For teachers and students alike, there’s nothing quite as thrilling as a moment of discovery, when a student realizes, “I can do this!” But for many children in group homes, the stress of life outside the classroom causes them to drop behind academically.
“When families are in crisis, a child’s focus usually goes from education to survival,” says Amy Twitty, chief development officer at Tamassee DAR School in Tamassee, South Carolina. As a result, feelings of success in school are replaced by feelings of inadequacy or failure.
In 2002, Tamassee DAR School began a new project with The Duke Endowment to help improve academic performance among middle school children using an approach developed by All Kinds of Minds in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. This approach helps children understand the ways in which they learn best – visually, verbally, through list-making, etc. – and helps them incorporate strategies to improve academic performance.
Seeing Learning in a New Light
“We took 14 children, two at a time, to Chapel Hill for learning evaluations,” says Twitty, who was director of education when the project took place. “We watched as the kids were evaluated, and then sat with them as the experts at All Kinds of Minds explained to each child what they were best at, how they learned and how to use their strengths to improve their weaknesses. During these explanations, you could just see their confidence bubble up.”
The impression made on the students was immediate, says Twitty. “As we were leaving the test facility with our first two students, I asked them what they thought. They both said at the same time, ‘We just found out we were smart!’”
Twitty and two fellow teachers were trained by All Kinds of Minds to recognize learning styles and strengths in individual students and to help students make the most of those strengths. Although the Endowment-funded project ended in 2004, Tamassee’s teachers still use the techniques and tools received from All Kinds of Minds. The group home’s “teaching parents,” who reside with the children in their housing units, also received training and they reinforce positive classroom experiences during homework time.
The results have been long lasting. One former resident of the group home is now an honors student in college. “Before I got here, I was always in the dumb class,” she once told Twitty. “Now I make all A’s.”
Another student learned from her evaluation that she could address memory challenges by using lists, highlighters and Post-it notes. Years later, she is still using these techniques and performing well in her studies.
“Participating in this project was a wonderful experience,” says Twitty. “We always try to tell kids, ‘you can do it,’ but having experts tell them the same thing and explain why really got their attention and made them believe it. That’s a great thing.”
Phillip H. Redmond Jr.
Director of Child Care