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Georgetown District Christian School's new Arrowsmith Program showing signs of success

Written on December 29th, 2008

‘We are beginning to see some significant impact in those 20 kids,’ says principal

Georgetown District Christian School teacher Joan Collier says the school’s Arrowsmith Program holds great promise for children who have learning disabilities to work through them.

“It’s very different from a regular classroom,” says Collier, who was trained as an Arrowsmith teacher when the school decided to implement the program in September 2008.

“My 30-some-odd years of teaching just told me that this made sense,” she says.

Collier says she has a vested interest in the program, as her 13-year-old son was the first student registered in the school’s new program.

The program is founded on neuroscientific research that students can strengthen weak cognitive capacities through specific exercises. The research includes that areas of the brain work together for intricate mental activities, and the principle of neuroplasticity — that the brain can change and develop new functions and roles.

There are 19 learning dysfunctions identified that impact learning, academics and social skills.

The decision to start the program came about through a discussion with the school’s leadership team, says principal Marianne Vangoor.

They visited the Arrowsmith School in Toronto and participated in seminars. The school board approved starting the program and a number of parents expressed interest.

“We knew we had good support to start with (and we wanted) to add value and service to the programs that we offer at our school,” says Vangoor.

The school initially planned to hire one teacher for a 10-student class, but by May knew that they would need two teachers.

“It ballooned,” says Vangoor. The class is full with two teachers, an EA and 20 students from Grades 3 to 6. There is a waiting list for next year.

“We are beginning to see some significant impact in those 20 kids,” says Vangoor.

The Arrowsmith classroom is currently running 11 different stations where students partake in different activities that include auditory listening and repeating, pen and paper tracing and word, and computers with simple recognition and clocks. Teachers move around the room and work one-on-one with the students.

Collier says they were told in training that it takes approximately five months before there are changes the children can see themselves, but when the school asked for observation feedback at the end of November parents had started to see some change.

The most common feedback was that the child has started to feel successful, especially older students who found difficulty with their classroom work content and met it with frustration, notes Collier.

“Now these are things they can do, and it’s homework they can do, and so they are starting to feel good about coming to school and feeling successful,” says Collier. “It’s not pass and fail, it’s about mastering something and trying to make these little incremental improvements and setting personal goals.”

Some parents said their child could read better or were more interested in reading than ever before. One Grade 4 student was suddenly reading every sign and taking library books out. Another parent commented that their child is much more verbally expressive.

“We are seeing a whole lot of growth in their learning, and they are mastering things and they are being celebrated,” Vangoor says. “We are really starting to hear our own stories of success so we are pretty pumped and excited about what we are offering and we just see it as an extension of our vision and mission, equipping and challenging each child.”

The school recently held a take a friend to Arrowsmith day. The friends were “astounded by the hard work and the hard things these kids were doing,” says Vangoor.

There was also a day when other teachers in the school were relieved for 40 minutes with a supply teacher so they could visit the Arrowsmith classroom.

“(Inviting people into the classroom is) another way of just building the bridges between our room and the rest of the school too,” says Collier.

The students spend 50 to 75 per cent of their day in the program. Students are integrated into other classes including a homeroom, physical education, art, math, and for some students music and science.

The Arrowsmith Program is very unique. Other schools in Ontario offering the program include the Toronto Catholic District School Board, Arrowsmith School Peterborough, St. Lawrence Christian Academy in Brockville and Silvercrest Christian School in Wasaga Beach.

Silvercrest Christian School and Georgetown District Christian School are both members of the Ontario Alliance of Christian Schools (OACS).

Vangoor says any school interested in the program should contact the Arrowsmith School Toronto and take part in some of their information sessions. Learn more about the Arrowsmith School by visiting its website at www.arrowsmithschool.org.

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School offers unique program for students with learning disabilities