Student Academic Support Center
A New Paradigm: The Multi-Disciplinary Student Academic Support Center at St. Margaret's Episcopal School.
The importance of addressing the learning differences of independent school children has become increasingly recognized in recent years. It is no longer unusual to find a learning center, or a similarly named center, for students at an independent school. The SMES Student Academic Support Center supports the child who is very intelligent but whose full potential is not being realized. The Student Academic Support Center therefore offers students instructional support, enrichment opportunities, and behavioral interventions to enhance the student's academic experience and to ensure that intervening factors do not undermine the child's ongoing success.
The SMES Student Academic Support Center offers expertise in a variety of disciplines: assessment, diagnostics, remediation, monitoring of progress, teacher education, curriculum development, and an understanding of the importance of social/emotional functioning. These various roles are at the heart of the multi-disciplinary Student Academic Support Center.
The Student Academic Support Center serves two important functions with regard to assessment of students. First, it is a valuable resource for individual students who are struggling but more information is needed as to exactly what is at the root of the problem. Second, the Student Academic Support Center consults with teachers to provide teachers with additional assessment tools in monitoring the progress of students throughout the academic year.
In terms of identifying students who are in need of support, a key vehicle used to promote teamwork and good communication is the Student Study Team (SST). The SST meeting provides a process by which students are identified and supported. An SST meeting is convened after teacher and parents have intervened and implemented all strategies typically found effective in helping struggling students. Many times, classroom observations are scheduled before a meeting in order to glean relevant information as well. The SST is comprised of the teacher(s), school administrator (Principal), the parent(s), and the Student Academic Support Center specialist (SASC provides psychologists with extensive experience in both neuropsychological assessment as well as education).
Concerns are discussed, as well as whatever approaches or strategies that have previously been attempted. The team then decides upon an action plan for addressing the concerns expressed in the meeting. The team decides who is responsible for implementing the plan and when. Finally, a time interval is frequently decided upon in terms of when the SST will reconvene. The SST meeting promotes accountability, documents efforts to support the student, tracks progress, and determines when and if it is appropriate to change course.
In some cases, a student's needs may be met through our FLI (First Level of Intervention) Program. FLI is small group instruction that supports what is being taught in the classroom through reinforcement of the curricula. The FLI coordinator will provide consistent and ongoing communication with the classroom teacher.
For students with more involved needs, an assessment may be recommended. The assessment typically takes place outside of the school and the family is responsible for the cost. This type of psycho-educational or neuropsychological assessment serves a valuable function in diagnosis. The assessment results answer the questions of both how much the student is struggling and why the student is struggling. In serving a variety of independent schools, we have been able to identify a combination of characteristics that typify the student who is referred to the Student Academic Support Center. Typically, this student is relatively strong cognitively (intellectually), but has some underlying processing issue, learning, or attention issues. Only rarely do we assess students who have weak intellectual functioning. In such cases, the school, in conjunction with the Student Academic Support Center, must decide whether or not there are sufficient resources available to meet the student's needs on an ongoing basis.
C4L commits to employ evidenced based approaches that have stood up to the scrutiny of controlled research. When we discuss remediation interventions, we typically refer to the approach as "educational therapy," as opposed to "tutoring." These designations can sometimes seem like semantic manipulations, but in this case there is a substantively different approach. Educational therapy is the term used to describe remediating an underlying processing or learning issue/disability. It's an attempt to get to the root of the problem with the goal of improving the student's functioning in a way that generalizes to the classroom and is enduring in nature. Educational therapy aimed at remediating a reading acquisitions problem, for example, typically uses one of the approaches inspired by the Orton-Gillingham model. This program is characterized by a systematic, intensive, multi-sensory orientation toward reading remediation and has supporting research to substantiate its claims. The Student Academic Support Center staff includes credentialed Educational Therapists that ensure valid and reliable implementation of these interventions. Tutoring, on the other hand, is conceptualized as a type of support in the form of homework assistance, helping to study for a test, etc. The goal of tutoring is simply to ensure that the student successfully completes the class of the school year. It's not uncommon that a student may need both forms of intervention: the root cause of the learning difference is remediated (a long term solution) through educational therapy while the student is supported in meeting the day-to-day demands of school (a short term solution) through tutoring.
Regardless of the form of remediation or support offered, St. Margaret's Student Academic Support Center is committed to providing ongoing communication and collaboration with teachers and parents as well as an ongoing, data-driven means of measuring student response to intervention. Our experience has been that meeting frequently with parents and having more informal, ongoing communication with teachers is an effective way of making sure the communication loop is maintained. These procedures ensure that the Student Academic Support Center is engaging in effective practices and that the student is not being caught up in an open-ended, vaguely defined, inadequately supervised, and ultimately ineffectual attempt to address the learning difference.
Another key role of the Student Academic Support Center is to identify possible social/emotional issues that may also be interfering with a student's progress academically. When a student is referred for an assessment the student's social/emotional functioning should be assessed along with his/her cognitive and academic abilities. Sometimes learning struggles can actually be a manifestation of something other than a learning difference. High levels of anxiety and depression, for example, will inevitably affect academic performance.
C4L is particularly suited to being learning specialists because of our extensive training in multiple disciplines: school psychology, teaching, psycho-educational assessment, and neuropsychological assessment. These disciplines along with a passion for children has contributed to our current success and we strive to continue to better ourselves and grow in order to serve the educational community for many years to come.