Most every mainstream boarding school has a "learning center." This is different from a school specifically designed for students with learning differences. So, how does one differentiate between the offerings at mainstream schools? This is especially difficult when all schools use terms like "structure" and "support" and "tutoring." In this post, we'll offer some key points to considering when exploring boarding school learning centers.
History, Location and Accessibility
Be sure to learn more about the history, location and accessibility of a school's learning center. Questions to ask may include: How long has the school offered an integrated learning center? Is the learning center centrally located in one of the academic buildings? When do learning center sessions occur? Does the learning center foster a partnership with the teaching faculty? Are tutoring sessions conducted in a one-on-one setting? Is the learning center staffed with trained learning specialists?
Salisbury, for example, has had an integrated learning support program since the 1940s. We have over 15 trained learning specialists in our learning center, each of whom has their own dedicated workspace. At Salisbury, the learning center is located in one of our main academic buildings and, in addition to providing tutoring during the academic day, we offer a supervised study hall each evening, and several other academic support offerings with teaching faculty during the school day.
Integration, Training and Coordination
With full schedules and many responsibilities outside the academic day, boarding school students live busy lives. When considering a learning center, be sure to ask if tutoring is part of the academic day or an additional commitment beyond the academic schedule. It may also be helpful to know if tutors are full time, serve as advisors, or attend faculty meetings. Are tutors trained learning specialists, or have they received specific training? And, what types of skills-based tutoring is available to students? Finally, consider how academic resource plans are developed: Do tutors complement the skills and content being taught in the classroom? Are teachers familiar with teaching students with learning differences? And, what other support options are available?
Here at Salisbury, the students involved in our learning center attend tutoring sessions built into their daily schedule up to four times per week. All of our learning center tutors are specialists in their field who serve as members of the faculty; many live on campus and serve as coaches, advisors, and dorm parents. We have several reading specialists trained in Orton-Gillingham and/or Wilson Language Training. We offer prescriptive support in areas such as math, reading, executive function skills, study skills, writing, and more. Learning center faculty work closely with advisors and classroom teachers to ensure their work is complementing each student's progress in their classes. Learning Specialists communicate regularly with teachers regarding students’ learning profiles and they work together to make sure each student is set up for success. In addition to learning center support, we offer a supervised evening study hall for all students, drop-in extra help sessions by department, and math and writing workshops during our all-school free block.
Another critical question a family can ask is regarding accommodations. Because educational testing often has a long list of recommended accommodations based on one's academic needs, determining if a school and learning center can accommodate your son is essential. The accommodations we offer at Salisbury School include:
- Extended Time (for Assessments)
- Calculator Use
- Computer Use
- Foreign Language Waiver
Other Questions to Consider:
- What percentage of your students are enrolled in the learning center?
- What is the average level of support (sessions/hours per week, etc)
- What level of communication do learning center faculty have with parents?
- How integrated is learning support into a student's day?
- Does the learning center provide a learning profile summary and action plan for each student that is shared with advisors and teaching faculty?