By Aria Carter, MSEd, Director of Admissions, The Greenwood School

I am often asked about admissions work in LD boarding schools for the frustrated learner. What is getting in the way of a student finding success in school? How do you know if what you are seeing is organic vs. situational or emotional vs. academic, and what can you do to tease it apart? Often, an honest, open dialogue between the admissions staff, parents, and the independent educational consultant can reveal the best placement for students.

The Many Sides of Tommy
Tommy is a 14-year-old in a fast-paced school system. His parents wrote that Tommy is an optimistic boy who is friendly, kind, and a bit naïve. At home, they say, Tommy is increasingly irritable and tension in the home has intensified. Academically, “he struggles with the English language because of his difficulties in reading, spelling, and writing. Otherwise, he is talented in numbers, logical thinking, music, and the arts. Socially, he sometimes does not like to participate in group discussions and tends to keep quiet, and he never makes friends easily. He almost always prefers to be alone.”

Tommy’s parents are anxious to know what is going on, and their concerns are validated by a psychoeducational assessment. The evaluator wrote: “Tommy is a loner and teenagers are increasingly feeling threatened by him; he often ignores peers when they greet him and is seen lashing out at classmates; often bullies others; refuses to join group activities, etc.” Academically, Tommy cannot decode words with more than one syllable, makes careless mistakes, struggles with phonological and orthographic processing, and has limited working memory and a depressed processing speed to name a few. According to the testing, however, Tommy’s emotional regulation challenges come to the surface as his primary difficulty.

And what does Tommy think about all of this? Tommy stated that his teachers “look for the bad things that I do,” and “They get mad at me for no reason.” Once a happy kid, Tommy now has elevated areas of depression, and he is beginning to show more serious signs of withdrawal.

An IEC’s Assessment
As Tommy’s struggles continued, an independent educational consultant (IEC) was hired to find a school for Tommy that would best address his needs. When she called me, she explained that she had a great conversation with a sweet, intelligent, young boy—Tommy. She said that he was currently in a classroom of 60 students and was always getting into trouble. He was “disruptive in class, excessively questioned the teachers, called out, moved around the room, and avoided work.” She described Tommy as a fish out of water who was finding little to no success in his current environment.

We talked about all the struggles that Tommy was experiencing and tried to determine the root cause: were those struggles organic or situational, emotional or academic? After many conversations, a therapeutic program within a gentle milieu was chose as the place for Tommy to address his challenges. During his time in the program, Tommy demonstrated significant emotional growth and self-awareness. He was described as “respectful with adults, very tolerant of his peers, holds no resentment, and likes to learn from others. Tommy has no problem following the rules and is so creative when given opportunities to show his talents.” And the praise continued.

The Right Placement
LD schools are typically not designed to work with students who have significant therapeutic needs, so it can be challenging to consider a student who appears to have presenting issues that are not primarily academic based. It does not always happen that way, but in Tommy’s case, it was truly the environment that was the root of his behavioral struggles—getting in the way of his success and masking his incredible potential. Following his successful completion of the therapeutic program, Tommy enrolled at Greenwood so that he could address his primary academic needs and complex profile. Now, Tommy is described as “a deep thinker, perfectionist, a comedian with a wonderful and sarcastic sense humor,” and even better, “there are no signs of emotional or behavioral difficulties.” In fact, Tommy is often described by his peers as the “best roommate ever.”

The relationship that a school has with an IEC is one of the most important pieces of the admissions process. School advising is most successful when there is an open and honest conversation, fueled by a mutual desire to find the best placement for the student. In Tommy’s case, nobody knew how he would respond to a therapeutic environment. But through many phone calls, open conversations, and a truly collaborative process, Tommy’s challenges were identified and supported, and he was finally given the opportunity to maximize his potential and feel good about himself.

Aria Carter can be reached at [email protected]od.org.

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