Inclusion at West Highland Christian Academy

West Highland students“There’s something magical about this place,” shares Greg Yoder, CLC Network’s teacher consultant serving West Highland Christian Academy in Milford, Michigan. “Students are leaving with a love, caring, and understanding of the differences in every person. It’s a wonderful microcosm of the real world.”

West Highland’s teachers and parents agree that this student body is truly a family. After their first year of inclusive education with a student who had signifi­cant special needs, students responded to a survey telling the teachers they couldn’t imagine their school without that student.

The next year, five more students with disabilities enrolled.

“I expected it to grow, but not that quickly,” shares Trina Mavin, the school’s Principal. “But when God sends someone to this school, we have to trust that He’s going to make it work.”

West Highland Christian Academy Principal, Trina Mavin

West Highland Christian Academy Principal, Trina Mavin

With 85 students in grades from kindergarten to twelfth grade, part of West Highland’s secret is to keep class sizes small. “Our teachers are incredibly sup­portive, and we serve each student indi­vidually rather than creating a program,” adds Mavin.

The school also enlists the students’ help with their classmates. Currently, seven students serve as student aids, help­ing three students with disabilities to get where they need to be and to work on specific goals. Next year, one high school student will shadow a younger students’ therapy, receiving early training for a career in special education.

After being told he wouldn’t graduate from his previous school, one tenth-grade student with autism spectrum disorder is now on the path to a diploma.

“The stu­dents really reach out to my son and teach him social skills, without ostracizing him or making him feel different,” explains Barb Barber, Tim’s mom. “Tim has come out of his shell, and he is getting A’s and B’s in some general education courses. He’s using his brain and really progressing.”

In addition, West Highland Christian Academy specializes in working with stu­dents who have dyslexia. “Because we have such small classes, stu­dents were functioning okay before we imple­mented screening,” explains Mavin. “Now that their dyslexia has been identified, they’re doing much bet­ter.” The dyslexia program serves seven­teen current West Highland students as well as ten area students enrolled in after school programs.

“I believe all Christian schools can do something,” says Mavin. “Even small steps, some accommodations. The body of Christ isn’t all high achievers.” And at West Highland Christian Academy, the body of Christ is seen as a family helping each other.

To learn more about how your school can include students at all levels of ability and disability, visit our website at clcnetwork.org

This article originally appeared in our Spring 2014 Inclusive newsletter.

Elizabeth Dombrowski photoElizabeth Lucas Dombrowski is the advancement director at CLC Network (Christian Learning Center) in Grand Rapids, MI. 

Questions You and Your Child Should Be Asking

This month, we’ve focused on increasing reading comprehension with your child. We’ve talking about why comprehension is necessary to be a successful reader, how to introduce books to your child, and today, we’ll conclude with more practical strategies you can try with your son or daughter. 

Asking questions during and after reading encourages active engagement and remembrance of important details and information. This can also help your son or daughter connect what he has learned to what he already knows. Your child is monitoring his own comprehension when he asks questions.

How It Works:

1)         Let your child know that asking questions while reading can help him focus on what he is reading, gives him a purpose for reading, and helps him check to see if he is understand what he is reading.

2)        Read a story to your child and model the questioning process (eventually, he should do this on his own). Stop during the reading and ask questions that come to your mind. You may have to model this several times – your child will not pick this up completely after just one modeling.

3)      Some questions to ask while reading could include:

  1. “What does this mean?”
  2. “Is this important?”
  3. “How do I think the story will end?”
  4. “What does this word mean?”
  5. “Do I need to read this again?”
  6. “How could that be?”

4)      Encourage him to ask himself these questions when he is reading on his own.

A Fun, Interactive Post-Reading Activity:

You’ll need: a beach ball and a permanent marker

Steps:

1)      With a permanent marker, write the following questions on an inflated beach ball: Who? What? Where? When? Why? How?

Beach Ball Reading Activity

2)      After reading a text, toss the ball back and forth with your child. Look to see which questioning word is closest to your right thumb and answer that question with regard to the text that was just read.

3)      Toss the ball back to your child and have her answer the question closest to her right thumb.

Teaching Reading at Home

We hope the reading strategies over the past month have been helpful for you as you’ve worked with your son or daughter on reading comprehension. If you’re an educator and have a student that’s struggling with reading comprehension, we’d invite you to share these strategies with his or her parent’s to work on at home. For more reading strategies and tips, check out Best Practices for Teaching Reading at Home.

Sandra Vroon IMGSandra Vroon has served as a general education teacher, Reading Recovery teacher, adjunct reading and literacy professor and most recently, a home educator. She received both her undergraduate and graduate degrees from Calvin College.

Susan Harrell IMGSusan Harrel has spent the last 30 years in a variety of educational settings including a one-room mission school in Uganda, a K-12 school for LD students, multiple elementary grades, a Reading Recovery room, private tutoring of home school students and more. She received both her undergraduate and graduate degrees from Calvin College. 

How to Introduce New Books to Your Child

Last week, we shared why reading comprehension is necessary for your son or daughter to be a successful reader. This week, parents, teachers, home educators and authors Sandra Vroon and Susan Harrell share one strategy for helping your child strengthen their comprehension skills: introducing new books with to child.

Why is this important? Because it will pique their interest, introduce new words and concepts and give them an idea of what the story is going to be about.  (Learn more about this from Drs. Fountas and Pinnell)

Reading Together

Credit: Phil Dowsing Creative, http://flic.kr/p/4G8o6f

Steps for Introducing a New Book:

  1. Give a summary of what the story is about. This gives your child the main idea to refer to when reading the story.
  2. Talk about the pictures together before reading. Look at the pictures and talk about what your child thinks is happening and will happen next. This will help him to predict the story and reinforces the meaning of the text.
  3. Talk about any interesting language your child may encounter during the reading of this book. This will help your child use structure and language patterns.
  4. Discuss any concepts that you think may be new or difficult for your child to understand based on his background knowledge
  5. Preview the book and find one or two high frequency words that you are working on. Go to the page the first word is located on. Say the word you want your child to locate and have him repeat it after you. Ask him what letter he would expect to see at the beginning of the word. Have him run his finger slowly under the word and read it. Repeat this with the second word. This helps your child use the visual information from letters to guide him through the text.
  6. Enjoy this opportunity to read with your child. Keep the experience fun and relaxing for both you and your child.

Check back next week for a fun reading activity!

This text was adapted from Sandra and Susan’s new book, Best Practices for Teaching Reading at Home.

Sandra Vroon IMGSandra Vroon has served as a general education teacher, Reading Recovery teacher, adjunct reading and literacy professor and most recently, a home educator. She received both her undergraduate and graduate degrees from Calvin College.

Susan Harrell IMGSusan Harrel has spent the last 30 years in a variety of educational settings including a one-room mission school in Uganda, a K-12 school for LD students, multiple elementary grades, a Reading Recovery room, private tutoring of home school students and more. She received both her undergraduate and graduate degrees from Calvin College. 

Misunderstanding My Misunderstanding

Dear Mom and Dad,

I think the reason I struggle in school is I have no motivation, no goal, nothing that tells me to keep going.  Some kids have legitimate reasons for their school struggles – not me.  I am just lazy and it is 100% my responsibility to dig myself out of this academic hole I have created.  If I don’t improve you should pull me out of sports and eliminate all the things that mean a lot to me because I don’t deserve them.  

I love you

-7th grader, March 2010

Photo courtesy of MumblingMommy.com

When students misunderstand in school and are misunderstood by adults, things frequently get tense –inside the student and also between the student and parents and/or teachers. Inside them it can feel confusing, frustrating, or discouraging. Eventually, these feelings often lead to self-prosecution (e.g. I’m so stupid, I just can’t do it, etc.) Between the adults and students tensions may quickly increase as “nothing seems to work” and parents and teachers display ever-increasing frustration and discouragement.

How does this happen? Why? Reasons for student misunderstanding and adult misunderstanding of their misunderstanding are multiple. One possibility to consider is that the adults play out their autobiography into the life of the child. What does that mean? Without realizing it, we adults assume the student is us. So the automatic, default reason we lean on to explain the student’s misunderstanding or struggle in school is often the reason we (adults) might have struggled ourselves. This autobiography mindset often misses the mark, leading to misinterpretation. For example, if a parent had no trouble in school, they may interpret their child’s struggle as laziness. So what might this misunderstanding sound like around the home front? How about – “I know you are smart… I know you can do this,” or “You need to try harder – get motivated.” Yikes.

This process can heighten and tighten leading to a “triple whammy” for the student.

Whammy #1 – The student is struggling in school, knows it, and recognizes that they are disappointing the very people s/he is trying to please.

Whammy #2 – If the adults cannot identify a reason based on their own experience for why their student is struggling, they will often ask the student (i.e. “why can’t you just do this?”). The average child does not know why they are struggling, and the fact that the adults in their life do not have an explanation can be bewildering or increase their shame and anxiety.  In a sense, they have the right to ask, “Why are you asking ME? I’m the twelve year old here!”

Whammy #3 – The default reason everyone else is giving for a students’ misunderstanding or struggles in school is because they “don’t care… aren’t trying… aren’t motivated.” After a while, the student may even believe the misunderstandings of the adults in their life.

So, what to do? A few things to consider:

  1. Parents can remain open to a variety of explanations/interpretations for the student’s struggles. One particularly helpful book is A Mind at a Time  by Mel Levine, M.D.
  2. Parents can help their student by emotionally “shock absorbing” the situation. Amidst their struggle of misunderstanding, the student really needs the adults in their lives to really behave as adults — to  absorb some of the emotion flying around by remaining calm — easy to say, not so easy to do.
  3. Adults can help the student change their thinking or talking from “I can’t understand/do __________” to “I haven’t understood/done ___________yet.”
  4. Seek further comprehensive evaluation from CLC Network as a foundation for accurately understanding their misunderstanding, getting adults and the student on the same page and putting a specific plan in place which includes steps for parents, teachers and the student.

Ultimately, misunderstanding a student’s misunderstanding is understandable. And once we realize this, we can move forward to understanding our students’ struggles, to using that understanding to equip rather than guilt, and to making education meaningful and achievable for our kids.

Doug BoumanDoug Bouman is Director of Evaluation Services at CLC Network, a Nationally Certified School Psychologist and Licensed Masters Social Worker