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Tag Archive for: learning disabilities

Landmark College Student Excels in Education

Sam Mayo smiles for the camera, sitting on a park bench. He is wearing a light blue shirt, a patterned blue tie, and navy pants. He has short blond hair.

This article was originally published in the Johnson Scholarship Foundation’s 2023 annual report about Landmark College, a grantee partner of the foundation. Click here to read more content from the annual report.

Sam Mayo, a person with autism, had a significant speech impediment as a young boy. As he got older, school became more of a challenge. By junior high, he had been labeled a troublemaker. 

“His communication skills made it difficult for people to understand him,” his mother Stephanie Mayo said. “He would zone out but then come back, and Sam didn’t want to raise his ideas or questions. One teacher thought he was an incredible kid, but everyone else came down on him. That was heartbreaking.” 

Stephanie knew her son’s education was at stake, so she enrolled him in a homeschool resource center in their hometown of Lexington, South Carolina. When it was time to think about Sam’s future, Stephanie had to face a new challenge. She learned about Landmark College’s dual enrollment program from her sister, who taught science at the homeschool center. 

In 2022, the Mayos visited Landmark College to learn about the online dual enrollment program, which JSF helps fund through a matching grant. Located in Putney, Vermont, the college provides highly accessible learning approaches to individuals who learn differently. 

“I looked all over. Many schools had a department for kids who learn differently—but these kids don’t have a neon sign,” said Stephanie, explaining that not every student learns the same way. “As soon as we got on campus, I knew what Landmark was about. It was an easy decision.” 

“He was excited and also a bit apprehensive about dual enrollment, college-level education,” she wrote in an email. “[Landmark went] out of their way to make him feel heard, accepted, and understood.” 

Just two weeks after Sam started taking classes, his attitude toward schoolwork changed. That fall, Stephanie learned about the Johnson Scholarship. 

“We knew the tuition cost—we were looking at the yearly tab thinking, ‘Oh, help!’” she recalled. “The scholarship covered nearly all of the costs, and gave Sam the opportunity to get to know Landmark’s style and prepare for an actual college experience.” 

“As soon as we got on campus, I knew what Landmark was about. It was an easy decision.”

Sam is currently a freshman* at Landmark, where he says he’s glad to be near other students with autism. Sending a child to college is a big change for any parent. Still, Stephanie says she feels safe knowing her son is at Landmark. 

“For the first time in his life, [Sam] is interested in his own education and pushing himself,” she said. “We are so proud of him, and I tell him that all the time.”

 

 

Sam Mayo was a freshman at the time this article was written.

Access Academy Raises Success Rate for Students With Disabilities at UNF

Access Academy is a learning strategies program for students with disabilities offered by the Student Accessibility Services (SAS) Center at the University of North Florida. Access Academy offers “Boost” sessions based on tenets of the Strategic Instruction Model (SIM) created by the University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning. Boost sessions focus on learning strategies in writing, memory, and test taking, as well as notetaking and studying. Boost sessions for life skills include time management, stress management, and self-advocacy. Along with these areas, two career strategies sessions focus on resumes and interviewing, disability-related employment law, and workplace accommodations. Boost sessions are three weeks long with an hour of in-person class time each week.

Access Academy originated in 2011 serving just a handful of students in its first year. Thanks to the support of the Johnson Scholarship Foundation, the program has grown greatly in scope and scale. Over the last three years, students have successfully completed 833 Boost sessions in the content areas mentioned above. Access Academy is offered to students at all levels from freshmen to doctoral. Emphasis is placed on engaging incoming freshmen with disabilities to start their college career with the supports they need to be successful.

Continual program evaluation is vital to the success of Access Academy. Quantitative and qualitative data are analyzed each semester to continually improve Boost sessions to best fit the needs and goals of SAS students. Over the last three years, students who participated in at least three semesters of Boost sessions had a GPA of 3.31, compared to a GPA of 3.08 for SAS students who did not participate. During this same time period, Access Academy participants graduated from UNF with a 3.32 GPA, compared to a GPA of 3.17 for SAS students who did not participate, and a GPA of 3.21 for all UNF undergraduates.

These comparisons are correlational but show a trend of Access Academy participants maintaining higher GPAs than their comparison groups. Every Access Academy participant is required to complete an end of course survey to provide anonymous feedback about their experiences in their Boost sessions. Students’ feedback is reviewed each semester to guide content revision and instructional strategies that best fit the students’ needs and goals.

Covid-19 impacted all of us greatly. The Access Academy staff believed that the program was too vital to cease during UNF’s mandatory remote time. Students needed programmatic supports more than ever. The program staff worked diligently to convert all the previously in-person Boost sessions to an online instructional model using UNF’s Canvas Learning Management System. In retrospect, building online versions of the courses was paramount to sustain the program during remote times, but also has offered the possibility of creating new ways to make Boost sessions more accessible to students and create pathways for new teaching methodologies.

We are looking now to the future of Access Academy. Our instructional model is currently getting a facelift to ensure that every minute is valuable learning time for our students. We are incorporating a flipped classroom model to begin in August 2022. A flipped classroom is a model of blended learning that combines online and in-person learning environments. In this model, students will study the learning materials using our Access Academy Canvas modules before their scheduled in-person sessions. During the in-person sessions, the Access Academy facilitators will work with students in one-to-one and small group settings to apply knowledge obtained from the online modules to real world applications. As an example, a student will learn about time management strategies in the online modules. The student will then attend their in-person Boost sessions to receive coaching to implement their preferred time management strategy, so it is personally meaningful for their goals. We believe that this will make learning more efficient and dynamic by reinforcing the material learned in ways that can be tailored to the individual student’s needs. With the continued support of the Johnson Scholarship Foundation, we are excited about the future of Access Academy and the students who will benefit from this program during their time at UNF and beyond.


Dr. Rusty Dubberly is Director of UNF Student Accessibility Services.

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.