When you’re on the hunt for the right high school for a student with learning differences, you need answers about more than courses, clubs, and college acceptances. You also have to investigate whether – and how – each school will empower your child to succeed in college and in life. As an admission officer at Forman School – where we specialize in educating bright, motivated students in Grades 9 through PG who all have diagnosed learning differences – I have fielded thousands of questions from parents like you. Here are three that should help you get at the heart of whether a school is a good fit for your child.
Is the whole faculty trained in current methods for teaching students with learning differences?
We know that students with an LD benefit most when every single one of their teachers understands their diagnosis. Even if a school educates only one child out of a thousand who learns differently, we believe every teacher ought to be prepared to adapt their teaching style and teach in non-traditional formats. Feel free to ask an admission officer whether that’s the case and how the school makes it happen.
At Forman School, every student has a diagnosed LD, so every member of the faculty undertakes regular and ongoing training. Our Professional Development Institute brings experts in the fields of education, neuroscience, and instructional design to campus to work with our teachers. Our Learning Specialists are trained and certified in a variety of methods including the Strategic Instruction Model, ADHD and executive function coaching, and multisensory structured reading programs such as Orton Gillingham, Wilson, and Lindamood-Bell. Our librarian is an expert in identifying appropriate assistive technologies for students with learning differences.
Raise the question of professional development at the start of your research. For parents of a student with an LD, the answer can be make or break.
2. Will my child be able to participate fully in academics and student life?
What you can really uncover with this question is how “inclusive” and “mainstream” a school’s program is. At many schools, students with learning differences may be pulled out of “regular” academic classes. They may also miss out on extracurriculars and be separated from group activities.
At Forman, we prioritize inclusion. Students aren’t pulled out. They aren’t separated from their peers. They aren’t labeled. Moreover, we weave learning strategies and support into the whole student experience: academics, athletics, arts, and campus life. Our students are not defined by their learning differences. Instead, they are free to form an identity built on their talents, passions, and interests in a safe community where everyone can grow. That’s what high school should be all about – for all types of learners.
Once you’re confident that a school has the learning support your child needs in all aspects of school life, browse the school’s curriculum guide and skim the lists of sports teams, clubs, and student organizations together. If a few options from each pique his or her curiosity, your student is in good shape to embark on a “mainstream” college prep experience.
3. When it comes to preparing for college, does the school address the unique needs of students with learning differences? If so, how?
As difficult as it is to find a high school, imagine the college search. There are so many more choices to consider, more essays to write, more forms to complete. All students need guidance. Students with learning differences need even more. Make sure the schools you look at are aware of the unique challenges faced by students with a diagnosed LD, and listen for how they plan to keep your college applicant on track.
It’s also important to think of college prep as more than taking the right courses and standardized tests. Forman’s College Counseling Office, along with the entire faculty, equips students with effective tools and strategies to become more self-aware and self-reliant. Students learn to advocate for themselves rather than depend on others (such as Mom and Dad) to speak for them. To possess these skills and to be able to apply them in a college setting are critical parts of what we think of as college prep. A boarding school such as Forman is in a great position to prepare students to live away from home. That experience makes the transition to a residential college that much easier. Whether you’re looking for a boarding school or a day school option, listen for a more holistic view of what “college prep” means.
Best of luck in your high school search!
Director of Admission, Forman School
Jaime Feinman is an expert at guiding students with learning differences and their families through the high school admission process. If you have questions about educational options for a middle school or high school student with an LD, she can answer them. Ask at firstname.lastname@example.org.