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A LEAP Ahead for Hearing-Impaired Students

One of the challenges teenagers who are deaf and hard of hearing frequently face is connecting and interacting with other teens with hearing loss. If not addressed, that challenge can lead to isolation and a lack of self-confidence. A new program of The Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (AG Bell) called LEAP (Leadership Experiences and Adventure Program), established with the support of the Johnson Scholarship Foundation, helps high school students who use Listening and Spoken Language connect virtually with peers just like them. The program is led by adults who are deaf and are achieving their potential. LEAP helps teens become more self-aware while acquiring capacity in leadership, self-advocacy, technology, work and life skills. Students who participate in LEAP learn more about themselves and their personal strengths and are excited to see how they can use their strengths to develop and achieve their future goals.

AG Bell has hosted three LEAP sessions so far this year in May, July, and September. To date, 87 students registered for LEAP from 21 different states and 6 different countries. Each session offered 5 ½ hours of engaging and informative interaction led by Catharine McNally, AG Bell’s past president, as well as six additional facilitators who are graduates of the long-standing LOFT (Leadership Opportunities for Teens) program, which strengthens leadership potential in students with hearing loss. Participants worked with facilitators in small group sessions where they connected with each other on a more personal level, and more easily engaged in self-exploration and discussion.

Guest speaker Ceil Weatherman, a Gallup-Certified Strengths Coach, used the students’
“homework” of completing the Clifton Strengths Assessment to highlight the strengths of each student and the value that each brings to social, education and work environments. LEAP teens learned that people in their “strength zones” experience positive energy, are more likely to achieve their goals, are more confident, perform better at work, experience less stress and have more positive moments. Keeping their strengths in mind, the teens explored how their personal strengths can help them use technology more effectively, advocate more efficiently and plan for the future.

At the end of the two-day, virtual session, students were asked to share what they learned. Here is what a few of the students shared:

 “I learned when a person uses his Clifton Strengths, he is more successful at work and/or school.” (Anonymous)

 “One thing I plan to do differently now that I have done LEAP is advocate for myself more.” (Rachel, age 16)

 “[The Mentors] were amazing and showed us how we can be successful in the future.” (Anonymous)

 “I just wanted to thank AG Bell for choosing me for this LEAP program because it made me a better person and gave me a confidence to embrace my hearing loss.” (Leah, age 17)

“I learned that I am not alone in my hearing loss journey and that to get the best experiences I apply my values and strengths in everything I do in life.” (Anonymous)

“How to advocate for myself.” (Paul, age 17)

“I plan to use my hearing equipment in different and more creative ways.” (Anonymous)

“Use our strengths to discover our interests.” (Kiana, age 15)

“[I’m] inspired to pursue my future career by using my strengths.” (Nathan, age 15)

Through the generosity of the Johnson Scholarship Foundation and other supporters, LEAP is offered free of charge to high school students. Six sessions will be scheduled throughout 2022, offered every other month. AG Bell offers placement of up to 50 students per session with a goal of 350 total participants. For more information and to apply to attend LEAP, please visit www.AGBellLEAP.com or email us at LEAP@agbell.org.


Julie Schulte is the Teen Programs Coordinator for the AG Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing

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

Service-Oriented Glades Student Named Leaders for Life Fellow

Long and very busy days are typical for high school senior Marie Sintulaire.

Besides excelling in her high school classes, she also participates in her school’s Johnson Scholars/Take Stock in Children college readiness program and takes college classes in the evening through dual enrollment. She has done all of this while completing more than 1,200 hours of community service.

Marie’s academic achievements and perseverance have earned her a special honor. She is one of only seven highly motivated students in the state of Florida to be named a recipient of Take Stock in Children’s Leaders for Life Fellowship, an award that comes with $40,000 in college scholarships plus internship opportunities and leadership training.

She learned of the news in January during at a surprise announcement at her school, Glades Central Community High School in Belle Glade, Florida. On hand for the presentation were her mother and the pastor of her church where she serves as a pianist.

“I knew the competition would be fierce, but I had no idea I could be a Leaders for Life Fellow,” said Marie, who plans to use her scholarship to study finance at Florida State University.

She recently traveled to Tallahassee for a Leaders for Life event, during which she and the other fellows met the governor and toured the state Capitol.

Marie is the youngest of five children. She will be a first-generation college student along with her older sister, who currently attends the University of Florida.

Marie said she first learned about the Leaders for Life Fellowship from Esther Benette, a graduate of the fellowship who is also from Palm Beach County. Esther, who received the fellowship in 2013, was a guest speaker at a Johnson Scholars/Take Stock in Children club meeting at Marie’s school.

Including Marie and Esther, four Palm Beach County students have been named Leaders for Life Fellows in the past eight years. The others are Victoria Estevez (2018) and Karla Menchu-Saban (2017).

Glades Central is one of 10 high schools in the School District of Palm Beach County to offer the Johnson Scholars/Take Stock program, which is supported by the Johnson Scholarship Foundation. Marie said she enjoyed going on college tours through the program, as well as participating in the workshops and club meetings.

“We talked about different skills and abilities that you need that you don’t normally discuss in class,” such as résumé writing and business etiquette, she said.

Throughout her time in the program, Marie also has received advice and encouragement during her weekly meetings with her mentor, Glades Central mathematics educator Dr. Cecelia Harriott. Marie said she appreciated having Dr. Harriott give her advice about school and life in general. She hopes other adults will want to help students through mentorship.

“I believe it’s an excellent part of the program,” she said. “You never know what piece of advice you give that plays an influential role in the life of your mentee.”

Lady Hereford is a program specialist with the Johnson Scholarship Foundation. She has spent significant time working in journalism and public relations, and she assists the Foundation’s communications efforts as it expands its impact across sectors. More information about the Johnson Scholarship Foundation can be found at www.jsf.bz.

What Coyote Stories Teach Us About Success

Among many Native Tribes in North America stories have been an important part of the oral traditions passed down over many generations. While each tribal group has stories unique to them, many times there are common themes shared by several different tribes. In the Northern Plains and Northwest U.S. these are often referred to as “Coyote Stories.”

Fox looking at the camera

Fox

While not all stories involve Coyote, he is a very important, and complex, character. Coyote is charged by the Creator with helping the people and looking after them, which he does enthusiastically. Knowing his flaws, however, the Creator asks Brother Fox to look after Coyote. Many stories are told about monsters or an evil of some kind that is threatening or killing the people. Coyote hears of this and rushes to the rescue. Inevitably, he charges full-steam into the battle with great courage and good intentions, but no plan or foresight. And, inevitably, he is killed. Along comes Brother Fox and performs some action or rite to bring Coyote back to life. Coyote then comes up with a clever and creative plan to defeat the monster.

An important aspect of Coyote Stories is that each listener is free, in fact encouraged, to reflect upon each story and find the lesson in it. These are some of the lessons I have drawn from these stories:

1) Good intentions and bold action are not enough. We often confuse action with progress. In times of crisis we tend to want to “do something.” Our first or most obvious choice of action can be counter-productive and lead to more serious problems. Careful planning, creativity and marshalling resources turn good intentions into effective outcomes.

2) Persistence pays off. Initial failure need not lead to defeat. We have all seen examples of students, businesses or clients who, having failed, need to be picked up, given some resources and encouraged to try a new approach. This initial failure is natural and not to be treated as an endpoint, but simply another stop along the path. Likewise, we, as service providers, initiate new programs, reach out to new populations or otherwise act boldly with good intentions. Often with little success. Coyote stories remind us to learn from failure, get assistance and try to come up with a better plan.

3) Each one of us is sometimes Fox and sometimes Coyote. Within each of us, and our organizations, live both Fox and Coyote. We tend to see our organizations as always playing Fox, the helper. But we are sometimes Coyote; acting boldly, making mistakes and not getting expected results. We often need assistance to plan creative approaches to solve existing problems. This is just part of the process.

Certainly, in my career I have helped many Coyotes, students who failed a class, or entrepreneurs who can’t pay the bills. But I have often relied on the assistance of organizations like the Johnson Scholarship Foundation, American Indian College Fund and American Indian Graduate Center to be Brother Fox.

An alumnus of the Gonzaga University MBA in American Indian Entrepreneurship (MBA-AIE) program, Keith Rennie (Citizen Potawatomi Nation) taught business at Salish Kootenai College. He chaired the Business Department until 2017 when he launched his business, Brother Fox Consulting. He lives and works on the Flathead Indian Reservation in western Montana.

My Hardships Have Prepared Me

The following is an excerpt from an essay on leadership written by a student in the Johnson Scholars Program, a college readiness program that is a partnership between the School District of Palm Beach County, Take Stock in Children Palm Beach County and the Johnson Scholarship Foundation. Her essay offers insights into the struggles many high school students are facing today. We will feature other student authors in the coming weeks.

looking up a spiral staircaseThroughout my life, I have learned that being a leader means to be humble and let yourself be the staircase in which you lead others to walk on to succeed. The setbacks that I had in my life did not stop me from reaching the point where I am and thus becoming the stepping-stone for my family and others.

When I was 3 years old, my father found me unable to breathe and panicked knowing my life was on the line. My parents rushed me to the hospital late that night. The medical team checked my lungs and airway but there was no blockage, leaving the doctors with no explanation. My time was running thin as I became increasingly desperate for air. My parents were struggling with answers and grew impatient seeing their daughter helpless. Finally, a doctor arrived to the hospital and immediately he knew the cause and rushed me to the operating room.

emergency room signHe operated on the back of my neck, trying his best to save me. After almost 20 hours in surgery, I was finally reunited with my parents. I was awake by the time I was coming out, and I saw the tear-filled eyes of my father and mother. The last thing I remember before I went into the ICU was whispering to my father saying, “Don’t cry, Papi, everything will be okay.” The next day, I was waking up when the doctor came by my room to examine me to see if there is any visible neurological damage. As the doctor told me to stretch and move my fingers, we all noticed that I was having motor difficulties. He told to move my legs. Horror hit as I could not move them. My parents and I were devastated by the news that there were high chances that I may not be able to walk again.

Though this hit me hard, a voice inside me told me not to accept this diagnosis. Instead of accepting the wheelchair, I crawled on the floor every day, hoping that little by little, I would gain enough strength to stand on my own. After much time and perseverance, I was beginning to stand on my own and take small steps. With this new hope, I was placed in physical and occupational therapy. It took many months until I was completely rehabilitated. As I grew older, I would need constant check-ups from my doctor, not only because of my operation but also because of my weak immune system. I felt helpless and like a burden.

Books and the letters A B C written on a chalk boardDuring my elementary school experience, I was insecure and self-reserved due to all the health issues I was going through. It became worse as I was bullied due to the scar of the operation and how my fingers worked. My classmates would be cruel and would often exclude me from group activities, leaving me feeling alone and unwanted. I also endured challenges at home, and I had to put on a brave face for my younger brothers in these situations. I am the oldest and so I learned I had to be the strong one within the family.

The bullying did not stop until the seventh grade, where I found people who accepted me for who I am. As a result, I started to gain more confidence in myself and my abilities. Entering high school, I was excited and enthusiastic for what this new chapter in my life would bring me. Turns out, my hardships became essential in my life for those same hardships would help me later on. For example, I became more active in my church. I found a channel to reach out to more people similar to me and have a strong support system.

child playing with blocks

My career goal is to be an occupational therapist. I want to be the inspiration for the children to continue working hard with their therapy and get right back up and continue to live their lives as normal as possible.

This aspiration stems from the doctors and occupational therapists that have done for this for me when I was in need. My hardships have better prepared me to be a leader not only throughout college, but my professional life to follow.

Joselynne Zurita attends Lake Worth Community High School in Lake Worth, Florida. She is in the dual enrollment program, and upon graduation from high school she plans to earn a bachelor’s degree in health sciences at a state university and later pursue a master’s degree in occupational therapy.

Listening, the Key to a Successful Mentorship

The word “mentorship” is commonly defined as a relationship in which an experienced person shares wisdom with a less experienced person. The more experienced mentor gives guidance to an eager mentee hungry for knowledge. These definitions might suggest that the mentee has more to learn than the mentor.

National Mentoring Month 2018 logoHowever, the learning can be equally important to both parties. While my own list is long, here are a few things I have learned as a mentor. I need to stop telling my mentees what they should do and help lead them to their own solutions. I must be available to my mentee and make our relationship a priority. I need to be more open-minded about possibilities; my mentees sure are. I am often impatient and need to slow down and reflect.

One of the best ways to open the pathway between mentors and mentees is to listen. It sounds simple, but to truly engage in active listening, you must practice it. Here are a few tips to help the two-way relationship develop:

Ask open-ended questions. You find out much more about a person and their perspectives by asking questions that need to be answered with more than one or two words.

Reflect what you hear so that the other person knows you heard and understood what he/she said.

Summarize conversations and make sure you have agreement on next steps.

Use affirmations for encouragement and support.

Mentorship can be an enriching experience for both the mentor and the mentee. If you are currently mentoring or being mentored by someone, try using these active listening skills. Once it becomes easy, you can focus less on the questions and fully enjoy the answers.

 

How Leading with Empathy Can Create Positive Change

deaf elementary students playingAs an educator, it is important to pay attention to the latest research and trends related to effective instruction. As a special educator, this may be particularly important. But as an administrator, I often find myself relying heavily on my own observations and findings from “the field.” Working as an administrator of an elementary school serving deaf and hard of hearing students, children are often in my office requesting assistance. Sometimes they arrive on their own, asking for help solving a problem. More often, though, they are brought to the office by an adult who asks for collaboration on a discipline issue.

The word “collaboration” here is really important. In a traditional approach, the administrator may be the final stop, and may have the final say, when it comes to discipline. However, I have found it is more effective to collaborate with both the student and the staff member escorting the student. When children display misconduct, it is our job to figure out why. What does the child need?  What might he or she be asking for through this outburst of anger? This can be especially important when interacting with deaf or hard of hearing students who are also struggling with a language delay – which happens so often. When my approach becomes one of trying to understand, rather than trying to find an appropriate consequence, I am able to know the student’s thoughts, feelings, and fears more intimately and am able to develop a strong and positive relationship.

young students in green t shirts in a gardenWhen I ask the same questions of the adults, I become a support for them, showing empathy regarding the conflict they did not create, while also collaborating to find an appropriate resolution. This questioning of the adult reminds the student that staff members also have an emotional perspective, and such perspectives can lead to actions. Leading with empathy for everyone involved can produce amazing discussions and amazing results.

Leading with empathy. This can sometimes be considered being “soft” on misbehavior. However, in my work, I have found it solves more problems than being “tough” ever has. When students are upset, a genuine affirmation of their feelings can open doors to communication, bonding, and improved self-control. While that may sound difficult, it only takes a simple, “I am so sorry you are going through this; how can I help?” delivered with respect, and compassion. When we can do that for children, we can help them to become empathetic and compassionate individuals.

woman wearing a feather boa and smiling in a paradeWhen we invite them into the collaboration, we can help them become problem-solvers. If I have learned one thing from 22 years in Deaf Education, I have learned this: The world needs more problem solvers, and we can create them through empathetic thoughts, words, and actions. Leading with empathy builds a foundation that allows students to experience growth socially, emotionally, and academically because it allows them to acquire, develop, and practice real-world problem solving skills. And yes, sometimes I have to consequate kids because there are some behaviors that need a punitive response. But sometimes living through the conflict, and coming out on the other side, is consequence enough. When was the last time you got sent to Detention Hall because of a fight with your spouse? The disagreement and the resolution of that disagreement was consequence enough for you. And here’s the important part – involvement in working through conflict becomes a positive peace-making experience for everyone involved. Our kids and school staff deserve such experiences. I’ve learned that they become better people having had them.