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What is Speech-Language Therapy, and Who Can Benefit From It?

This article first appeared on Groves Academy’s website, and is shared with permission. Groves Academy is a grantee partner of Johnson Scholarship Foundation. 

 

“But my child talks just fine…” is often the response I get from parents when I first recommend that they have their student participate in a speech/language assessment. This is such a common misconception, but the truth is, speech is such a small part of what we focus on in speech-language therapy.

At Groves, it’s really the LANGUAGE part of speech-language therapy that our students need. We work with students from Groves Academy and from our community who are diagnosed with specific learning disorders, ADHD/Executive Functioning deficits, or often both. Our goals with students target reading comprehension, vocabulary development, sentence structure/grammar, telling narratives, writing, etc. BUT, before we can target any of those skills, we have to target executive functioning. Executive functioning is, after all, foundational to learning.

In order to learn, students need to be able to attend to the material, organize their ideas, plan ahead, manage their time, be flexible when plans need to change, and be able to reflect on their work to continue to improve. Speech-language therapy at Groves always includes an executive functioning component, as all students, even those without a diagnosed disorder, have difficulty with executive functioning because that part of the brain does not fully develop until adulthood.

Understanding language (both spoken and written) and expressing oneself are also huge keys to success in academic (and really all) environments. Language is involved in every part of a student’s day from following directions during gym class, solving word problems in math, communicating with peers at lunch and recess, writing a paper for social studies or reading the instructions for a project in art class. If a student has a hard time understanding spoken language or expressing themselves effectively, it will affect all parts of their day.

If your student experiences any of the following difficulties, it may be helpful to have them assessed by a speech-language pathologist:

Read more here. 


Meghan Miller is Director of Speech-Language Pathology at Groves Academy

JSF Awards Grant for Dual Enrollment Program

Landmark College, which enrolls neurodiverse students who learn differently (LD; including dyslexia, ADHD, autism, or executive function challenges), has been awarded a $1 million grant from the Johnson Scholarship Foundation. The five-year matching grant supports the college’s efforts to sustain and expand its online dual enrollment courses, which offer neurodivergent students uniquely engineered college courses as they prepare for the transition to higher education, and to create other college-level online programs which similarly help students during the important, often challenging high school, gap year, and year one of college periods.

“We are pleased that the Johnson Scholarship Foundation sees the value in supporting our online programs, which started in earnest nearly a decade ago, and which are particularly needed now,” said Landmark College President Dr. Peter Eden, who wrote the grant application. “These funds will allow the College to not only strengthen and grow our online programming, they also will provide scholarship support for many students heretofore underserved by traditional courses or programs, and unable to afford tuition costs.”

Landmark’s online offerings adapt the unrivaled model of comprehensive support that has made its undergraduate program on the Putney, Vermont, campus successful over the past 35 years, and integrate intentional pedagogical elements within each online course which lead to student success.

Johnson Scholarship Foundation Chief Executive Officer Robert A. Krause says the Landmark College online offerings are great examples of programs that fulfill the Foundation’s mission to serve disadvantaged people by assisting them to obtain education and employment.

“We are pleased to support this dual enrollment program at Landmark College,” Krause said.  “We believe the program will serve as the foundation for a successful higher education experience for young people with learning differences, and it will lead them to greater opportunities in education and employment.”

For more information about the Landmark College Online Programs, visit www.landmark.edu/online.

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

Valedictorian: How Perseverance and Mentoring Have Guided Me

The following are excerpts from essays 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.

My family has a history of overcoming struggles. My grandfather began working in the fields at the tender age of four. My father started working at the age of six. My mother never completed any education beyond 6th grade due to the family’s financial difficulties.

I have had to overcome difficulties since the day I was born. Surrounded by sugarcane and wild rabbits that run the fields in the small rural town of Belle Glade, I was a premature baby, with unhealthy weight and lack of interest in eating. Although my mother tried her best to maintain a healthy diet during pregnancy, due to extreme financial distress, she often went without nutritious food.

Gema Cervantes holding laptop and flowers

When I was two months old, I contracted viral meningitis due to weak health and poor environmental surroundings. When I was two years of age, once again, I was rushed to the hospital for surgery from an appendicitis. I later suffered from dehydration right after the surgery. I had extended hospital stays since birth throughout my childhood. The medical bills would often begin to accumulate one after another, and my parents often had difficulty keeping up with them. At the age of nine, I was diagnosed with ADHD and Myopia after years of struggling to do well in school and being inflicted with chronic headaches. I had to be placed in the ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) program for the rest of my elementary years because the effect of meningitis in my brain had caused me to have a learning disability.

The lack of financial stability in my family is directly linked to my family members being unable to attain an education beyond the 6th grade. This fact, in turn, has created a generational chain of inability to achieve an education and consequently, poor health.

One of the differences that has turned me into a strong leader is the strong parents that I have. Both wanted me to have a better chance in life and crossed to a foreign nation in the pursuit of that better life. They wanted me to have what they did not have. They continually remind me never to let my opportunities to learn go to waste. Unlike my parents, I can attend high school and finish college thanks to Take Stock in Children. They have talked to me throughout my high school life to work hard in school so that I don’t have to go through what my parents went through.

During high school, I have participated in over ten extracurricular activities and have strived for excellence in academics. I am President of the Pros and Consequences of Life Club which serves to promote awareness of HIV, STDs and academic focus. I am also President of the Spanish Book Club which drives students to success in their foreign language courses and fundraisers to provide the homeless with dental supplies. I am a mentor with the ESOL Mentoring program in which students are pushed to overcome the stresses and anxieties of learning a foreign language, which I have experienced myself.

My goal in five years is to practice primary family medicine in rural areas in Palm Beach County like Belle Glade. My first step is by finishing my undergraduate degree at Florida State University.

I would like to return twice a month to Glades Central High School to support organizations such as the ESOL Mentoring Program and the Women of Tomorrow to continue empowering women. It would also be my greatest desire to help students with whom I share the struggle and anxiety of learning a second language. I would continue to mentor students from the ESOL mentoring program and to establish an organization that mentors students with the lowest grades at Glades Central High School and with learning disabilities. Being able to help establish this organization would be meaningful to me because I have a learning disability and understand the discipline it takes to control such a disability. My third goal would be to support Take Stock in Children as a volunteer throughout my three years of medical school.

Gema Cervantes wearing graduation cap and gown

Through the growth I have gained from hardships I have encountered and the mentoring support received from TSIC, I will graduate with my AA degree from Palm Beach State College by high school graduation. I will be graduating high school as valedictorian.

My parents may not have received education more than the 6th grade, but they taught me to live with integrity and honesty. My goal is to continue to serve my community, to become the best person I can be, determined to meet my goals and to serve.

Gema Cervantes is a senior at Glades Central High School in Florida and a participant in the Johnson Scholars-Take Stock in Children (JSTSIC) Program.

Striking Out Stigma – Seeing Learning Disabilities as Simple Learning Differences

Middle school is often a time of exploring and expressing one’s individuality and autonomy. However, peers, teachers, and families begin playing a pivotal role in identity development. For students who learn differently, social pressures are often compounded by a sense of isolation resulting from stigma. The stigma surrounding learning disabilities and attention disorders can keep many students from seeking the tools they need to be successful.

Ryan Blackwell wearing Eye To Eye shirt

Ryan, a current high schooler at AIM Academy, recounted his middle school struggles with ADHD. He found it impossible to keep up.

 “It was in fourth-grade that I realized that something wasn’t right,” Ryan shared. “I would get assignments, and I would just leave them for weeks because I didn’t understand and I didn’t want to go ask my teachers for help.”

 Even though his grades were slipping dramatically, Ryan was still too embarrassed to ask for help. Ryan’s uneasiness about reaching out came from misconceptions that students who learn differently are often confronted with.

Research measuring public perceptions of learning differences revealed that half of the general population, including a third of educators, believe that learning disabilities are actually laziness (Roper Public Affairs & Corporate Communications, 2010). Several more studies took those perceptions a step further and demonstrated that the stigma associated with learning disabilities and attention disorders adversely affects educational expectations, academic outcomes, and emotional wellbeing (Crosnoe, Riegle-Crumb, & Muller, 2007; Shifrer, 2013; Al-Yagon, 2015; Feurer & Andrews, 2009; Lackaye, Margalit, Ziv, & Ziman, 2006; Maag & Behrens, 1989; Margalit, 1991; Margalit & Raviv, 1984; Wiener & Daniels, 2016).

When Ryan entered AIM Academy, he discovered Eye to Eye – a mentoring program working to eliminate the stigma of learning disabilities and attention disorders by reframing and celebrating them instead as learning differences. The program pairs students who learn differently in middle school with their high school and college-aged counterparts. Ryan was hesitant to join.

“I was like, ‘I can’t do that,’ because for some reason I couldn’t see myself impacting kids’ lives.” Despite his doubts, Ryan gave mentoring a shot.

“A lot of the kids that I would mentor suffered bullying because of their [learning disabilities] and ADHD. They were bullied a lot for the fact that they didn’t learn like everybody else, that they couldn’t interact the same way, and that they couldn’t impact the classroom and the atmosphere that’s in that classroom.”

He decided to share his own story with the mentees and become a shoulder for them to lean on.

Three students wearing Eye To Eye shirts

“I wasn’t able to see it at first, but every time they’d see me the next week they’d say two words: ‘thank you.’ I would think, ‘Thank you? I didn’t do anything,'” he said, recalling his surprise at their gratitude.

However, his school chapter advisor assured him the difference he made was immeasurable. For children and adults who learn differently, the path towards self-acceptance starts with breaking stigma at the individual level. Once someone knows they are in the company of another person who learns differently, they can begin to break down their self-stigma and share their own experiences with others. And when someone shares their story, they become empowered. Empowered individuals inspire positive feedback, and that feedback fosters a supportive community.

Ryan admitted, “When that kid just kept saying thank you, I found myself going home and crying because there is a greater community even outside of the one that we have at Eye to Eye.”

This month, Eye to Eye is celebrating “Strike Out Stigmonth.” The month-long friendly competition between Eye to Eye chapters nationwide is designed to spread awareness, strengthen bonds between mentors and mentees, and connect participants to the local and national Eye to Eye community of supporters and allies. Follow Eye to Eye on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter to view the stigma-busting competition. To learn more about Eye to Eye, please visit www.eyetoeyenational.org.

David Flink is a social movement leader on the front lines of the learning rights movement. He imagines a world where one day all learners will be seen, heard and valued. Being diagnosed with dyslexia and ADHD at a young age, he later committed his life to students with learning differences. He serves as Founder and Chief Empowerment Officer of Eye to Eye.

Science Confirms It: Best Practice Instruction Can Rewire the Brain’s Ability to Learn

Recently a grandfather of a student who attended Groves Academy for six years sent a note thanking the school for its supportive classroom instruction that he felt greatly contributed to his grandson’s successful transition to a public school. He mentioned in his note that Groves’ teaching process seemed to re-wire a part of his grandson’s brain, positively impacting his ability to learn, understand and enjoy classroom instruction.

Two girls with markers working at a table

Science confirms what this grandfather observed. With evidence-based, best practice instruction the brain’s neural pathways can be re-wired to influence a person’s ability to learn. This is called brain plasticity. Research also strongly supports the positive influence of brain plasticity on those with a learning disability or attention issues. Groves Academy meets its mission of providing transformative learning experiences to children with dyslexia, ADHD or other executive functioning challenges through its consistent use of evidence-based research, including what we know of the brain’s plasticity.

We recognize that children with learning disabilities are equipped and capable of reaching their full potential both in and out of the classroom. We extend this belief beyond our school through our Learning Center which provides diagnostic services to Groves’ students and to children throughout the Twin Cities community.

Teacher and four students working at a desk

In 2016, Groves launched a new initiative to bring our proven literacy instruction to K-3 classrooms across the Twin Cities Metro area. With the success of training and coaching an increasing numbers of teachers to deliver evidence-based literacy instruction came the realization that the academic needs of children with a learning disability were not being met. This is a reality that Groves cannot walk away from, but we also know that creating a solution will take commitment and collaboration from both us and our partner schools.

As a start, we now provide our diagnostic services to the low-income children identified by our partner schools as needing additional support. We are grateful to the Johnson Scholarship Foundation for supporting this much needed service. Groves holds as its vision to redefine the way our nation is taught, one student, one teacher and one school at a time. It is a vision that acts as our compass as we work towards bringing true equity to the education of children with learning disabilities. Equity that brings the best of what research is telling us and applies it individually to each child so that they recognize their strengths in being successful in the classroom and beyond.

Lynn Giovannelli is Director of Advancement at Groves Academy, a 501c3 educational institution. Its school is focused on building confidence, success and purpose for over 280 students with learning disabilities. The Learning Center extends Groves’ mission to children and families who do not attend the school by offering diagnostic testing, tutoring, speech services and summer programming. The Institute for Professional Learning shares Groves’ evidence-based literacy instruction with elementary schools in the community to help close the literacy achievement gap.

Stigma Hates Company: 5 Ways to Challenge Stigma as a Community

Mentor working with student drawingAmong the challenges in contemporary education is the fight against stigma aimed at the 1 in 5 who learn differently. Stigma in education can keep a child struggling. However, we all have the tools to make a difference. The 1 in 5 who learn differently can be among the most powerful voices in fighting stigma, and in bringing along the 4 in 5 as well, changing the trajectory of all learners.

When you tell your story to others, you are no longer alone. You have an amazing community at your side. Something that was once faceless now has a face. Something that was invisible is now visible. Storytelling is one of the most empowering tools in the fight against stigma.

If you have a story to tell about learning differences—whether it’s your own life story or the story of a loved one—make a point of sharing it. All it takes is 2 minutes. Here are some pointers to consider in your daily acts of challenging stigma.

Mentor and young mentee1) Bust common myths. Learning disabilities like ADHD or dyslexia have absolutely nothing to do with native intelligence. Pervasive myths about learning disability—myths that keep kids struggling in the back of a classroom in silence—need to be broken. Don’t be afraid to confront stigma when you see it.

2) Invite people in. Once someone knows they are in the company of different learners, they can comfortably and purposefully address their individual challenges in community. The more we share, the more everyone will know about the 1 and 5 among us. Stigma hates company, so let’s bring everybody in on the conversation.

Two young men holding up a sign3) Language counts. The flames of every movement are sparked by the unacceptability of certain language. We all know deeply hurtful words that were once, sadly, commonplace. A piece of providing a successful education for all students is gaining fluency in the language of learning and attention issues. When we tell our authentic stories of the lived experience of LD / ADHD, we will change the language. Phrases like “ADD moment,”  “I’m numbers dyslexic” and “People with learning disabilities are just lazy” will be a thing of the past.

4) Highlight success. Hollywood directors, senators, arctic explorers, self-made millionaires—some of the most prominent and daring people out there have succeeded with a learning disability at their side. Scott Kelly, the first astronaut to spend a year in space, recently released an interview about his struggles with attention issues as a kid. There are countless examples of adults who have succeeded not in spite of their learning styles, but because of them!

group photo of students holding up their hands5) Become an ally. Teachers, parents, scoutmasters, firefighters, school guidance counselors, soccer coaches, software developers, librarians. These are all potential allies and advocates. In fact, 1 in 5 are likely to have a learning or attention issue themselves!

You might be the “4 in 5.”

You might be or become “LD /ADHD and Proud to Be.”

You or a loved one might have an undiagnosed learning difference.

No matter who you are, our community is never more than one voice, one face, one mind away. Share your story, listen to a story. With stories we build community, and in community, stigma has no place.