Early Intervention Key to Positive Outcomes for Children with Learning Differences

kindergarten2Jane D. Hull once wrote, “at the end of the day, the most overwhelming key to a child’s success is the positive involvement of parents.”

This sage advice does not differ when applied to the parent of a child with learning differences. The positive involvement of one or both parents can determine the difference between success and failure for the child who struggles to learn. And the earlier the positive involvement begins, the better for all concerned.

Research in the field of learning differences is clear – early intervention is the key to long-term positive outcomes.

kindergarten3The sooner a child with learning challenges is evaluated, diagnosed and begins to receive supportive intervention and accommodation, the lesser the overall negative effect of the learning difference. In many years of work in the field of learning differences, there has never been an occasion where a parent discussed regretting early intervention. In many, many cases, however, there is great parental regret over having waiting too long to begin the evaluation, diagnosis and intervention process.

The longer a child must wait for intervention, the easier it is for the seeds of doubt to take root. The child may begin to believe that the learning difference forms the basis of their identity, and that school failure is to be expected. Effective early intervention services can prevent such harmful seeds from ever finding fertile ground in which to grow.

According to LD Online, symptoms of learning differences in preschool through grade 4 include:

Preschool

  • Speaks later than most children
  • Pronunciation problems
  • Slow vocabulary growth, often unable to find the right word
  • Difficulty rhyming words
  • Trouble learning numbers, alphabet, days of the week, colors, shapes
  • Extremely restless and easily distracted
  • Trouble interacting with peers
  • Difficulty following directions or routines
  • Fine motor skills slow to develop

Grades K-4

  • Slow to learn the connection between letters and sounds
  • Confuses basic words
  • Makes consistent reading and spelling errors including letter reversals (b/d), inversions (m/w), transpositions (felt/left), and substitutions (house/home)
  • Transposes number sequences and confuses arithmetic signs
  • Slow to remember facts
  • Slow to learn new skills, relies heavily on memorization
  • Impulsive, difficulty planning
  • Unstable pencil grip
  • Trouble learning about time
  • Poor coordination, unaware of physical surroundings, prone to accidents

While this is not an exhaustive list of symptoms, it is a guide that parents can use to determine if their child might be in need of additional support in the classroom, or a full assessment for the presence of a learning difference.

Once the need for early intervention has been determined, the next most important step is for parents to ensure that their child is placed in the most supportive, enriching educational environment possible. Assessing the right fit for the child with a learning challenge requires exhaustive research, interviews with school personnel and possession of the right documentation to ensure access to all applicable learning supports.

summerThe longer a student with a learning difference languishes in an unsupportive environment with people who do not thoroughly understand the challenges the child faces, the more likely the student is to suffer negative school and life outcomes.

Conversely, students who are educated in an environment where learning differences are understood, and even celebrated, can look forward to far greater success in school and in life. The simple process of experiencing academic and social success in school, despite a learning challenge, lays the groundwork for a positive mindset.

As a result, the child realizes he can succeed with the learning difference, not in spite of it. This understanding helps guide the child toward a future of unlimited potential.


Head of Upper School

Jason Culp, Head of Upper School

Jason Culp has been the Head of Upper School at Lawrence since 2010 and a member of the Lawrence School community since 2002. Jason holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Baldwin-Wallace College and a Master’s degree in Mental Health Counseling from Capella University.  Jason is licensed as a Professional Counselor (PC) with the State of Ohio Counselor, Social Worker and Marriage and Family Therapist Board.

Lower School Students Display Creativity, Compassion Through Project Based Learning

IMG_0698How would you design a classroom to help a student from another country feel comfortable and support their learning? Children from Mrs. Erdelyi’s Lower School language arts class recently explored this question as part of a Project Based Learning lesson that began with a simple reading exercise.

Project Based Learning is a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to an engaging and complex question, problem or challenge.

“My class has been reading a book called, Dear Whiskers,” Mrs. Erdelyi explained. “One of the characters in the book is a little girl from Saudi Arabia, who does not speak or write English very well. This led to great discussions about what it would be like to come into a classroom where not only did you not know anyone, but you could not understand anyone and they could not understand you.”

IMG_0662This exploratory path sparked another discussion: What is an immigrant? How do they come to our country? Why do they come to our country? Where are they coming from? Intrigued, the children decided to dig deeper.

After reading a couple of fictional books written about the topic – My Name is Yoon and The Name Jar – they envisioned a real-life scenario of a child coming to Lawrence School from a different country with no understanding of our language. What kind of classroom would they like to create to make the new student feel welcome and help them learn?

The students then broke into small groups to come up with a list of items they wanted to include that ranged from practical (clocks, alphabet strips, number lines and even a snack table) to – not surprisingly, if you know Lawrence students – creative and thoughtful.

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For instance, each group clearly labeled objects in the room to help the non-native speaker begin to recognize words. There was also discussion about how the desks should be arranged so the new student wouldn’t feel isolated when they sat down. It was important to the children that the student feel like a part of the group so they would be comfortable asking questions.

IMG_0684Nearly every group included a technology station for the new student to use. This area included Smartboards, computers and an iPad. One group even added a few objects for the student to touch and hold as they learned about a subject.

The final stage was to actually bring all these ideas to life by constructing a model of their classrooms from scratch, using shoe boxes, cardboard, yarn, markers and more. The children were so engrossed in this phase that there were audible groans at the end of the period each day.

“The goal of Project Based Learning is to help students develop flexible knowledge, effective problem solving skills, self-directed learning, effective collaboration and intrinsic motivation,” said Lawrence Literacy Coach Amy Erich. “Specifically for students with learning differences, this style is beneficial because they must use all modalities in the process of researching and solving a problem. This multi-sensory aspect makes the project engaging and fun because students have a meaningful way to apply their skills immediately.”

In addition to watching all the creative concepts come to life, we were so proud to see the effective team building, long-term project planning and goal setting displayed by our students!

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“Drop The Rope!” A Simple Expression To Help Students Defuse Disputes

One of the more popular Field Day events throughout the years at the Lower School has been tug of war.

Those who embrace the spirit of competition look forward to showcasing their strength against another team. One must mentally prepare for the pull from the other side, ready to match and exceed it once the “Go!” command is shouted.

tug-of-war

And then the tug begins – one side straining, pulling against the other. When the contest is close, you will often see the middle marker flag dance back and forth as each side creates an advantage.

But there is another “tug of war” that occurs on every playground that isn’t much fun. In fact, you can also see it in classrooms, in the hallways and perhaps even at home from time to time. Rather than the physical competition we see on Field Day, this tug of war manifests in the form of the verbal disagreements.

They may sound something like this:

“Yes, you did!”

“No, I didn’t!”

“YES, YOU did!”

“NO, I did NOT!”

This endless disagreement only continues because of the back-and-forth – or one side pulling against the other – nature of bickering. It seems to be human nature that when someone “tugs” on you, your first reaction is to “tug” back. And so it is with verbal disagreements.

So what can we do as educators, administrators and parents? At Lawrence, we encourage our Lower School students to “Drop The Rope” – a concept that was introduced at a recent morning assembly.

Picture a tug of war between two people with each side straining to gain an advantage. This alternating battle can continue for quite some time and only ends when someone finally gives up, exhausted from the fight. But even then, nothing has been resolved. More likely, both sides are left feeling hurt and those wounds take time to heal.

However, imagine what would happen if one side – rather than pull harder in the opposite direction – simply dropped the rope. The rope would fall to the ground and the other side would have nothing to pull against – the battle is over.

Although this doesn’t immediately resolve the initial conflict, it is effective in ending the disagreement. Only then, can subsequent steps be taken if necessary, such as getting other versions of the story, sharing perspectives, finding common ground, etc.

Lawrence staff and students have adopted this simple phrase as a clear directive to stop arguing. Each student also knows it is up to them to be the first to drop the rope and it’s not uncommon to hear them suggest to each other when it is an appropriate time to do so.

So don’t be surprised if your son or daughter uses this strategy at home. At least now, you’ll know what it means!


Musolf-Bill

Bill Musolf joined Lawrence in June 2007 as the Dean of Students at the Lower School campus. He has been in education since 1993, serving as a school psychologist and elementary guidance counselor. Bill received his bachelor’s degree in Psychology from The Ohio State University, and completed both his master’s and Education Specialist degrees at Michigan State University. He can be contacted at bmusolf@lawrenceschool.org

Señorita Named “Top Teacher” by Akron Life Magazine

World Languages teacher Ms. Nieves-Caraballo – known affectionately by many at Lawrence as “Señorita” – has been named “Top Teacher” by Akron Life Magazine and is featured prominently in the publication this month. We’re glad to see Akron Life agrees with what we have thought for years – that we are lucky to have such a talented, caring and spirited instructor! 

Señorita Nieves-CaraballoSeñorita, a native of Puerto Rico, currently teaches Spanish I, II and III at the Upper School for students in grades 9-12. Additionally, she is the director of our Allies Club and Spanish Club. 

The following is a Q&A that appears in the magazine. Thank you for all you do, Señorita! 

How long have you been teaching?
I have been teaching for four years.

What inspired you to become an educator?
My own learning struggles in middle and high school inspired me to teach students with learning differences. I felt incompetent and dumb when I was in school. Our students at Lawrence have, at some point in their educational experience, felt the same way. I sympathize with their struggle and like to think that my job is to rescue our students’ aspirations, re-establish their belief in themselves, and encourage them to recognize their own greatness as well as the greatness of their peers.

What are three things you want your students to learn from you?
I want my students to learn that there is more than one road to travel as they embark on their journey to reach their educational goals. As a single parent, it took me seven years to obtain a four-year degree. I worked a full-time job and raised my daughter while taking classes. Perseverance and time management skills helped me succeed. Students with distinct learning needs will most likely have to pave their own road in order to achieve their personal goals.

I also want them to learn that one can have fun and refrain from taking oneself too seriously while still being serious about their profession. A friendly smile and some heartfelt laughter go a long way in creating positive relationships in their place of work.

Lastly, I want them to learn how to be kind and compassionate. Every day, I put special emphasis on modeling kindness and compassion. If they leave Lawrence School knowing what kindness looks like and the benefits of treating people with respect, then I have done my part in molding a wonderful young man or woman.

What do you do to keep students engaged in the classroom?
I keep my students engaged with equal doses of good humor, patience and academic rigor. In class, we make time for some fun. I find that once I have them smiling, it is much easier to push them to meet content objectives.

How do you prepare students for long-term goals? Professional goals?
Although I teach the Spanish language, I set aside time for my students to reflect on learning strategies that benefit them and strategies that don’t.

It is imperative for them to learn how to take a step back and look at the big picture. They have to be able to assess unfavorable outcomes and figure out which behaviors need to be changed in order to reach long-term goals. I also emphasize the importance of time management. Whether my students choose to go straight to college or enter the workforce immediately after high school, they will need to be able to meet deadlines, arrive at work or class on time, and maximize their free time.

Gooooooooood morning, Lawrence School!

Adrian Cronauer is perhaps best known for providing the news and commentary on the radio during the Vietnam War.

Good-Morning-Vietnam-robin-williams-30953057-2336-2560Captured in the hit movie Good Morning, Vietnam starring the late Robin Williams (pictured right), Cronauer made it a point to deliver the news in style. Rather than the rule-driven pattern of delivery that was standard in military radio during that time, Cronauer brought imagination and enthusiasm, as well as a spark of light to the day-to-day demands of the war.

On a similar note, our morning assemblies at Lawrence (occurring Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays) strive to bring innovation to communicating important news to our student body. Rather than having our morning announcements read over the PA system (sometimes sounding more like the Peanuts teacher’s trombone-like drone, “whaah wah wah whaaah wah”), students are brought together in the gym for 10 minutes of Lawrence imagination and enthusiasm.

lower-assembly

Newsworthy information such as upcoming events (days off, assemblies, dress down days, etc.) are shared along with targeted topics geared towards shaping our school climate. In this case, climate does not refer to the weather, but rather the way our building “feels”. We strive to make Lawrence feel like a warm, friendly and inviting place for our students.

lower-assembly_2This school climate is often driven by the way people treat each other in the building. For instance, how visitors are greeted; how teachers treat students and fellow faculty; how students treat teachers, and – most importantly – how students treat each other.

Using an edutainment style (educating and entertaining at the same time), topics such as embracing differences, the importance of including others, how to handle disagreements, as well as many others are shared with the student community and thus defining the climate expectations. For example, this year’s group of students have already adopted our new Lawrence School Cheer. At the start of each assembly, three questions are posed and the kids respond in unison with the answer:

Who are we? Lawrence Lions!
Why are we here? To learn and achieve!
How do we do it? With respect!

So “Good Morning, Lawrence!” Today’s weather forecast is warm and sunny!


Musolf-Bill

Bill Musolf

Bill Musolf joined Lawrence in June 2007 as the Dean of Students at the Lower School campus. He has been in education since 1993, serving as a school psychologist and elementary guidance counselor. Bill received his bachelor’s degree in Psychology from The Ohio State University, and completed both his master’s and Education Specialist degrees at Michigan State University. He can be contacted at bmusolf@lawrenceschool.org

Meet The Upper School Leadership Team

As the new school year begins, we want to ensure that you are familiar with the staff members who will be working with your child this year.

Today, we’re going to feature the Upper School Head’s Office, consisting of Head of Upper School Jason Culp, Dean of Students Shanika Lovelace, Academic Dean Cheryl Cook, and Administrative Coordinator Melissa Tullis. This four-member team is responsible for the day-to-day successful operation of the school, and they take the commitment we have made to you and your child very seriously.

From L to R: Jason Culp, Cheryl Cook, Melissa Tullis and Shanika Lovelace.

From L to R: Jason Culp, Cheryl Cook, Melissa Tullis and Shanika Lovelace.

Jason Culp is entering his 14th year as a Lawrence School staff member, and sixth as Head of the Upper School. Jason’s areas of focus include teacher supervision and evaluation, parent communication and collaboration, strategic planning, as well as managing the budget for the upper school and serving on a variety of committees and working groups aimed at continuous school improvement. Jason is the first point of contact for questions about the overall operation of the school, specific concerns about an individual student’s experience, and can serve as a resource to parents as they navigate challenging situations with their children.   Jason can be reached at 330.908.6810 or via e-mail at jculp@lawrenceschool.org

Cheryl Cook is in her 12th year as a Lawrence School staff member, having begun her work with the school as a high school mathematics teacher. Cheryl shifted to the role of Academic Dean five years ago. Cheryl’s areas of focus include curriculum and instructional planning, student scheduling, course placement and assessment. Cheryl is the first point of contact for questions about the quality of a student’s academic experience in a particular teacher’s classroom, course scheduling and progress monitoring. Cheryl can be reached at 330.908.6804 or via e-mail at ccook@lawrenceschool.org

Shanika Lovelace has been a part of the Lawrence School community for 16 years. For the first nine years, Shanika served as a math teacher in our middle school, then moved to a leadership role as Dean of Students six years ago. Shanika’s areas of focus include teacher supervision and evaluation, mental health and behavioral support for students who are struggling and school-wide student life and wellness initiatives. Shanika is the first point of contact for serious concerns related to a student’s social or psychological needs, questions about classroom management in a particular classroom or contact from a student’s counselor or physician as related to their social or behavioral performance at school. Shanika can be reached at 330.908.6805 or via e-mail at slovelace@lawrenceschool.org.

Melissa Tullis began her career at Lawrence School in 2012 as a substitute teacher, soon moving to the full-time role of Building Substitute Teacher and Coordinator in 2014. In the spring of 2015, Melissa was appointed to the role of Administrative Coordinator to the Campus Leadership Council. Melissa provides administrative and program support to the Head and Deans, and is the first point of contact to reach Jason, Cheryl or Shanika. Melissa is also responsible for student parking and locker assignments, should there be questions on these topics.  Melissa can be reached at 330.908.6827 or via e-mail at mtullis@lawrenceschool.org.

Five Tips For Battling The Back-To-School Jitters

With the start of the new school year inching closer each day, many of us – students, parents, educators and administrators alike – are often left wondering, “Where did the summer go?” But for others, the start of the school year brings much stronger emotions. Jason Culp, our Head of Upper School, offers some advice for helping children cope with back-to-school anxiety.  


I remember approaching my seventh grade year with nothing but anxiety and dread.

I had always been something of an anxious kid, but the prospect of middle school had alarms of all kinds going off in my head: What if I don’t make friends? What if I cannot keep up with the workload? What if I get in trouble?

On and on it went, all summer long, right into the new school year. My mom tried her best to reassure me that there was really nothing to fear, but I was having none of it. Middle school, I had decided, was not for me.

Looking back now, I can smile and know that the anxiety of that year did not plague me through the rest of middle school or into high school. I eventually overcame my fears, finished seventh grade and moved forward in school. However, I have never really forgotten what it felt like to be so afraid of school that some days I flatly refused to go at all.

Each year, as the “Back-To-School” ads begin to flood TV and radio and fill my mailbox, I think about the kids who are not looking forward to new school supplies and a fresh start. While I am hopeful that most, if not all, of our Lawrence Lions are looking forward to an exciting and positive year ahead, I recognize that some – particularly those who are making big transitions – may be a little less than excited at the prospect.

For some – like our rising seventh graders – it means coming from the small, intimate environment of our Lower School into a much larger Upper School with many more classmates. In other cases, this year’s transition means a new grade level and new teachers. And while that may not seem like a major transition, new teachers can often mean big changes.

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For still others, the change is huge – coming from another school in a far-away community to Lawrence. This, of course, means everything is new; from what to wear, how to get home from school, to everything in between; including making new friends.

Changes, whatever their size, can breed anxiety and tension in even the most resilient and confident child. For those who have struggled in school in the past, the thought of a new school year can surface old fears and make the transition to the first day of school quite difficult.

In the hope of easing this year’s transition, here are some tips to consider:

  1. Visit the campus – more than once, if needed. In most schools, including Lawrence, administrative and office staff are back in the office and working. As such, making an appointment to tour the school, visit classrooms and check out the locker situation is often an easy arrangement. Frequently, the simple act of walking through an unfamiliar space when you have time to really look and explore can be a huge stress reliever. For students who fear the unknown, there is nothing more helpful than making their new school feel like a known entity through a visit during the relative quiet of an early August day.
  1. Attend as many back-to-school events as possible (and bring your child when appropriate). Lawrence School, like most schools, has orientation programs, sports nights and other programs where parents and students can meet teachers and other staff. While sometimes it seems there might be better ways to spend the last minutes of summer, the best thing for an anxious child is exposure to the new environment in a social, low-anxiety situation. Furthermore, let teachers and staff know that your child is feeling anxious. Most school staff will go well out of their way to help an anxious child feel comfortable and safe.
  1. Let the questions fly! If you have questions about the new school setting, or your child is asking questions you can’t answer, encourage the child to e-mail a contact person at the school and ask their questions. Not sure who to contact? Call the school office and ask the administrative assistant. If the child is asking the questions and receiving answers, he or she is building a connection to school staff that will likely carry them through even the most anxiety-ridden first day.
  1. Conduct a Dress Rehearsal. Never has a play been produced when there was not a dress rehearsal the night before, ensuring that everything is ready for the big day. So, conduct your own dress rehearsal. Set the alarms, try on the new clothes and shoes, pack the backpack, then time the drive to school. Time it right, and you can stop for lunch on the way home. Let your child see that everything is planned and organized and that you’re ready for any contingency.
  1. Remind your child that others may be anxious as well. The important message here is helping your child understand that some level of anxiety about a new school year is to be expected. Additionally, it is reassuring for kids to hear that there may be other students who are anxious as well and what they are experiencing is not “weird” or a problem. An anxious child will likely assume that everyone else is adjusting well and feeling excited about the year ahead. Knowing that their friends may be anxious as well can normalize the experience.

Certainly, if you feel your child’s anxiety is beyond what is reasonable for the back to school season, consult with school personnel, your child’s pediatrician or a professional counselor.

Best wishes for an exciting and low-anxiety transition back to school. We are so looking forward to seeing the campus come alive in the next few weeks!


Jason Culp

Jason Culp is the Head of Upper School at Lawrence and has been a member of the school’s community since 2002. He holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Baldwin-Wallace College and a Master’s degree in Mental Health Counseling from Capella University.  Jason is licensed as a Professional Counselor (PC) with the State of Ohio Counselor, Social Worker and Marriage and Family Therapist Board. He welcomes all comments and questions, which can be directed to him directly at jculp@lawrenceschool.org

PEERS Program To Return In 2015-16 Thanks To Generous Grant

Thanks to a generous $25,000 grant from The Burton D. Morgan Foundation, Lawrence School is proud to announce that the revolutionary PEERS program will return in 2015-16.

PEERS, which stands for the Program for the Education and Enrichment of Relational Skills, was created by Dr. Elizabeth Laugeson of the UCLA PEERS Clinic and helps children improve social skills and make new friends. Dr. Laugeson was our honored guest speaker during the Community Education Series last fall and provided a full day of PEERS training for our faculty and staff while on-site.

Thanks to the generosity of The Burton D. Morgan Foundation a year ago, PEERS was offered to Lawrence middle school and high school students for the first time in 2014-15 and provided a long-sought-after answer to a difficult riddle.

“The most challenging conversations I’ve ever had with parents during my tenure at Lawrence School have centered on the child who struggles to make and keep friends,” said Lawrence Head of Upper School Jason Culp. “More than one parent has expressed their desire for their child to have ‘just one friend’ and asked pointedly what Lawrence School could do to help their child in this regard.

“For many years, I had very little to offer these parents and both the parent and I left conversations feeling frustrated,” Culp continued. “It seemed impossible to believe that there was not some way to teach students who struggle with social relationships how to make and keep friends.  Surely, if we can teach reading, writing and math as successfully as Lawrence School does, we ought to be able to teach social and friend-making skills effectively as well.”

Thus began a multi-year search for an evidence-based program that went beyond teaching basic social skills and which instead emphasized what students needed to learn how to do in order to make and keep friends.  

“Thanks to generous support from The Burton D. Morgan Foundation, PEERS became a viable option last year,” Culp said. “PEERS is the only evidence-based program designed to teach students how to make and keep friends that is specifically aimed at adolescents with learning differences. 

“Finally, there was a structured, systematic and hierarchical method for helping socially isolated and socially neglected students find their way through the maze of interpersonal connections and relationships. The science of making and keeping friends would no longer remain a mystery.”

The results after the first year of the PEERS program at Lawrence have been profound. Students have been engaged in the lessons and practicing skills at home and in social situations.

In fact, the program has been so successful that Lawrence will be offering a special summer session of PEERS – which is open to Lawrence School students and non-students alike in Grades 7 and 8 – starting next month. For more information, please see our Summer Programs page.

“Parents have noted that they have begun to see their children interacting with peers in ways they have not seen before,” Culp said. “One parent notes that her daughter now has 35-minute phone conversations with friends that she initiates. This is a child who never would have considered calling a friend to talk before the PEERS program.”

Lawrence School is proud to be the only school in northeast Ohio and one of just two schools in the state to offer the PEERS program. Jeff Starner, who is our new Director of Social and Behavioral Support, is one of several Lawrence faculty members certified to teach PEERS.

“From the first day I was introduced to PEERS, I was immediately excited to bring it back to Lawrence and work with the students,” Starner said. “Having the opportunity to put the program into action and see the positive results so quickly has been extremely gratifying.”

For more information about the PEERS program, please visit the PEERS website or watch this video of Dr. Laugeson discussing her book, The Science of Making Friends.

Old Surroundings Reveal New Feelings Of Strength, Lessons Learned

During a two-week period beginning in late January, Lawrence Head of School Lou Salza was one of just a handful of handpicked educational leaders invited to Teachers College at Columbia University to receive a fully-funded fellowship to the Klingenstein Center for Independent School Leadership’s 2015 Heads of Schools program.

The prestigious honor provided independent school leaders with an opportunity for focused professional enrichment, renewal and reflection. Furthermore, Lou contributed to an intensive study that examined educational issues and policies facing independent school educators. As you will see in his guest blog post below, returning to the role of a student for the first time in decades brought back a number of very personal emotions that help answer the question of why the work we do at Lawrence is so important.


You have brains in your head.                       Who goes to dine must take the feast
You have feet in your shoes.                           Or find the banquet mean;
You can steer yourself                                      The table is not laid without
Any direction you choose.                               Until it is laid within.

~Dr. Suess                                                           ~Emily Dickinson 

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Lou Salza, Lawrence Head of School

The sinking feeling was just under the surface as I sat in class during my second day of a two-week fellowship at Columbia University, Teacher’s College.

I was back in the classroom, sitting at a desk for the first time since 1980. There I was with 18 other heads of independent schools from all over the globe, classmates and Fellows at the Klingenstein Center for Independent School Leadership, class of 2015.

The professor had just handed out a form and asked us to take 15 minutes to write our own philosophy of education ­– in response to readings by Michel de Montaigne and John Dewey, both of whom I had read before and both of whom I had read again in preparation for this class – and hand it in!

Immediately, I felt an eruption in my chest and brain; my skin flushed, and my mouth got dry. I felt my heart rate increase, and my palms started to sweat. I was back in the fifth grade taking a vocabulary and spelling test! Back then, I either knew most of the words but couldn’t remember how to spell them, or my handwriting was so bad my teacher would mark me down because she couldn’t read the letters.

My old nemeses – shame, fear, anxiety – jumped out of my skin and sat in front of me glaring and accusing: “Your handwriting is so bad, he won’t even read it” and “Your spelling will shock the professor; he will think you must be stupid.”

The feelings of shame and vulnerability never completely go away for me even though I can hide them fairly effectively; even from myself most of the time. And I have learned over the years from many other successful adults with learning differences like dyslexia and ADHD, that they, too, experience these moments of shame and embarrassment over feelings and experiences buried deep in the past; notwithstanding the many years and outward examples of achievement and success that may now bury them.

Quickly though, I reminded myself that I was no longer a child. I had indeed earned my place at this table of learning, and in this class among colleagues in independent school leadership. I have people who love me in my life, people who respect me in my profession, and many students and parents who know me as an experienced and successful head of school.

Yes, my handwriting is indeed sloppy, but my thinking is not. And while spelling continues to elude me, I have worked hard over many years to acquire and use a broad and deep vocabulary. Yes, I get help from others; and yes, I use technology that assists me in presenting my ideas legibly and spelled correctly. I access resources that help me use and align strengths so that most of the time my challenges and weaknesses can be rendered largely irrelevant.

Thankfully, the moment passed quickly. I am an adult.

I can exercise control over these situations and I have a context and a history to help me stay in the saddle even when the horse stumbles and I feel like I’m going to hit the dirt.

The vulnerability I felt in that moment was a great reminder of what so many of our children and students feel when they realize that other kids can do easily what they cannot, despite their hard work and best efforts. This not only robs them of confidence in their abilities, but also security in school.

I am therefore thankful to live in an enlightened community and serve at a great school with thoughtful and well-prepared colleagues who accept, understand, embrace and support students with learning differences. Their example to me is nothing less than the struggle of a human spirit to be free of assumptions and conclusions drawn about them in school environments that judge narrowly and marginalize the creativity and collaboration that will ultimately drive our success later in life.

Performing and Fine Arts to Take Center Stage at Coffeehouse

This Friday evening, we will have the pleasure of hosting the seventh-annual Coffeehouse – a unique event that represents the confluence of the performing and fine arts at Lawrence School – from 6-9:30 p.m. at our Upper School campus. 

The much-anticipated night will feature a wide variety of performances – ranging in nature from theatrical monologFeatured imageues and scenes (both comedic and dramatic); to rock and pop music sung by the high school choir and select soloists; and instrumental solos ranging from classical to rock and beginner to advanced. 

The Coffeehouse has gained momentum each year since its inception in 2008.

“The idea of the Coffeehouse was first conceived to highlight the developing skills of our students in the fine and performing arts as the performing arts program itself was growing,” said Lawrence School music teacher Greg Donnellan. “Our initial event was held on the very first year that music and theater courses were offered at the Upper School and this year’s performances will reflect the remarkable growth our performing arts program has experienced since then.”

The night will begin with an art gallery hour from 6-7 p.m., followed by live performances in the Garfield Theatre from 7-8 p.m. and again from 8:30-9:30 p.m. For the first time this year, the Coffeehouse will feature performances and artwork from Lawrence School students AND alumni. Tickets are $5 at the door. 

“As our performing and fine arts programs have  grown, many of our alumni have continued to keep art and music as a central part of their lives,” Donnellan said. “Having these alumni participate in our program sends a wonderful message to our current students that what you learn and love while in school can be incorporated into your adult life. Our alumni are very excited to be involved this year and (Upper School fine arts teacher) Mrs. Hall and I look forward to expanding this component in the future.”

Additionally, the event highlights the importance of having a wide variety of extracurricular activities – from athletics, to our diverse offering of clubs, and the arts –  for our students to explore their distinct talents and learn about themselves. This access is particularly helpful to children who learn differently.

“Because many of our students have had struggles with academics in traditional, general education, it is particularly important – even necessary – that they have an opportunity to develop and grow talents and skills in the arts and athletics, and develop communication and relational skills in clubs and extracurricular activities,” said Head of School Lou Salza. “We have known – and the research has supported the reality that – participation in plays, on teams, and in clubs,  galvanizes the self confidence of our students and even predicts civic engagement later in their lives.”

As the Coffeehouse has grown, so has Mr. Donnellan’s pride in our many talented students and alumni, who have taken the stage or displayed a piece of art at Lawrence. 

“Plainly put, I love seeing the students blow us away with their talents and have a good time doing it!” he said.  “I’m also very proud of the fine and performing arts programs we have today. Our beginnings, in both areas, were very modest; but now it’s safe to say that the Coffeehouse represents a strong, robust and thriving program!”

To reserve your ticket for the seventh-annual Coffeehouse, click here.