Woodland Hall Academy: A Unique Learning Environment

How much effort goes into helping bright kids with dyslexia or Attention Deficit Disorders (ADHD) become successful in all areas of their lives? Two administrators, eight teachers, two support staff, parents, and grandparents focus on the needs of 25-30 students each year at Woodland Hall Academy (WHA). This individualized focus changes lives!

Before WHA: “We would end the (homework) session in tears!… No matter how hard he tried, his efforts rarely met with success. He stopped trying….”

After being at WHA, the same parent reported, “He is a much happier child…. Now he takes responsibility for his actions… He can handle most of the frustrations of dyslexia…He manages his time, his homework, his life! All without the intervention of drugs!”

Is it just the adult/student ratio that turned this parent’s comments from frustration to joy? It helps, but Woodland Hall Academy offers more than just a small adult/student ratio.

A Different Atmosphere

When you enter Woodland Hall Academy, a positive “learning hum” is in the air. You notice the level of activity within each class. Some students are working with mathequipment, while others may be standing and reciting information. Teachers shift activities within a class every three minutes. Teachers are in constant motion with the students, leaning over a shoulder, patting a back, or demonstrating an idea. These are children who must move to learn, so WHA has developed techniques to allow them to do so productively.

Study skills, organizational skills, and interpersonal skills are modeled and practiced in all classes in a consistent manner. Courteous behavior is taught and expected of all the students towards the adults and each other. “Yes, ma’am” and “Yes, sir” float through the air.

One visitor asked, “Where are the ADHD kids?” The administrator pointed to all of the children in a group. “But they are focused and on-task. Are they all on medication?”

According to Ms. Mitchell, WHA’s principal, “None of our students with ADHD are on medications to control their behaviors. Changing the way the teachers instruct the students, and working with parents on behavioral, nutritional and biochemical issues, children with ADHD can learn to control and focus on their own.”

A Unique Program

Founded in 1975 by Patricia K. Hardman PhD, Woodland Hall Academy’s program serves bright children who have dyslexia, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders, or related language/learning differences. Based on research in the fields of education, psychology and biochemistry, Dr. Hardman has developed a nationally recognized program called The Hardman Technique which is a Multisensorial Structured Language Education Program.

“We must learn to teach children the WAY THEY LEARN, not expect them to learn the way we teach.” This is Dr. Hardman’s credo. Children with dyslexia and ADHD learn differently. Teachers at WHA undergo rigorous training throughout the school year and earn a Teacher Certification recognized by The International Multisensorial Structured Language Education Council and International Dyslexia Association.

Parent Interaction a Positive

Prior to enrollment at Woodland Hall Academy, if a parent was called by their child’s school, the parent immediately flinched and wondered what his child had done that day. Rarely did a parent get called with good news.

Before coming to WHA, one frustrated parent received a note from the teacher saying, “J needs help with his homework, please spend some time reviewing it with him.” The parent had spent 4 hours the previous night working with J on his homework!

Needless to say, the frustration level of parents with their children’s school is high. One parent says, “He wasn’t disruptive, (he just withdrew) so it was easy to push him away from the “normal” learners.”

At WHA parents are involved in workshops, individual consultations, and observations of their children in the classroom. Parents learn the unique way their children process information and learn. They are taught techniques to help their children develop better and more positive habits and behaviors.

My Child has a Future

“My child couldn’t read a word in 4th grade, but let him listen to the History Channel and he could tell you all about inventions and historical subjects. We moved from Port St. Joe because we knew he wasn’t learning where we were.”

“He is a freshman in Tallahassee State College. He is trying to decide on a major in engineering or finance. This would not have happened without Woodland Hall! He has a future.”

Woodland Hall Academy’s goal is to teach children how to become independent learners. Some children graduate from WHA, but many return as successful students to public or private schools after an average three year stay.

If your bright child has dyslexia or ADHD or he/she is SMART BUT……struggling in school call Woodland Hall Academy at (850) 893-2216. This unique program could open the future for your child. Enrolling for Summer Reading Program and Full Time School.

Gardiner Scholarship – Children with Certain Disabilities Have Access to $10,000 Scholarships

Florida students (3 years old through high school graduation or age 22) who have specified disabilities (see below) may receive a scholarship on the average of $10,000 per school year to use towards therapies, curriculum, private school tuition and college pre-paid accounts.

The Dyslexia Research Institute is partnering with FSU Center for Autism and Related Disabilities (CARD) to host a public seminar about the scholarship on March 2nd at the Leroy Collins PUblic Library at 200 W. Park Avenue.  Parents may attend a 6:00 p.m. or 7:00 p.m. session to learn more about the Gardiner Scholarship. The seminars are free to the public.

Senate President Andy Gardiner created the scholarship after seeing the parents of children with special needs struggle with financially accessing therapies or appropriate programs for their children.  “While the McKay Scholarship, another special needs scholarship, helps many parents, the Gardiner Scholarship helps parents whose children may have not been in the public school system. So home schooling parents and/or parents whose children have been in private programs may access this scholarship.” reports Robyn Rennick of the Dyslexia Research Institute.  The Gardiner Scholarship is also available to students in public school but they must withdraw to access it.

The Gardiner Scholarship is available to students with one of the following disabilities:  Autism spectrum disorder (including Aspergers), muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, Prader-Willi syndrome, Spina bifida, Williams syndrome, Phelan-McDermid syndrome or intellectual disability.  Students must be identified by either a current Individual Education Plan (IEP) from a Florida school district or have a formal diagnosis from a Florida licensed physician or psychologist.

Aaron’s mother can attest to how much the Gardiner Scholarship has meant to their family.  “Aaron struggled both academically and emotionally due to his disabilities. Finding Woodland Hall Academy has been incredible for both Aaron and us as a family. He works hard and independently at home and has become an outstanding student, earning high grades and filling in the “gaps”. Being able to access the Gardiner Scholarship has helped tremendously in relieving the financial strain that specialized schooling entails.”

For more information concerning the seminar contact Robyn Rennick, Dyslexia Research Institute, (850) 893-2216 or Allison Leatzow, CARD Center, (850) 488-3994.

 

How does Woodland Hall Academy tame the Homework Monster?

Is this what you say about your child?

“Johnny goes into his room and finishes his homework by himself before supper.”

“I haven’t had to punish Sally for not completing her homework in months.”

“I kind of miss doing homework with Boyd.  He is so independent now.”

Who are these paragons of virtue?  These are students with dyslexia, ADHD and related learning differences attending Woodland Hall Academy who have learned HOW TO DO HOMEWORK.

Too often parents report that in their child’s previous school, they spent hours doing homework each night but that the homework did not seem to improve the child’s academics. They also report the frustration of seeing their child do the homework, put it in their backpack, and then being called because their child did not turn their homework in to the teacher!

How does Woodland Hall Academy (WHA) tame the monster? Three basic rules for WHA homework: 1) Homework is what the child has demonstrated they can do independently. 2) Homework assignments are written in the assignment book and checked by the teacher each day. 3) Missed or incomplete homework is completed on the day it is due AT SCHOOL.  The teacher works with the student to see why homework was incomplete. If there is any confusion with the concept, it is addressed. If the student is not completing a  Homework Step,  that step is practiced.

Homework Support Club: All new students entering WHA are in an afternoon Homework Support Club until they can demonstrate independence with these steps. Homework Support may last from two weeks to two months, whatever it takes to assist the child to becoming independent.  When a child has a problem with a homework assignment, the teacher identifies which of the steps the child has missed and uses corrective practice to help the child develop the appropriate skill.

Homework is a 12 Step Process:

Bet you never knew homework had so many steps or considered that it is a 24- hour process! The Homework Support Club teacher models the successful process and has the student imitate and then practice each step. The student and teacher discuss what steps the student already does independently and then practice the weaker steps.

Step 1: Teacher assigns the homework.
Step 2: Student writes the assignment in assignment book.
Step 3: Student reads his assignments at the end of the day.
Step 4: Student gathers the materials he needs before he leaves school.
Step 5: Student has a time and place for doing homework.
Step 6: Student reads his assignments in his assignment book.
Step 7: Student works through each assignment.
Step 8: Student checks off the assignment book at the completion of his assignment.
Step 9: Student places the assignment in the proper place in his homework folder.
Step 10: Student places his homework folder in his backpack.
Step 11: Student takes his homework folder to school.
Step 12: Student turns in his homework to the teacher.

Parents Observations

8 year old Hanna’s Mother:  “We used to spend 2-3 hours doing homework before my daughter came to WHA. Now she rarely struggles with homework and does it independently.”

Chandler’s Mother – Chandler is a 2016 WHA Graduate

“Chandler started WHA in the 4th grade.  The year before starting WHA Chandler would spend hours doing homework.  He would cry and it would be so hard on him.

At Woodland Hall Academy, Chandler started learning and the structure of their homework system has carried forward with him to college.  He was on the Dean’s List his first semester at Tallahassee Community College.” 

 

Changing Lives – Changing Futures

Woodland Hall Academy has had the pleasure of seeing Chandler, our 2015-2016 graduate, grow from a 10 year old, who could not read all of his letters before he came to Woodland Hall Academy, into a young man graduating and entering college this fall. “Tallahassee Community College is a little harder than WHA.” Chandler tells us, but using the skills and study strategies he learned at WHA, he reported a 102 on his first Algebra test and a 90 on his first English paper.

Chandler’s journey to college was not without struggles. When Chandler was 10 years old, he and his mother moved from Port St. Joe (PSJ) to attend Woodland Hall Academy because his public school teachers had given up on his learning to read. They suggested, even at this early age, that the best he could do in the future was a menial job. Yet, his parents saw him absorb information through the History and Science Channels and discuss topics such as WWII or biodiversity with adults.

They refused to give up and found Woodland Hall.

Chandler’s mother says, “We did what we had to do. Chandler missed his dad who had to stay for work in PSJ. We traveled back and forth most weekends for 8 years. The struggle was worth it and we are smiling all the time now as we see Chandler becoming a responsible, great young man with a great future.”

Chandler is now a student at Tallahassee Community College and loving every minute of it. He is deciding whether to move towards a medical career or an engineering degree.  He has choices now, not constrained by a learning disability.

What made the difference? Woodland Hall Academy teaches students in the way they learn, instead of trying to force them into a mold that does not fit their learning pattern. The result – bright students who have struggled to learn are becoming successful students.  Dyslexia, ADHD, and related language disorders do not have to disable  children.

Are you and your child in Homework Hell?

As a parent, you’ve done it all.  HOMEWORK TIPS:  Set up a time, pick a place and limit distractions.  Work by your child.  Help your child organize.  Encourage your child.  Nag your child.  Punish your child.  Do it for your child.  And then you send your child to school with all assignments done.  WHEW!

Friday, you receive an email from the teacher saying your child has not turned in any homework that week.  ARGGGGHHHHHH!

This is not going to be a blog about Tips for Getting Homework Done.  You’ve already googled all those sites and nothing has worked.  It is time to review the problem and find out why you and your child are in Homework Hell.   Could your child’s issues be due to  ADHD/dyslexia/a  learning disability issue?

Signs that Homework Hell might be caused by these learning differences:  (Remember, all the punishments and organizational tips given to parents have been instituted to no avail.)

  • Even with prompts and the greatest homework notebook you can buy, your child can’t seem to remember to put his homework in his homework folder, which looks like a paper recycling pile.
  • Your child can not judge how much time an exercise will take and so either thinks homework will be overwhelming or waits until the last minute to try to grow tomatoes for the science project in two days.
  • As a parent, you are having to reteach your child every night what they were taught in school because they did not understand it. That helps only a little.
  • Your child’s handwriting is unreadable unless you stand over him. With immense effort and time, he can write legibly.
  • On that theme of handwriting, lining up math problems is something you have nagged about since the first two digit addition problem.
  • Did we talk about time management? You child knows he has baseball practice from 4-6, but doesn’t adjust to do his homework earlier on those days.
  • You sit by your child and see him complete his homework, but if you walk away from him, he stops or doesn’t finish.

Do these still seem like just discipline and “he could do it if he wanted to” issues?

Consider the issues of ADHD, Dyslexia and other learning disabilities:  Difficulty in dealing with time, organizational deficits, sequential memory deficits, retention problems, comprehension deficits, focus and attentional problems.

If homework has been a long standing battle, and you are seeing your bright child struggle in school, then it is time to seek answers.

These issues cannot be identified in a single test.  However, if you are in HOMEWORK HELL with your child, take the survey to see if further testing may be warranted.

Take the Survey

Reports Cards are Out – If You Aren’t Smiling, READ ON

Report cards have been released.  This means our phones at Woodland Hall Academy have been ringing off the hook with parents concerned, worried, frustrated, angry… about  their child’s grades.  Concerned parents call their children’s schools and continue to be frustrated because the answers they are receiving aren’t helping them help their child learn and develop skills.

Does This Describe You and Your Child’s Struggle?

Parents want to know what is keeping their children from learning and they  want  a plan that helps them help their child break these barriers to learning.

The parent relates that Johnny has had increasing struggles with school.  He’s 8, or 10, or 12…. (Age doesn’t matter – the story stays the same- although the intensity of the struggle and the damage to Johnny’s self-esteem and potential for his future is increasing with age).

The parents have taken him to every specialist (eyes, ears, psychologist), paid for tutors, worked with him 3-4 hours with homework.   Still they are seeing him struggle to perform up to “what the school expects he can do.”   “He could do it if he worked harder/focused.”  is being said by teachers but the parents see the struggle.   ADHD has been diagnosed (or suggested) if he is active, but none of the plans put into place by the parent or the school seem to make a difference.

True Parent Scenarios 

Taking their concerns to the school – here are some of the comments parents have heard. These are true comments relayed to Woodland Hall Staff members.

  1. The school says that a reading disability can’t be identified until 3rd grade.
  2. The school says that they can’t test the 8 year old child for dyslexia because he can’t read the test?????
  3. Your child can’t have a learning disability because he/she is passing. (This ignores the constant tutoring, 3 hours the parents works every night, and the school sending less homework home because he/she couldn’t finish the normal homework.)
  4. Your child is not passing the benchmarks, but we don’t feel he is eligible for testing for a learning disability.
  5. If your child would just focus, he would do alright. (This of a severely ADHD child in 6th grade with 6 different teachers and classes.)

WHAT’S A PARENT TO DO?

Identification of the barriers to learning is crucial.  Parents often have to go outside of public school testing to start uncovering the problem.  It is important to understand that a full battery of tests should assess auditory and visual perception, language abilities, listening comprehension along with reading, writing and arithmetic.

Without proper identification – how can a parent determine a course of action?

If you are a parent who fits one of the scenarios above, administrators at WHA can discuss possible courses of action for you.  While we are a school resource, we are also a community resource for parents and often can assist parents to find the correct pathway to help their child.

Children with dyslexia, ADHD, and related learning disabilities/differences

  are not Cookie Cutter Children.

 Cookie Cutter Solutions will not work with them.

 

 

Here are our comments to what parents have related to us:

  1. The school says that a reading disability can’t be identified until 3rd

Research with reading disabilities refutes this.  In fact, research shows that if a child has a reading disability (dyslexia) that is not addressed by 3rd grade, they will be behind grade level in 9th grade and have severe difficulty in learning.

  1. The school says that they can’t test the 8 year old child for dyslexia because he can’t read the test?????

This is almost too ridiculous to address.  Tests for the pre-skills required for reading have been developed for 4 and 5 year olds.

  1. Your child can’t have a learning disability because he/she is passing. (This ignores the constant tutoring, 3 hours the parents works every night, and the school sending less homework home because he/she couldn’t finish the normal homework.)

Unfortunately, the public school policy has shifted to this practice all too often.  The law, Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), does not support this practice.  This parent had to employ a lawyer to help her child receive the help in Florida for his learning disability that he had been receiving in New York.

  1. Your child is not passing the benchmarks, but we don’t feel he is eligible for testing for a learning disability.

Scratching head here – didn’t one school just say he had to fail?  This school is saying he is failing, but they are not testing to determine why?

 

  1. If your child would just focus, he would do alright. (This of a severely ADHD child in 6th grade with 6 different teachers and classes.)

The “blame the child game”, especially for children with ADHD, is all too familiar.  ADHD is not a matter of the child “paying more attention”.  The child needs a different teaching pattern in order to learn.

Time To Teach Students with Dyslexia/ADHD

In a Little Bit of This and That about Dyslexia/ADHD, I said I would brag on Woodland Hall Academy from time to time.  Woodland Hall Academy is a nonprofit private school in Tallahassee that has been teaching children with dyslexia/ADHD and related learning differences like Aspergers since 1975.  Truly WHA exemplifies the adage, “If they don’t learn the way we teach, we teach the way they learn.”

Woodland Hall Academy meets the student where they are, not at some prescribed point where “they should be.”

Take this true scenario for example:

Does it make sense for a 9th grader who has 5th grade math levels and doesn’t understand the process of dividing, much less fractions – does it make sense to require that 9th grader to take Algebra?

“Well, the State of Florida requires all 9th graders to take Algebra.”  This was the reason given for scheduling the student into a situation set up for failure.

Her grandparents did not agree with the scenario and brought the student to Woodland Hall Academy.  On top of her dyslexia, she had dyscalculia (a math disability).  Math instruction at WHA began with multiplication concepts and processes.  Her class consisted of 5 other students ages 13 – 16 who also needed to be taught math beginning at this point.  Systematic, multisensory instruction was given and those scowls whenever math was mentioned started turning into confident smiles as math became comprehensible for the first time in their lives.

Woodland Hall Academy proceeds at the students’ pace of learning. If it takes two years for students to learn fractions, percents and decimals, then that’s the amount of time WHA takes to teach it. Time and the proper teaching techniques are needed to allow the students to truly master the material.

I once had a class of five teenagers who were struggling in math. We spent two years learning the processes and concepts in fractions, percents and decimals. Without these mastered, they could not truly succeed in Algebra or move on to higher math. By taking the time, not only did these students succeed in the high school math courses, but they all earned college degrees. One became an engineer and another majored in Business Administration. Time is not a luxury at Woodland Hall Academy; it is a necessity for learning.