Engaging Students With Learning Differences Early On

bjbjLULU MARGARET WARNER: Now: how one school
has succeeded in reducing the odds that a student with learning disabilities may drop
out. Past studies have found that these students drop out at more than twice the rate of their
classmates. NewsHour health correspondent Betty Ann Bowser reports on what can be done
in the classroom to prevent that. It’s for our series the American Graduate Project.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: On a recent Friday morning at the Henderson Inclusion Elementary School
in Boston, there was organized chaos as nearly 250 students crowded into the auditorium.
Then it was showtime. The students were celebrating African-American History Month. But the show
was also a celebration of a unique public school where one-third of the student body
is disabled and where all the children are educated together in an inclusive setting.
Dr. Tom Hehir is a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and one of the
country’s leading experts on special education. DR. TOM HEHIR, Harvard Graduate School of
Education: It is not unusual that some kids don’t walk. It is not unusual that some kids
don’t talk. It’s not unusual that some kids struggle learning how to read or process information.
That’s the norm. And so that philosophy carries through to the whole school. BETTY ANN BOWSER:
For the kids with learning disabilities, what goes on in the classroom is especially important.
Using federal government data, the National Center for Learning Disabilities says 20 percent
of children with L.D. drop out of high school vs. 8 percent of the general population. And
the center reports that half of secondary students with L.D. perform more than three
grade levels below where they should be. DR. TOM HEHIR: Not only is it more likely that
kids with learning disabilities are going to drop out of school. It’s also less likely
they’re going to reengage in education. That’s associated with unemployment, low wages. And
there is evidence that there’s increased likelihood of getting in trouble in the community. And
those are all bad outcomes. BETTY ANN BOWSER: So the emphasis at Henderson is on early intervention,
and a big part of that is technology. Former principal Dr. Bill Henderson realized more
than 20 years ago how technology could help L.D. kids. At the time, he was going blind
and had to learn braille from scratch. That gave him special insights. DR. BILL HENDERSON,
former principal, Henderson Elementary School: When we read, most people with their eyes,
I now with my ears or with my fingers, you have to figure out what the text, print or
braille dots are saying. That’s decoding. Many children who have specific learning disabilities,
in particular dyslexia, have to put extra energies and efforts into decoding text. You
cannot read as much material. You can’t keep up with grade-level and rigorous material.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Current principal Patricia Lampron showed us how one second-grader with
learning disabilities showed his comprehension of a story he’d read writing in longhand.
PATRICIA LAMPRON, principal, Henderson Elementary School: He wrote, not very neatly, “Rosa helped
Blanca, and Blanca helped Rosa. I can be nice to others.” He did exactly what the prompt
asked him to do, but obviously he has a difficult time with spelling, handwriting. And is that
a benchmark second-grade response? I would say, no, it isn’t. BETTY ANN BOWSER: Then,
on another page, she showed us what the same student wrote using a computer to explain
his comprehension of another story. PATRICIA LAMPRON: He uses a text reader and a word-prompting
software, and the word-prompting software helps him to produce something more on grade
level, and definitely more thorough. BETTY ANN BOWSER: Every classroom is abuzz with
these kinds of teaching devices, computers, iPads, digital audio programs. They allow
students to learn a variety of different ways and at their own pace. Two teachers are assigned
to each class, working as a team. One is a general classroom professional. The other
is a special education teacher. Together, they brainstorm what works for each student.
This second-grade classroom of 23 students has seven disabled kids in it and each one
works at their own speed. So, for dyslexic kids like Ronan Gorman, comprehending text
means using a traditionally textbook, an iPad and headphones. Principal Lampron explained.
PATRICIA LAMPRON: Ronan can listen to the book also while he is reading along with the
book. So sometimes he may use the book separately from the iPad or he can read it in digital
format. And what digital format allows students to do is listen, as well as read along. BETTY
ANN BOWSER: Nine-year-old Ronan had been held back twice before he entered Henderson in
September. His parents said he was unhappy and feeling like a failure. His dad, Gerry,
was especially upset by all of this because, like Ronan, he too is dyslexic. But in a few
short months, things have turned around. GERALD GORMAN, father: It’s almost emotional for
me to talk about it, because, seeing him now, seeing him from where he was, and seeing me
where I was at that age, he’s doing what I used to do when I was 14. He’s 9. So it’s
— it’s just — it’s phenomenal. ANN GORMAN, mother: First of all, he smiles a lot. He
goes to bed every night with about five piles of books, which he always did. But he reads
them now. And he used to say to me, “I’m never going to learn how to read this.” BETTY ANN
BOWSER: When Bill Henderson was principal, he realized, if kids like Ronan didn’t get
help early, they would fail later on. So he came up with the team teaching idea and introduced
a robust arts program. DR. BILL HENDERSON: The arts were terrific for kids with print
disabilities and dyslexia. There are many outstanding artists and visual artists and
dancers and singers who have significant dyslexia. And they have a chance to shine and show their
skills and their talents in a different medium. And print isn’t always the easiest way for
them to do that. BETTY ANN BOWSER: The Henderson School has a full-time music teacher, several
occupational therapists, a teacher who specializes in sensory therapy, and on the day we were
in this second-grade classroom, there were five different teaching professionals helping
just 23 students. All that costs money. Under federal law, a child identified with learning
disabilities must receive a free and appropriate public education up to the age of 18. Generally,
the more the disabled a child is, the more money is allocated for his or her education.
But Harvard’s Hehir says there are many places in the country that don’t spend that money
wisely by segregating L.D. kids in special education classrooms, which costs more than
spreading it around in inclusive settings. DR. TOM HEHIR: There’s a large number of kids
who still are inappropriately separated from their peers. And, also, those kids — the
kids who are getting the better programs are much more apt to be middle and upper-middle-class
kids. Low-income kids are much more apt to be segregated. BETTY ANN BOWSER: There are
no figures on how many students go on to graduate from high school, but both Lampron and Henderson
have followed many of their former students through the years, and say most of them are
doing well. DR. BILL HENDERSON: If we want kids to graduate from high school, then having
a strong foundation at the elementary level is critical. And for kids with significant
learning disabilities and significant attention-deficit disorders, having technologies, providing
accommodations for reading and writing are critical. BETTY ANN BOWSER: There are hundreds
of children on the waiting list to get into the Henderson School, and they aren’t just
students with disabilities. Through the years, the reputation of the school has grown. And,
today, it’s held up as a national model of what early intervention can do for children
with learning difficulties. MARGARET WARNER: American graduate is a public media initiative
funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. On our website, we introduce to you to a one-time
dropout who’s now a Harvard graduate student. Find out what advice he offers students and
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City MARGARET WARNER: Now: how one school has succeeded in reducing the odds that a
student with learning disabilities may drop out Normal Microsoft Office Word MARGARET
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