Please join us for an open house on Sunday, November 4, 2:00 to 4:00 pm. Come see our wonderful space, meet our teachers and parents, and find out what we can do to help your child. We’ll have cookies too. See you then!
Please join us for an Open House on Sunday, October 23, from 2:00 to 5:00 pm to tour the school, meet staff, and learn more about our program.
It’s been an exciting few weeks at JRA. We had a phenomenally successful open house, resulting in our adding five new students in January. We are aware that this will stress our existing students, but we feel they are ready to handle it. My co-teachers and I occasionally look back to where they were in September and are amazed by their growth. But we aren’t taking anything for granted. We continue to look for ways to wrap each child in services and supports. Sometimes I feel like a conductor, pointing this one to speech, another to OT, yet another to Achievers class. We have been lucky to identify and bring on board some top-notch people.
We are thrilled with the services that we are receiving from A Place to Grow. There were many good OT/Speech groups that contacted us, but this was the one parents requested. Natalie, our great OT, comes on Monday and works with three students. Jen, Speech Language Pathologist, comes on Monday and Wednesday. She works with six of our students, either individually, in a social thinking small group, or both. On Monday, Jen leads a group for the whole school called Bucket Time. They also consult with us to help us make modifications to our environment or teaching methods to better support each student. And wonderful SLPs Tracy Vail and Mae Rant consult with us for two other students. The days when speech therapy was only for kids who stutter or are speech-delayed are long gone; we’ve renamed speech “Getting to yes,” and that has made a big difference in how they perceive it.
Our Japanese class, taught by Ryoko Huneycutt, challenges two of our very bright boys. Ryoko teaches both reading and writing, and these guys love it. Yesterday they were whispering to each other during my class. I was ready to call them down until I realized they were talking about Japanese verb forms. The majority of our kids are college bound and we want to work with both their interests and challenge them to succeed.
We continue to individualize according to each student’s needs. We have students divided into three groups, which move through our morning time. Our groupings are based on learning styles and needs, and within those groups are further divisions. One seventh grader finished pre-algebra in three months and is on to algebra. Another student, equally bright, somehow missed out on learning to tell time and do simple multiplication. Once students realize they are accepted where they are academically, their anxiety decreases. And guess what? When their anxiety decreases, so do behavior problems.
We are working harder than ever. But our work is so satisfying because as the kids feel safe and supported, we have begun to see what they are truly capable of. I won’t tell you our students’ names, but I promise you, that many of these kids WILL make a name for themselves doing something positive and amazing.
Have you been wanting to learn more about Just Right Academy? A great opportunity is coming up; our winter Open House will be Saturday, December 4, 2010, from 11:00 am to 2:00 pm. Come talk to teachers, parents, and students, enjoy refreshments, and learn what makes our program different from other schools.
We are enrolling students grades 3rd through 8th, and we will go up a grade each year. We offer structure, consistency, positivity, and both remediation and challenge. We also pride ourselves on what we don’t offer: stress, homework, and end-of-grade tests. We are housed in a beautiful building in the country.
Is your child a square peg trying to fit in a round hole? We have holes of all shapes and students of all kinds at Just Right Academy. Come check us out.
This time of the year is prime wazi-wazi time (if you have no idea what I’m talking about, look to earlier posts for an explanation). August is speeding past and we try to cram in the last little bit of summer fun. Shopping for school clothes and supplies, lining up childcare, signing up for dance and music, all in stifling heat and humidity . . . I’ve seen more than one child burst into tears as parents drag them place to place, trying to get it all done. And we may feel like bursting into tears right along with our child.
For kids who find school scary or traumatic, think how much harder this time of year is. For many of our students, school has not been a happy place, and they are thrown into a major episode of wazi-wazi. How do we deal with that at JRA?
First, we have invited all the students one at a time to see the school and to meet us. What does the school look like? Where are the bathrooms? Where will my lunch go? What’s this thing? We have found that feeling comfortable in the space and knowing one’s way around lowers anxiety.
Next, we invite them back in groups of two and sometimes three, beginning to work on social interactions and how we get along as a small group. We invite them again to give them reading and math pretests so we will not waste instructional time figuring out where they are. Some students spend more time with us than others; if they are highly anxious, they need time to get angry and see they’re still accepted, vent about their past school experiences, and figure out why we do things the way we do.
Third, we have mapped out a set of procedures for every transition of the day. We will go over the first one with them at one of their visits, and we’ll also mail them a laminated card so they can have a “cheat sheet” on the first day of school. This will tell them how to enter the classroom in the morning:
•Enter and greet the teacher.
•Put your items in your cubby and your lunch in the lunch box.
•Take the clothespin from your cubby and put it on the roll poster.
•Choose which morning activity you will do; if you are having trouble, an adult will help you decide.
•The timer will ring five minutes before circle time. Finish your activity, put your materials away, and start coming to the big rug.
During their visits, they will have a chance to scope out the morning activities and have one in mind for the first day. One funny guy has already decided he will set up a soccer game with the little medieval soldiers, using the tiny plastic cannonball as the soccer ball. Another loves our Cross-section books. The day will start this way every day. There needs to be no anxiety about what is going to happen during that first half-hour. During the first week, we will work on transitional procedures for going to class, ending class, lunch, end of the day. When procedures are in place, learning can happen instead of wondering what one is supposed to be doing.
Last, the building itself makes us slow down and relax. The kids ask to come back after their initial visits. One child lay on the big rug, looking at the pressed tin ceiling and said, “I LOVE this rug.” Another likes to hear the old wood in the hall creak as he walks. And then there is the ever popular merry-go-round. Murphey School, the location of JRA, has some of the best energy of any building I’ve ever been in. I feel calmer the minute I walk into the light-filled, airy space. No flickering fluorescents are needed, even on cloudy days.
When kids are having trouble in school, it’s very easy to tell them they need to make different choices. But sometimes it’s the adults that need to adapt. Changing the environment and making the time there safe and predictable are two ways of doing that.
Come visit before school starts on September 7. But come slowly and peacefully and stay for awhile.
I was asked this week if Just Right Academy was just for special needs students. One answer is no. A child does not have to have a diagnosis or difficulty in school to apply and attend. Some parents may choose this option because they are tired of the pressure and demands of homework or hate the direction that end-of-grade tests are taking our schools. They may feel that their child needs more movement or a hands-on way of learning. Other parents may appreciate the teaching-to-mastery philosophy for reading and math. Others are drawn by the small class size and student-to-teacher ratio. Many of our students have been bullied and are looking for a safer environment.
But then, a different answer would be, yes, JRA IS for special needs kids. Because aren’t ALL kids special needs? All children have their unique learning style; sometimes that fits in a mass production model, often it doesn’t. They have their interests and needs. At JRA, a child doesn’t need an IEP to make sure she gets the individualized instruction needed. This week we started math pretesting to make sure each student is ready to start at his level; some will need a great deal of remediation; others will require more challenging material. Reading pretests will follow in August.
Our philosophy is that sometimes the school needs to be willing to accommodate the student instead of always expecting the student to be the one to change or try to fit in. If you have a student who would like a a different environment, let’s talk!