- Academic Support
Using research-to-practice methods, learning specialists at Perkiomen School support upper and middle school students in navigating neurodiversity at a boarding and day school. Students with a Specific Learning Disorder (SLD), for example, like Dyslexia, benefit from enrollment in the school’s learning support program, The Learning Center. Enrollment in the center provides students access to a three-credit class with curriculum designed to address executive functioning, academic skills, and social-emotional learning needs.
“At Perkiomen, we do not believe in the deficit approach to a learning diagnosis,” says Director of Learning Michael Romasco. “We use the term neurodiversity on purpose. Our students have brain differences. This is not bad; it is just different and means that our students might need different scaffolding and approaches to the academic environment.”
The learning support team at Perkiomen emphasizes that a learning diagnosis becomes a disability when the education system is not created to support the student.
“Terminology is important to the whole center,” says Michelle Squitieri, Learning Specialist at Perkiomen. “It is especially important to me, someone who grew up in the special education system. We want our students to be empowered to risk becoming their best. The first step to this is acknowledging who they are.”
Perkiomen uses an open and metacognitive approach when addressing students’ diagnoses and levels. Romasco and Squitieri believe that students with a specific learning diagnosis need to be metacognitively aware of how their brain works. They need to know their strengths and areas of growth. This will help them learn to self-advocate for their learning needs.
Students in the Learning Center create an accommodation plan with the guidance of the Learning Specialists. Romasco and Squitieri have experience and background in serving students with specific learning disorders. They earned master’s degrees in majors that address students with diverse learning needs, and both are also certified by the Pennsylvania Department of Education in Special Education.
The process of creating a student’s plan includes formal documentation of IEPs, 504 Plans, Accommodation Plans, and Neuropsychological reports. It is designed to precisely mimic the college process of gaining access to accommodations.
Accommodation Plans are seen as living documents at Perkiomen. If a student needs something to help them access their education, the Learning Specialists will ensure that it is provided. This may look like a student taking an oral test instead of a written test or providing a student a quiet place to dictate an essay. Support may also include help acquiring an application that uses text-to-speech and speech-to-text for a student’s access to the class materials.
“We believe in our school’s mission, to risk becoming your best,” says Squitieri, who is also enrolled in the Special Education doctorate program at Lehigh University, “however, we want to ensure that all our neurodiverse students have an equitable footing. Each accommodation plan remains a living document that is malleable to the student’s current needs.”
Each week in The Learning Center, the students receive narrative teacher feedback about their academic and behavioral progress in all their classes. The students receive this feedback, participate in a reflection, and then create an action plan for the upcoming week. Families and the students’ advisors are then updated weekly with a newsletter and narrative input from their teachers.
“Through communication that includes the student’s whole network - teachers, dorm parents, family, and advisor - we are identifying areas of growth and building layers of support that empowers each student to find success now and throughout life,” says Romasco.
We believe in our school’s mission, to risk becoming your best, however, we want to ensure that all our neurodiverse students have an equitable footing. Each accommodation plan remains a living document that is malleable to the student’s current needs. -Michelle Squitieri, Learning Specialist