The Importance of Advocacy

“Now that I have the evaluation results, how do I make sure that the teacher and school will work with me to meet my child’s needs?”

Parents often need guidance in navigating the possible special services programs and processes once a child’s learning challenges have been identified. At Learning Associates, we recognize that effective educational advocacy is just as important as the evaluation itself.  As a Learning Disabilities Teacher-Consultant and former teacher, Holly is uniquely qualified to partner with families on behalf of their children. In meetings with child study teams and teachers, Holly explains the results of testing, discusses the implications of those results, and advocates for our educational recommendations. She can attend 504 Committee and Child Study Team meetings along with parents to secure appropriate programs and services. This collaboration increases effectiveness.

Some situations require legal advocacy. When an education attorney is required, Holly can make recommendations and work alongside counsel.

For more information on special education advocacy, see https://u.org/2E4u8I0.

Learning Disabilities and the Impact on Families

When children have learning disabilities, the impact can extend far beyond the classroom. Often these students and their families also experience significant amounts of stress and anxiety due to the academic struggles. As a result, the family dynamic can suffer. However, most of the research and remediation focuses only on the learning challenges.

After seeing at least half of her clients get upset when receiving feedback from their child’s learning evaluation, Dr. Deborah Waber, neuropsychologist and Learning Disabilities program director at Boston Children’s Hospital, realized that the impact on families is not fully appreciated or addressed. She and her colleagues developed a survey to screen for quality of life problems stemming from learning disabilities. Questions address anxiety, frustration, and the effect on family activity. For more information on their findings, see https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/06/180628120039.htm.

At Learning Associates, we look at more than academic records in our evaluations. We ask clients to share information about their child’s self-image, attitude toward school, and relationships with peers. Families are given Conners rating scales to screen for attention, behavioral, social, and emotional issues. This holistic approach allows us to truly understand each child and make appropriate recommendations. We also make referrals to other professionals when necessary. Our advocacy work is designed to reduce the stress on the family by getting the proper support services in school.

Self-advocacy

When students participate in the formulation and modification of their special education programs, they are empowered. Of course, this wouldn’t be appropriate for very young children, but older children can add valuable input to these discussions while also learning important skills.

At Learning Associates, we encourage older children to attend the post-evaluation conference along with their parents. In doing so, we promote self-advocacy by teaching the students about their individual strengths and needs. Hearing this information directly from the professionals who assessed them makes the student a stakeholder in this process and also allows them to ask questions and provide feedback. It also empowers these students once they return to the classroom. They have a better understanding of what they need and are better able to communicate these needs. These valuable skills transcend the classroom and will also benefit them in the workforce and life in general.

In a report on fostering self-advocacy and self-determination, the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD) offers specific steps that educators, policy makers, and communities can take to empower students with learning challenges. For more information, please go to: https://www.edutopia.org/article/prioritizing-agency-students-disabilities.

 

What Happens to Autistic Students Once They Graduate?

Much of what we hear about autism relates to younger children and teens. Educators, parents, and advocates have worked to raise awareness and make elementary school, high school, and some colleges accessible to autistic students. Programs and supports within schools have been developed to serve these students who tend to achieve academically, but struggle with social skills.

But, what happens once they graduate? In recent years, this question has become a focus of educators, private companies, non-for-profit groups, and public agencies. Their partnerships and collective funding have created programs to increase employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities. Fortunately, employers have begun to understand both the value and needs of autistic people in the workplace.

Microsoft has been at the forefront of this initiative from its direct Autism Hiring Program to its Autism Empowerment Kit, which provides employers with recommendations and resources for providing support and accommodations in the workplace. Most recently, Microsoft has partnered with University of Illinois to create the Accessibility Lighthouse Program to provide a pathway for autistic students to pursue careers in the STEM (science, technology, math, and engineering) fields. Social skills training will be designed to teach students how to apply for jobs and prepare for interviews. The University will also build a digitally accessible classroom using Microsoft tools. For more information on the Accessibility Lighthouse Program, see https://cs.illinois.edu/news/microsoft-and-university-illinois-launch-accessibility-lighthouse-program.

For more additional information and resources:

www.autismspeaks.org

www.ncld.org

https://workplaceinitiative.org/

Twice Exceptional Students

Most people are not familiar with “twice exceptional students” who have superior abilities in some academic areas and learning difficulties in others. The concepts of “gifted” and “learning disabled” are often viewed as mutually exclusive. Thus, this group of students can be very difficult to identify and serve properly.

This is how the National Education Association has described “The Twice Exceptional Dilemma”:

Students who are gifted and disabled are at risk for not achieving their potential because of the relationship that exists between their enhanced cognitive abilities and their disabilities. They are among the most frequently under-identified population in our schools. Twice-exceptional students present a unique identification and service delivery dilemma for educators. Often educators, parents, and students are asked to choose between services to address one exceptionality or the other, leaving twice-exceptional students both under-identified and underserved in our schools.

These students tend to fall into three categories:

  1. Students identified as Gifted who demonstrate high intellectual ability and potential. When they do struggle, they can be seen as underachieving or lazy; however, an undiagnosed learning disability is often the cause of their poor performance. This can result in behavior problems and frustration.
  2. Students identified as Learning Disabled where the focus is placed primarily on what they can’t do. Learning challenges overshadow strengths, so the gifts are not explored or addressed in academic services. These students may end up bored in special education classes and act out as a result.
  3. Unidentified students who appear average and tend to work at grade level. Their abilities and disabilities mask each other so they are not screened for special services. They tend to stay in general education classes which don’t address their learning strengths or deficits.

Twice exceptional students are difficult to identify because their intelligence can enable them to compensate for their disabilities. However, their disabilities hinder their achievement and performance. Many are not identified until high school, if at all. Gifted students with learning disabilities may perform at average levels which can obscure the need for either specialized service. Without proper identification and services, they cannot reach their full potential.

Once identified, twice-exceptional students need programs and instruction to address both of their exceptions. According to the National Education Association, “The ideal fit for a twice-exceptional student and his or her educational environment is one where both the student’s giftedness and disability are evenly accounted for through appropriate education and services.”

Throughout my career in education, I have worked with twice exceptional students in different capacities. I have evaluated these students to identify their individual strengths and weaknesses. I have advocated for the unique services needed by these students and have provided school placement guidance. My work as an IECA member has also involved workshops and presentations on twice exceptional students. In addition, I have made presentations to the New Jersey Association of Independent Schools (NJAIS), Westfield Parent-Teacher Council, and Delbarton School on this student population. For more information, please contact my office. Resources for parents can also be found at www.understood.org.

College Acceptances 2017-2018

College acceptance season is always a time of celebration at Learning Associates and this year is no exception. After many months of hard work, test-taking, meetings, writing and re-writing essays, our clients are finally able to enjoy the rewards of their labor. It is with enormous pride that we share this list of acceptances with you:

University of Aberdeen, American University, Amherst College, University of Arizona, Auburn University, Bard College, Bennington College, Bentley University, Boston College, Boston University, Bowling Green State University, Bryant University, Bucknell University, Butler University, California Institute of Technology, Carleton College, Carnegie Mellon University, Case Western University, Cazenovia College, Centenary College, University of Chicago, Clark University, Clemson University, Coastal Carolina University, College of Charleston, College of Holy Cross, College of William and Mary, Colgate University, Colorado College, University of Colorado, Columbia College – Chicago, Columbia University, Connecticut College, University of Connecticut, Cornell University, Curry College, Dean College, University of Delaware, Denison University, University of Denver, Dickinson College, Drexel University, Duke University, Duquesne University, University of Dundee, Eckerd College, Endicott College, Fairfield University, Fairleigh Dickinson University, Fordham University, Furman University, George Washington University, Georgetown University, Georgia Institute of Technology, Gettysburg College, Goucher College, Green Mountain College, Grinnell College, Hamilton College, University of Hartford, High Point University, Hobart William Smith Colleges, Iona College, Ithaca College, James Madison University,  Johnson & Wales University, Kalamazoo College, Kenyon College, Lafayette College, Lehigh University, Loyola University Maryland, Lynn University, Marist College, University of Maryland, Marymount Manhattan College, University of Mary Washington, University of Massachusetts, McDaniel College, McGill University, Miami University of Ohio, University of Miami, Michigan State University, University of Michigan, Middlebury College, Mitchell College, University of Minnesota, Mitchell College, Monmouth University, Moravian College, University of New Hampshire, College of New Jersey, New York University, Northeastern University, University of Notre Dame, Oberlin College, Pennsylvania State University, Plymouth State University, University of Pittsburgh, Pratt Institute, Princeton University, Providence College, Quinnipiac University, Ramapo College of New Jersey, Reed College, Rice University, University of Richmond, Roanoke College, University of Rochester, Rutgers University, University of Scranton, Seton Hall University, University of South Carolina, Southern Methodist University, University of St. Andrews, St. John’s University, St. Lawrence University, Stonehill College, SUNY Albany, SUNY Binghamton, Susquehanna University, Swarthmore College, Syracuse University, University of Pennsylvania, University of Vermont, University of Tampa, Temple University, University of Texas, Tufts University, Tulane University, United States Military Academy, Ursinus College, Villanova University, University of Virginia, Wake Forest University, Warren Wilson College, Washington & Jefferson College, Wentworth Institute of Technology, Wesleyan University, University of Washington, Western New England University, University of Wisconsin, Wittenberg University, and Yale University.

College Fit – What It Isn’t

“One size fits all.”  When I see a sign like that I doubt it. More likely “One size fits none.”

This question of what will fit is surely appropriate when matching a student to a college, where it’s far more expensive to be mistaken than when choosing clothes. Come to think of it, when considering College Fit, maybe shoes are a better metaphor than clothes.

  • When I settle in after a long day I might choose house slippers, to help me relax and forget my stresses.
  • My daily shoes are supportive and comfortable. They take me through a busy day or an easy one. I know they’re right as soon as I slip them on.
  • Saturday mornings bring running shoes to move through my day efficiently, even if I am just running errands. I want that extra bounce to feel effective.
  • For a hike in the mountains I might tolerate some discomfort in return for ankle support and traction. Achievement is the goal, and too much comfort is not the order of the day.

When measuring a student for College Fit, it is critically important to accurately assess the student’s character and aspirations first. Sometimes the great challenge for families is to strip away expectations, ignoring the winds of college fashion that blow through high schools. Does the young person show signs of stress and anxiety – then what might be an appropriate college to slip into? Is the student efficient and effective, more workmanlike than brilliant, but not a striver – if so, what strengths can be reinforced at college where diligent focus will be highly rewarded? Is the college applicant a relentless and happy climber – what tools will be needed?

College fit is an art that begins with a clear eye on the student. Searchable data found on the web alone is no more likely to create a great College Fit than shopping unfamiliar shoe brands on the internet by size and color is likely to be satisfactory.

Larry Blumenstyk, CEP

© 2017

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Betsy DeVos Nominated as Secretary of Education

Learning Associates founder and director, Holly Blumenstyk, has written an article regarding the nomination of Betsy DeVos to Secretary of Education.

January 18, 2017

In a recent New York Times article “As Other Districts Grapple With Segregation, This One Makes It Work” written by Kyle Spencer, I was quoted for my role in assisting families with private school placements. However, I also work closely with families whose students attend public schools and charter schools. It is in that capacity that I have tried to understand the role that Betsy DeVos, nominee for Secretary of Education, played in education in Michigan and what direction she may take in the national arena.

Stephen Henderson, editorial page editor of the Detroit Free Press, a newspaper that advocates for successful charter schools and educational choice as options, noted in his article “Betsy DeVos and the Twilight of Public Education” that parents in Detroit have plenty of choices, but “quality choices are in short supply.”

In her Answer Sheet column in The Washington Post, Valerie Strauss reported that despite knowledge that most charter schools in Michigan were performing below public school averages in that state, Betsy DeVos was largely responsible for the increase in charter schools there. She accomplished this by donating large sums of money to PACs and lawmakers that supported charter schools. This ultimately led to the derailment of a bipartisan provision to provide more oversight of charter schools in order to monitor and improve the quality of education provided to the children attending them.

Stephen Henderson defined public education as “a trust between government and the people that seeks to provide opportunity for those who wouldn’t otherwise have it.” Betsy DeVos does not have a background as an educator and her priorities in the past raise concerns about the funding and availability of a high quality education for public school students under her leadership. Let’s each do what we can to support that trust between government, families, and our children by ensuring a high quality public education is available to all students in our country.

Holly Blumenstyk, M.Ed., LDTC
Nationally Certified Educational Diagnostician
Director, Learning Associates

Teenage African American male wearing a plaid button-up shirt sitting at a desk in class. He is writing in a notebook on his desk using a pencil.  Around him are his classmates, also writing on their papers.  They are all concentrating on their own work.

SSAT Flex Testing

This winter, along with the occasional snow flurry, we have had a flurry of inquiries about SSAT Flex testing. Families request this small group administration in our private office for a variety of reasons. In some cases, illness or athletic commitments prevented a student from attending a standard test date administration. In other situations, parents felt that their students would perform better in a more personal, small setting with fewer distractions.

However, some of the inquiries have come from families late to the process of applying to secondary schools or from parents who lost track of the testing requirements. They also tend to have questions about test deadlines, how to designate score recipients, and other details. Navigating the requirements of private school and boarding school admissions without the guidance of an independent educational consultant is often the root problem. We start this process early with our clients– spring, summer and early fall – to formulate a plan which tracks all of the various deadlines. Our program allows the student to properly prepare for every aspect of admissions: testing, interviews, and essays. Both students and parents are less stressed throughout the entire application cycle.

Of course, we are happy to administer the SSAT Flex test to all who need it. If you know a family applying to private day or boarding schools, please suggest that they contact Holly for her guidance.

Portrait of beautiful girl in the city

Professional Conferences, School and College Visits

Some highlights from where we have been and where we’re going next

Each fall hundreds of admissions officers from private day and boarding schools travel to New Jersey to attend the Far Hills Country Day School Fair. At this year’s fair, Holly met with representatives from Blair Academy, Dublin School, Cheshire Academy, the Craig School, Christchurch School, Concord Academy, and Wilbraham & Monson Academy. We also hosted private meetings in our office with professionals from Millbrook School, Kimball Union Academy, Westover School, and the Hotchkiss School. These opportunities allow Holly to personally connect with the admissions representatives on behalf of her school placement clients.

Holly returned to the Fusion Academy, Morristown campus, on October 4th for a meeting with Deb Russ, Director of Admissions and Outreach, and Liz Edwards, Outreach Coordinator at the Park Avenue campus. Holly toured the Morristown campus where some students were engaged in their 1:1 instruction while others completed independent work and socialized in the Homework Café.

Larry and Holly attended a special evening sponsored by Barnstable Academy and the Fusion Academy campuses in Morristown and Englewood on October 6th. They enjoyed opportunities to speak with faculty and administrators from these schools and to watch the inspiring TED talk by Ken Robinson, author of Creative Schools.

In November Larry traveled to Poughkeepsie, New York to attend the counselor event at beautiful Marist College, which included presentations on trends in College Admissions by a NACAC staff member, Melissa Clinedinst, who shared selected data from the NACAC’s annual report. On the same day, Larry had a long-planned personal meeting with Mary Jo Cavanaugh, the Director of the Office for Accessibility and Educational Opportunity at historic Vassar College.

In November, Holly visited Barnstable Academy, a day school for students in grades 5-12, in Oakland, NJ where she spent the morning with Luanne McGann, Director of Admissions and Outreach. Luanne explained their student centered approach to teaching which supports the academic, social and emotional needs of their students. Holly was particularly impressed with the Accent Reading program which uses a variety of teaching methods to address reading difficulties. At Barnstable, they stress the importance of community and want all their students to have a sense of belonging.