Mary McDowell Friends School defines learning disabilities in the following way:
A learning disability is a neurological condition that causes difficulties with the way the brain handles information. Information coming in or going out may become disorganized as it travels among different areas of the brain. These difficulties can interfere with important learning skills such as reading, writing, and/or math. They can also interfere with such things as receptive and expressive language, organization, planning and managing time, reasoning, long and short term memory, and attention.
Children with learning disabilities are as smart as or smarter than their peers, but they usually find it difficult to learn in a typical manner. However, with different learning methods and strategies, they can be just as academically successful as students without learning disabilities.
To deepen our community’s understanding of learning disabilities, students have been studying them in a two-month mini-unit. Students have been exploring their learning disabilities with a variety of activities framed by the following questions, depending on their age: What is a learning disability? Who or what supports my learning? What am I passionate about learning in school? How is my learning disability part of my identity? Do I accept myself as a learner? Elementary and middle school classes took up these questions in silent meeting, parent/family surveys, and lessons about how the brain works. Upper school students shared and talked about them in small groups during the retreat.
Last week the mini-unit culminated with a school-wide celebration. Middle, upper, and elementary school students met in their buddy classes to interview each other about their strengths and challenges, learn about famous people who have learning disabilities, and complete learning profiles. They also sat in silent meeting together. You can see pictures from the day here.
The mini-unit marks the official launch of MMFS’s K-12 Learning Disabilities Scope and Sequence. This curriculum is designed to help students develop the self-awareness, communication, and advocacy skills to be successful both in and out of the classroom. It does not contain new material but is rather a consolidation and systematization of work that is already being practiced at all three divisions. The curriculum unifies the language we use to talk about learning disabilities and sets forth a developmentally-appropriate syllabus for each division. Guided by the syllabus, students will be taught to identify their strengths and struggles, set personal goals, learn about the neurobiology behind learning disabilities, understand the accommodations to which they are entitled, and develop strategies that will best support their unique learning needs.
We will be sharing more information about this exciting endeavor at two parent programs in December. The first will be on December 6th at 8:30 a.m. and the second will be on December 7th at 6:00 p.m. The same material will be presented at both meetings. The curriculum’s goal is to empower students to understand and advocate for themselves, so I encourage you to make every effort to attend. Details about the parent programs will be sent out shortly.
~Debbie Zlotowitz, Head of School