The story is told of a man who found a chrysalis. He hung it up and watched it eagerly. Finally the time came for the butterfly to emerge. It struggled mightily to free itself from the hole in a process that took hours. Then it stopped and seemed to be able to go no further. The man, being a kind man, took scissors and cut the remaining cocoon off, allowing the butterfly to emerge. He was surprised to see that it had a swollen body and shriveled wings. He waited for the swelling to go down and the wings to expand, so the butterfly could fly out into the world.
It didn’t happen. What the man didn’t realize was that the small hole and the insect’s struggle to get through the opening were designed to force fluid from the body into the wings. Without the struggle, this didn’t happen and the butterfly was unable to fly.
Our first academic year at Just Right Academy is coming to a close. We promised less stress and anxiety, but we never promised a struggle-free time. Our students have worked so hard this year to overcome academic and social difficulties. Students worked in language arts and math, going back to the areas that had been skimmed over and relearning that material, sometimes going over and over and over it, sometimes learning it easily and moving ahead. In Achievers class, our older students argued and listened, learning the interpersonal skills that will help them be successful in life. A wonderful occupational therapist and a speech and language pathologist from A Place to Grow came twice a week to work with students who needed this support. Reading tutors worked one-on-one with some students. Our Japanese neighbor came to teach a weekly Japanese class to four students. Social studies, science and Spanish classes helped us to make sense of the world we live in. And every fifteen minutes, our kids received feedback in three areas: following directions, being kind, and participating in a positive way.
It worked. The child who couldn’t follow a direction if he tried, now does—most of the time. The quiet one, who hid his work because he knew it was wrong, shoves it at me confidently and waits for me to check it. Students have learned that apologies don’t have the word “but” in it, but sound like this: “I’m sorry I ____; what can I do to make it better?” One seventh grader finished pre-algebra in three months and is making his way through the algebra book that he and his teacher chose together. Calling students on every unkind remark now means that they have begun to monitor themselves and each other.
One child’s story is an example. She came with an attitude that wouldn’t stop and regularly had a number of dots on her point sheet. She was disrespectful and perpetually angry over her work—it was either too babyish or too hard in her eyes. She would slam down her book and stomp out when we “picked” on her. Her academic skills were woefully behind her grade level and she had developed a number of behaviors to keep from having to show those underdeveloped skills to the world. Working with her was exhausting.
A twice a week reading tutor trained in the Orton-Gillingham technique was our first prescription. The tutor also became somewhat of a mentor to her and gave her a great deal of encouragement. A speech and language pathologist worked with her on pragmatic speech. We took her back to the beginning in language arts and math and practiced, practiced, practiced, until she had learned the missing skills to automaticity. Our art teacher found in her a gift for art and nurtured it. Constant and consistent feedback, structure, and lots of positive reinforcement address her behavioral problems.
Our post testing shows that she has gained about three years in reading and made significant progress in math and language arts. She has a new confidence and has developed real leadership skills. She enjoys working with the younger students and often seeks them out during group work. She is a joy to be around. It hasn’t been an easy time for this child and she will continue to develop her newfound talents. But then learning to fly is supposed to be a struggle.
Come visit us at our upcoming open house on Saturday, May 21, 2011, from 9:00 am to noon, and see if your child might find JRA a place that both challenges and supports him.