Severn News

Our Responsibility to Meet the Needs of Every Student

Guest article by Middle and Upper School Learning Specialist Mr. Robert Laffey
In the Hoehn-Saric Family Center for Academic Excellence (Learning Resource Center) both Susan Jackson and I are committed to making sure students are put in positions to be successful. This can take many forms, but the common denominator in all that we do is meeting the needs of our students. Our primary focus is to ensure that they remain at the center of every decision we make, every lesson we plan and every assignment we give. With our support, my hope is that teachers continually ask themselves, “Is this what is best for my students?” Or, more importantly, “Is this what is best for all of my students?”

Breaking Away from the Shampoo Method of Teaching

When Mr. Lagarde gave his opening address to the faculty and staff in late August, part of the message he delivered was to be respectful of our students’ time; to reexamine our teaching practices and our means of determining student success.
“The shampoo method of teaching — tell, test, repeat/tell, test, repeat — is too often the primary diet. Let’s continue to think about and employ smart assessments practices.” — Head of School Lagarde
For no one in our community does this message resonate louder than our students with learning disabilities (LD) and/or other impactful conditions. According to the CDC, an estimated 6.1 million students across our country are diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). A new study shows that roughly 1 in 10 kids are now diagnosed with ADHD in the United States. That’s a 67 percent increase over the last 20 years. Factoring in learning disabilities such as dysgraphia, dyslexia and dyscalculia, the numbers jump to 1 in 5. On Severn’s Teel campus we work with about 1 in 11 students — and that’s only those who are diagnosed with an active learning plan in place.

Equitable Access to Learning

ADHD and LD are the leading causes of creating learning plans at Severn. ADHD impacts a student's ability to focus and sustain attention. In addition, executive function impairments often accompany ADHD. Executive functions include a student’s ability to initiate, to organize, to follow through, to self-monitor and to plan. Learning disabilities often impact a student’s capacity to process information in specific academic areas. For any of you who have a child with one of these, you know that schoolwork can be challenging (despite knowing that they are smart kids!).

So why do Mr. Lagarde’s words matter? The short answer is because instruction and how it is delivered should never be done in one, and only one, way. When this is done — when the shampoo method is employed — only a fraction of our students have access to learning. If we ignore our students’ varied learning styles and abilities, we neglect our mission to know and value every child. Students with attention issues, auditory processing issues, and language-based learning disabilities are, very likely, missing parts of the instruction.

Lessons that include multi-sensory experiences like spending time outside, singing, drawing, acting and more give students more than one way to access the information — they engage all of the senses rather than relying solely on reading and listening. Moreover, research indicates that multi-sensory learning is more likely to be retained and is far more engaging and fun.

Social and Emotional Impact

In addition to compromised access to instruction, our students with LD and ADHD are more susceptible to other social and emotional issues as well. Last year when our students took the Independent School Health Check Survey, results indicated high levels of stress over homework. If a student typically spends two hours on homework, expect a student with a learning disability to spend at least three. Short deadlines can create a loop of anxiety and depression for these students. Hours of homework without the appropriate time to plan, inaccessibility to instruction, and assessment that is not differentiated create an uphill battle, daily, for our students with LD and ADHD.

According to the National Survey of Children’s Health, 33% of students with ADHD also have one coexisting condition — 18% being anxiety and 15% being depression. Furthermore, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 21% of children ages 13-18 experience some diagnosable form of anxiety. How can we manage this as a school and still help our students reach their academic goals? It brings us right back to our mission:
Severn School challenges its students to pursue excellence in character, conduct, and scholarship, to marshal the courage to lead, and to develop the lasting desire to serve and achieve. We believe this is best realized in a community where adults model these qualities and where each student is known and valued.

We Know Our Kids and We Value What They Bring to the Table

When our teachers provide multi-sensory experiences in and out of the classroom, differentiate lessons, and work with the Learning Resource Center to support struggling students, they demonstrate the words "known and valued" in our mission. When I walk the halls and see Middle School foreign language students dancing and singing songs about verbs, I see known and valued. When I see Upper School environmental science students outside measuring tree growth, I see known and valued. When I see physics students dropping things from great heights or English students acting out Huck Finn, I see known and valued.

Student support in independent schools is a fairly new, evolving practice. With the increasing number of diagnosed learning disabilities nationwide, the need for support is higher than it has ever been. As our inclusion statement reads:
Severn aspires to be an inclusive community where each person is welcomed and affirmed. We find strength and value in our similarities and differences thereby inspiring students and adults to participate in and sustain a vibrant exchange of ideas and perspectives. In designing thoughtful programs and practices, we will broaden a culture of belonging and respect and an appreciation for the complexities within ourselves and others, and foster the desire to participate in a dynamic, global society.
Our goal in the Learning Resource Center is to help our students thrive and feel a sense of belonging regardless of how they learn or what obstacles they face. Otherwise, we simply aren’t living our mission to know and value every student.

Helpful Resources on Learning Disabilities

More About the Learning Resource Center

The Hoehn-Saric Family Center for Academic Excellence (Learning Resource Center) provides comprehensive services to support the needs of the entire school community. Its services range from structured support for a student with learning differences to drop-in assistance for a student working through a rough draft or difficult problem set. The Learning Resource Center's peer-mentoring program trains students to share their knowledge and skills with others. The Center also serves as a vital resource to adults in the community — teachers and parents alike — who can benefit from engaging in shared conversations about excellence in teaching and learning.

Common services we provide:
  • Help students with essays and assignments
  • Pair students with peer tutors
  • Teach new study skills and organization along with how to change poor habits
  • Manage make-up plans from long-term absences
  • Build self-confidence
  • Teach professional development workshops, most recently on reading strategies and formative assessment
  • Manage learning profiles for students with documented disabilities
  • Teach study skills classes to all freshmen
  • Observe and provide feedback on classroom instruction
  • Provide referrals for services outside of school

Please share!

    • Learning resource teacher Mr. Robert Laffey with students.

Lower School

Preschool-Grade 5
Chesapeake Campus
1185 Baltimore Annapolis Blvd
Arnold, MD 21012

Middle/Upper School

Grade 6-12
Teel Campus
Severna Park, MD 21146