celebratory lunch, did our victorious students run amok in Harvard Square, window shopping and blowing their spending money on ice cream and gift shop tchotchkes, the way I might have at that age?

Of course not. They went back to our hotel to hold a stakeholder’s meeting.

Yeah, I think this executive functioning thing might have legs.

This unique student enrichment experience was made possible thanks to the generosity of the Sanger Family Foundation- Steve, Karen, Mark and Ashley


Executive Functioning: In the Classroom and Beyond
At Groves Academy students engage in experiences designed to foster self-awareness and to develop their executive functioning skills – the brain’s ability to coordinate the thinking and behavior needed to start, sustain, monitor, and adjust attitudes and behaviors needed to achieve a goal. Groves teachers provide the tools, strategies, and opportunities for metacognition that equip students to reflect on their own patterns of thinking and behavior. Social and emotional learning at Groves Academy empowers students to understand themselves and to interact with others in meaningful and productive ways. This occurs in a nurturing environment where students learn from both success and failure.

9th-grade focus
Training the Student Brain for School and Learning
10th-grade focus
Self-Discovery: Finding Your “Why”
11th-grade focus
Leadership: Setting the Course
& Leading the Way

12th-grade focus
Legacy: What Comes Next & What We Leave Behind

A Desire to Heal Unseen Pain Drives Senior’s Calling

The following is an excerpt from an essay written by a graduating senior in the Johnson Scholars-Take Stock in Children (JSTSIC) Program, a college readiness program that is a partnership between the School District of Palm Beach CountyTake Stock in Children Palm Beach County and the Johnson Scholarship Foundation. We will feature other student authors in the coming weeks.

In modern-day society, I‘m categorized as an African American woman. But my Haitian culture runs deeper than the outward appearance of my skin. Where I’m from, our struggles are both mental and physical. According to the Borgen Project, a nonprofit organization combating poverty in Haiti, “59 percent of Haitians live on less than $2 a day.” Knowing that my culture is a place that is constantly fighting depression inspired me to become a successful psychologist in the future. In this role, I would like to appeal to the biased and skeptical individuals that would see therapy as a weakness.

While accomplishing the process of getting my psychology degree, I’ll have the ability to help people understand and manage their problems by identifying their strengths and available resources. No one is perfect, so it’s important to have those people who can evaluate an individual holistically and view the scope of their problems. I hope to expand my career into social work. I would like to help children that are in danger mentally, physically, and sexually. Once I receive the degree I’m going to help people overcome all the issues they are facing. Lastly, I will have an ongoing business for low-income families that need help but can’t afford it. With the knowledge I gain, I’ll take it back to my culture and help them relieve some of their stress.

Ednisha Vertus standing in front of school building.

Leadership, public speaking and service work are roles that I play in my everyday life. I wouldn’t describe my capabilities as skills because skills are things that are learned and taught, while capabilities originate from within. I will lead my future clients towards the right path to overcome obstacles that are blocking their success. I shall inspire them to be a better version of themselves, and not let anyone categorize them. There is a solution to everything; you just have to be willing to find it and work for it. When I do become a psychologist, I would like to lower the suicidal death rate by encouraging people to form a plan to solve their problems.

There are many things that I am grateful for but most importantly is my eyesight. A tragic accident when I was 6 resulted in me being stabbed in my eye. This incident caused me to realize that there are many different types of hidden pain a person can feel. It allowed me to view world issues from a different perspective. As I was teased about the Band-Aid on my eyelid, no one knew how I felt inside. They saw the outcome of my accident and assumed to know my feelings. With all the pain I’ve experienced mentally and physically I want everyone to know that me becoming a psychologist is not something I decided for myself, but what I truly believe is my calling on this earth.

Ednisha Vertus is a senior at Lake Worth High School in Florida and a participant in the Johnson Scholars-Take Stock in Children (JSTSIC) Program.