amy-headshot-2Submitted by Amy Ruocco, Landmark School parent

We are all faced with challenges in life, but how successfully we navigate through those challenges largely depends on how capable we view ourselves to be. Dyslexic children learn fairly early on that their peers are able to conquer tasks that are seemingly insurmountable to them. Even the brightest students find themselves shirking opportunities to participate in class for fear of being wrong or worse, different. Unfortunately, many of these students find themselves focusing all their energy on their weaknesses. Unless these children are allowed to also celebrate their strengths, they will find it hard to develop confidence in their own abilities.

Andrew RuoccoOur son Andrew is a very bright, inquisitive, little guy, but not long after beginning first grade, we noticed his light was dimming. His love of school first turned into like, but after a while, it turned into dread. It wasn’t until Andrew began going to Landmark that we saw his light begin to return. Day by day, we felt our son was coming back to us.

One day after school, Andrew was especially eager to ask me something. As soon as he saw me he said “Mom, Landmark is having a talent show. Can I do it?” Of course, I said yes immediately. Naturally, I assumed he would choose to play the guitar, since he had been doing so since the age of four. However, when asked, he replied, “Nope, I want to dance.” “Dance, did he really just say he wanted to dance?” Since dancing was something Andrew would have previously avoided out of fear of embarrassment, I asked again for clarification. Of course, he confirmed that I had heard him correctly and began deciding what form of dance to perform. At that moment, I was both thrilled and scared to death. Here we were. Andrew was finally feeling at home again. He felt smart and liked and… happy. Although I feared what could happen if Andrew’s performance was not, shall we say, appreciated, I feared more what would happen if we did not support his decision.

The day of the performance, my hands were sweating and my heart was in my stomach. “Please let this go well,” I kept telling myself. Andrew proudly stepped out on the stage and began to dance. The more he danced, the more I relaxed, because I knew that Andrew was truly confident and happy. He finally felt safe enough to put himself out there in front of his peers and fortunately, they did not let him down. The support Andrew received that day was absolutely amazing. In fact, I would call it life-changing and he would too.

No one is able to get through life without challenge. In fact, many times, the challenges we face allow us to discover our strengths. Children, however, need to be reminded that their challenges do not define them. When provided with the opportunity to also showcase their gifts, and feel the praise that comes from doing so, children will begin to experience themselves as capable. The byproduct of those experiences is confidence, which is an essential ingredient in the formula for academic and social success. Looking back now, I find it somewhat metaphorical that Andrew chose “Singing in the Rain” as his performance piece. While some would seek shelter from the storm, Andrew chose to “dance” in the rain that day.

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vanessa-rodriguezSubmitted by Vanessa Rodriguez, Doctoral Candidate at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and author of the The Teaching Brain: The Evolutionary Trait at the Heart of Education

We’ve been hearing long, loud, and numerous complaints about the state of education and the need for radical reform of our educational system. We’ve heard about the limitations of high stakes standardized testing and the need for more accountability for our teachers.  The problem of education in this country today is vast, complicated and emotionally charged. Educators, scientists, psychologists, government officials, and bestselling authors are all part of the mix of voices that are creating the conversation and, in part, prolonging the controversies.

But it seems the biggest elephant in the proverbial room is how we think about teaching and our teachers. Both sides of the teaching debate have sought to define “good teaching.” However this effort is as misguided as one that would label a student “good learner”.  We need to keep the terms “good” and “teaching” forever more apart. Indeed, the concept of a perfect teacher for all students is a complete myth.  Instead we need to be asking new questions.

Our questions should begin with one in particular:  “What is teaching?”  Teaching is a human, evolutionary skill.  In fact, though we may not be in a classroom we are all teachers.

Four years ago, as a doctoral student at Harvard Graduate School of Education, I made a startling and it turns out profound connection between the cognitive psychology and neuroscience I had been studying and the practice of teaching:  I realized that for all we know about the nature and science of learning, especially the discoveries in brain research, we have grown very little in our insight into the teaching process. Why is this? Why has teaching, an interaction so integral to the foundation of education, been given such short shrift? Quite simply it is because no one has ever really bothered to understand how the teaching process, and its corollary, the teaching brain, are separate and distinct from the learning process, or the learning brain.

As a former Science, History, and English teacher, I have spent over a decade teaching in the classroom and I’ve learned that learning and teaching, while inextricably related, are separate, distinct processes. And that in order for  us to understand the teacher in all of us, whether it be in the classroom or the boardroom, we need to demystify teaching based on a complete understanding of the cognitive, biological, and psychological processes of the brain. The series of teaching_brain coverstudies that I have worked on are based on this quest to uncover these processes of the teaching brain.

Pre-order your copy of Ms. Rodriguez’s book The Teaching Brain.

Visit Ms. Rodriguez’s web site.

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Stephanie_JohnsstonSubmitted by Stephanie Johnston, parent of a former Landmark School student

All parents worry, but parents of children who learn differently worry a lot more.  From the time our son started school we worried.  There were vague worries: why isn’t he able to learn, respond promptly, organize himself, etc… There were specific worries: will he ever be able to tie a shoe? Read? Take independent responsibility for himself and his life?

Those of us who are able to get our child into the right academic setting are like survivors of a shipwreck clinging to the edge of a raft with our children safely in the middle. We watch from the sidelines as they gain academic and life skills in a uniquely supportive environment. We are sheltered from the storm for a short time, but always looming on our horizon is the bigger, impersonal world. The older your child becomes, the less accommodating the world at large becomes. The boy must become a man.

Leading up to the big transition from 8th to 9th grade, we worried ourselves sick that our son needed more time in his supportive school to build a foundation. What would happen if we pulled him out too soon? Yet, in the larger context, we knew he would have to make that transition – ready or not – and we timed it so he could enter high school with all of the other incoming freshmen; for better or worse he would be one of them.

When the first day of high school arrived my fervent prayer was that he would “cope and pass”. Our son is a man of few words, but I can tell a lot by his body language. He was waiting with a group of students at pick-up time; he sauntered over to the car loose, jaunty, relaxed… and hungry. The first day was great. Now, halfway through his freshmen year, he is an honor student at a preparatory high school. Some things are harder for him than others. His learning differences are still there but he owns them with an easy confidence. He is fine.

After all these years of intense, urgent, appropriate worry “all of a sudden” it’s coming together for him. When he was at Landmark we parents all worried together. Every child is so different that no two journeys will be the same. Many parents of older children offered me encouragement, telling me our son would be fine, but I was too worried and the future was too murky for me to relax. Now we can see the four years of intense support and instruction that he received at Landmark laid a wonderful foundation for success. Were it not for that, he wouldn’t be where he is now. So with tremendous relief and gratitude, I can say yes, there is life after Landmark and it’s good.

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Nicole SubikSubmitted by Nicole Subik, Learning Specialist at Villanova University’s Learning Support Services

Why is it that many of us view asking for help as a sign of failure?

If you are traveling from Point A to Point B and stop to ask for directions along the way, does that mean that you failed? Didn’t you make it to Point B? I call that success.

College students often struggle with seeking out help, and when they do reach out, they are frequently in what I call a failure mindset. They see signing up for a tutoring session as a last resort. And sometimes, quite frankly, students ask for assistance too late in the semester for it to salvage rotten grades. In those cases, to keep with the journey metaphor, they are too far off the course to make it to Point B without a major detour. Honestly, that is a frustrating situation for everyone—students, parents, and college personnel.

LMK_WordcloudI would like to suggest a paradigm shift. Tutoring—probably the most popular and widely available support at the college level—should be seen as a place to stop along your journey, a place to replenish, get direction, and gain knowledge. Tutoring should be something you seek to help you get to your destination, not a refuge for when you are already broken down and out of fuel.

In order for college students to make the most of their tutoring sessions and other academic supports, they must buy into this paradigm shift. Arriving to a session with a failure mindset shuts you off from the interactive process that is so vital to this proven one-on-one interaction. The same goes for academic coaching, an increasingly popular support for college students who want help with time management and study skills.

Parents, teachers, and college personnel can help students seek out help early  and consistently by not only making sure students are aware of resources, but by framing those resources as positive and natural parts of the educational journey.  Before they even go to college, start talking about supports available. The more we can lead our students away from asking for help only when they are in serious trouble, the better off they will be. Successful college students are proactive, not reactive about seeking out academic support.

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imgresSubmitted by Rick Lavoie, Author, Lecturer, Consultant

Preparing Your Child (and You) for Transition to College

For thirty years, I served as an administrator of residential schools for Special Needs students. One of my responsibilities was designing the Autumn Arrival Day…the day that parents dropped their kids off at school.

I shudder to think of the advice and directions that I gave to my colleagues as we prepared for the “big day”:

Get the parents back on-the-road as soon as possible after they arrive. Don’t let them linger. Don’t feed them. Don’t let them unpack. In and out. We need to make the separation quickly…so we can focus on the kids.

I thought that I was right. I knew I was. But I could not have been more wrong.

When did I recognize the error or my ways? The day my wife and I dropped our first born off at college.

For the first time, I realized the tremendous impact that residential programs have on the family. As I watched our son enter his college dorm among hundreds of strangers, I realized that our family was about to make a significant, life-changing transformation.  There would be an empty seat at the table. I wasn’t ready…and I could only hope that he was.

After that life altering experience, I totally redesigned our Arrival Days and created a welcoming, family-friendly environment that featured meals, seminars, and social events. If you are reading this, and you sent your child to my school early in my career…sorry!

Below are some Do’s and Don’ts as you prepare for this transition.

  •  DO anticipate a challenging summer. 

The parents’ goals for this pre-departure summer are diametrically opposed to the child’s. Mom and Dad want a final summer of family activities, togetherness, and group hugs. The kid’s goal is to have an amazing last summer with his buddies.

The result?  Conflict

The solution? Compromise

  •  DO anticipate moodiness.

As the student recognizes the finality and inevitability of the transition, she may become anxious and troubled.  This may manifest itself in refusal to pack, fill out forms, etc.

The result? Dawdling, unresponsiveness, oppositional behavior.

The solution? Kids need love most when they deserve it least.

  •  DO make, maintain, and keep a schedule.

With the child, make a list of all the chores and activities that need to be done (shopping, packing, summer reading assignments) and create a calendar together.  In this way, the schedule (not mom or dad) can do the nagging.

The problem?  Overwhelmed

The solution? Organization and structure

  •  DO conduct some crash courses.

Hold lessons in basic laundry, cooking, ironing, and finances in order to prepare her for independence.

The problem? Lack of basic skills

The solution? Knowledge

  •  DO embrace your new role as his “coach”.

Remember: a coach never goes on the field or kicks the field goal or gets up at bat. A good coach teaches the fundamentals and then stays on the sidelines offering guidance, advice, comfort, and encouragement.

The reality? He is “on his own”.

The solution? Attitude adjustment (yours and his!)

  •  DON’T burden her with your sadness.

Let her know that she will be greatly missed, but don’t make her feel guilty by sharing your grief over this transition.

The problem? Parental grief results in increased homesickness.

The solution? Call your best friend and cry with her!

  •  DON’T make a “bail out” deal.

By saying, “If you don’t like the school by October first, we can talk about you coming home…”, the child will have no reason to commit to “making it work”.

The problem? Anxiety

The solution? Encouragement

  •  DO encourage him to discuss his concerns and anxieties with older siblings or cousins.

They can offer advice and reassurance because of their recent college experiences.

The problem?  The child needs assurance.

The solution? Your tales of your 1980’s college days, Tom Petty concerts, and Pac Man tournaments won’t work.

A Final Word

The “empty nest” has positive and negative aspects. A wise person once counseled that the parent should find a constructive use of the “kid time” that is now “free time”. Invest that time in yourself by resurrecting some old dreams.

“It is not through care giving that a woman looks for replenishment of purpose in the second half of her life. It is through cultivating talents left half-finished, permitting ambitions once shelved…becoming an aggressor in the service of her own convictions rather than a passive/aggressive party to someone else’s.” Anonymous

Sound advice!

Learn more about Rick Lavoie’s work through his web site.

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Ebersole.headshot-1 (1)Submitted by Brandi-Lin Ebersole, Landmark High School Faculty

Photography and videography by Ebersole Photography

School is a place we learn facts, methods, and grow our skills. When a teacher sits down to write a lesson she thinks, “how am I going to get them to understand my subject matter?”, “What tools can I use to do this?” and “How am I going to draw them in?”. One typical morning in one of my reading classes, I was quickly writing my lesson agenda on the board, when I overheard students talking about last night’s varsity soccer game. One of my  students had scored a goal and others were praising him. I listened in and let them discuss a little longer.

I then turned around and explained to them why I allowed them to continue to talk, instead of rushing to my lesson. I began sharing a story of a young man named Adam who was seventeen years old just like some of them. He had his life taken from him after winning a soccer championship, all because he was trying to help someone. I explained how my friend Lara, Adam’s sister, annually takes the month of October to honor him by performing 31 days of kindness. For 31 days, Lara offers a different act of kindness each day and blogs about it;  changing her horrifying memory into something redemptive. As I was finishing the story, one of the students chimed in and asked if they too could participate in the  31 days of kindness. I instantly responded, “Yes!”

So for the entire month of October, every class began with a story ranging from buying Ebersole.Class-6friends coffee, “just because” to babysitting children to give adults a break. It created a mood in our classroom that was a space for my students to learn a lesson that I did not plan for. It was a lesson that involved the subject of Kindness. They all commented on how good it made them feel and how they were excited to share their daily stories. During the month, my students realized their lives too could be taken in a blink of an eye and in turn wanted to thank Lara for such a great idea. So in honor of Adam, their 31st act of Kindness, was to create a video thanking her and explaining how this challenge had changed them.

Ms. Ebersole’s class: Aidan O, James P, Hugh M, and Kyle T

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Bob's Head ShotSubmitted by Bob Broudo, Headmaster of Landmark School

Advocates and educators across the country took extra time during this National Dyslexia and Learning Disabilities Awareness Month to increase understanding of learning disabilities, which affect one in seven Americans. Not surprisingly, some inaccurate assumptions still exist related to what learning disabilities are – and aren’t. Let’s look at a few of those and set the record straight.

Myth 1: Learning disabilities are a medical issue.
The medical model of learning disabilities suggests that such disabilities are something to be diagnosed and “fixed.” That mindset only emphasizes the disparity between social conventions and differences in people that should be embraced. Unlike an illness or other medical condition, a learning disability cannot be identified with a simple blood test or X-ray.  And because the types of disabilities and severity vary so much from person to person, there also is no one way to help people with learning disabilities address their specific challenges and become successful learners.

Myth 2: Learning disabilities are only in children and can be outgrown.
People of all ages have learning disabilities. It makes sense that children happen to be diagnosed with language-based learning disabilities, such as dyslexia, at school age; that’s the time they are exposed to reading, writing, numbers, and expectations of comprehension. Sometimes the struggles are identified early on, sometimes they are not. In fact, many people might not be formally diagnosed with a learning disability until adulthood.

No matter when a diagnosis is made, learning disabilities do not disappear. However, with the right guidance and help, the effects of a disability can be minimized. People with learning disabilities can be very successful in every aspect of school and work – because they understand what they need to do to adapt their learning processes. Imagine forcing someone to run marathons when he or she is not a marathon runner. That person will likely struggle and fail in every marathon, because his body just isn’t made to handle it. The key to success is to meet students where they are, figure out how they learn best, help them build skills to remediate their weaknesses, and develop the interests students with learning disabilities are good at.

Myth 3: Learning disabilities are only academic in nature.
While learning disabilities are talked about most often in terms of reading, writing, and math, many people also face challenges in other activities and in their social lives. Some children have good verbal skills but are weak in visual and spatial perception, motor skills or organization. Sometimes the barriers causing difficulty in the classroom also affect their ability to participate in sports, to establish friendships, or to get along with peers. But just as with academic challenges, knowing how to work through accompanying struggles can set the stage for success.

What myths can you add to this list? Comment below to tell us what misconceptions you’ve encountered. In the meantime, check out The Truth About Dyslexia and Other Language-Based Learning Disabilities infographic. 

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