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By: Susan Smith Powers, Dean of Students & Student Support
One of the hallmarks of our program is our commitment to our community core values which include respect, honesty, courage, compassion and responsibility. All members of our school community are expected to demonstrate responsible behavior consistent with these core values. We believe that these core values are fundamental to a supportive, safe and orderly school environment. Many of our students, especially our younger ones, are still learning about our core values and how they apply to everyday life.
One of the ways we teach and reinforce our core values is by “catching kids being good”, which reinforces positive behavior. With my background in child development and clinical counseling and almost three decades working with adolescents, I’ve learned that the best way to increase positive behavior is through positive reinforcement. Positive reinforcement focuses on what the student is doing right rather than on what the student is doing wrong. This increases the likelihood of the favored behavior being repeated. Positive reinforcement helps motivate students to do better in the future. They also understand that their good behavior results in positive consequences such as rewards or even mere positive praise. This teaches them the value of personal responsibility, self-discipline as well as pride for their accomplishments.
So how do these “Good Citizen Slips'' (GCS) work? Although students make mistakes, most of the time they are doing great things. They are taking learning risks, helping others, showing good effort, being respectful, taking responsibility for their actions as well as improving their skills. Teachers who observe these great behaviors let them know they earned a GCS and why. An example could be that Sally, who has a very difficult time walking in the halls may need reminders to “please walk” but any time I see Sally walking I let her know by saying, “great job walking in the halls (responsibility), that’s a GCS”. Or Bobby who is usually quiet in class takes a learning risk by volunteering to read (courage). Students then put their slip in the GCS box (one is in the HS and one in the MS) for the next Good Citizen Slip assembly. Students can win prizes or a $5 gift card if their name gets drawn. The more slips they have submitted, the better their chance of winning. The goal for our staff should be to give out as many slips as they can every day. Catching our students being good is a fun (and effective) way to teach our students about our core values as well as reinforce their positive behavior.
By: Cate Wilson, Human Resources Manager
I get to say this a lot lately. A significant number of teachers and administrators are changing jobs or switching careers in 2021, creating many opportunities - particularly at independent schools. It’s not hard to get people excited about the work we do. LPS has a rich faculty culture of talented, kind professionals genuinely committed to helping kids grow and succeed. When I’m recruiting for our open positions, I’m not just looking for credentials on a resume, I want folks that are philosophically aligned with our mission of providing a comprehensive, supportive education for our students. My goal is to attract people to our school who bring experience, expertise, and enthusiasm, because each new hire is a chance to further enrich our truly wonderful culture.
I keep our core values at the center of the conversation when I speak about Learning Prep. This is a place of Respect, Responsibility, Honesty, Courage, and Compassion. We’re committed to prizing what makes kids special, supporting them through challenges, and helping them set goals that are both aspirational and achievable. I want folks to know they’ll be held accountable to these values at LPS, but they will also find so much support and encouragement here. When people tell me why they love it here, it’s because of our community. We care about each other in an authentic way. We pitch in when someone is struggling. We laugh through the wacky, stressful moments. We cheer each other on and we grow together.
So what do I love about working at Learning Prep? I love that sometimes teachers play their guitar in class or teach math by taking their students on a jog. I love the Lego city that’s taking over our makerspace. I love walking past room after room of students looking proud and engaged rather than bored or discouraged. I love hearing that LPS is the first place where a kid has made real friends. I love that some of us have been here for decades! And I love saying with confidence that Learning Prep is a unique school full of brave, gifted, caring educators who absolutely make a difference in the lives of their students.
By: Gretchen Petersen, Chief Operating Officer
Typically, kids thrive in an environment that is predictable and consistent, opposite of how this school year has gone and the future months will be. How do we help them adapt, survive, and accept that change is part of life, something that there will be more or less of at different times? Helping them focus on consistencies in life and finding things that they DO have control over, are good places to start.
Consistencies can come in many different forms. From people to places to processes, there are consistencies everywhere. Identifying reliable people to reach out to when they’re feeling overwhelmed could help them feel supported. Choosing places they can go to in their time of need or just to relax could help them feel secure. Having a schedule, even on the weekends and summertime, could help them feel grounded. Even having a mental picture, or talking, drawing, or journaling about these stabilities could benefit kids in an unpredictable world. Because, let’s face it, consistency is a relative term as those things that are consistent are still apt to change, sometimes.
A sense of control in times of change is incredibly important. Giving options to kids can help them have some influence over parts of their lives, even if they are small choices. For example, asking a child to clean up their room either now or in a half hour is a choice they can make and feel like they have a voice. Allowing them to be part of a family decision can add to their self esteem and make the process of a change seem less anxiety provoking. Pointing out different activities they participate in and behaviors they exhibit that are under their control can help them realize how much power they possess each day.
Consistency and control contribute to a sense of well-being, especially in times of ambiguity. Keeping communication open with children, helping them identify stabilities and allowing them to have input in decisions can only aid in their ability to manage change in times of uncertainty.
By: Amy Davis, Middle School Principal
Many, many years ago, I think it was either my second or third year at LPS, I was one of two people in charge of planning a whole middle school field trip to George’s Island. Marla and I were so excited to take the students on such a big trip and could not wait to see all the hands on experiential learning that this trip could provide our students and the smiles. We had to convince the administration to allow us to take all these students on such a big trip that involved multiple forms of transportation. In the end our persuasive skills prevailed. Marla and I were like “We’ve got this,” “It won’t be a problem.” Once we all arrived on the island we split up into two guided tours, one led by me, one led by Marla. The students were safe, engaged, listening and having fun - things were going so well! And then I had my moment of panic. Our guide stopped our group and explained that we needed to walk through a pitch black tunnel. They instructed all the students to line up against the wall and put their hand on the shoulder of the person in front of them. “You won’t be able to see anything but will be guided by holding the shoulder of the person in front of you.”
...A student will for sure freak out in the tunnel
...I quickly pulled out my walkie talkie (yes, pre-cell phone) and tried to reach Marla to problem solve our way out of what was surely going to be a nightmare and we for sure would never be able to go on another field trip EVER again.
...Why is she not responding to me?
---and before I knew it I think I heard the guide say to me “you will bring up the rear” and then off he led the group.
...more panicked walkie talkie attempts but this ship had sailed and I better get on it.
What was so amazing, fantastic and thrilling is that WE DID IT! Both groups!
If you had told us before the trip, “All your students will blindly have to walk through a pitch black tunnel and trust the person in front of them to guide them” we would have said, “Nope, we need to think about a work around.” We are so glad we did not know because we all learned something new that day... and clearly we didn’t need the work around.
Fast forward to educating through this pandemic. If you had told me before all this started that our students would need to be wearing masking in school all day, hand sanitizing at every turn, would need to social distance at all times, would have to learn to manage technology in all new ways and would be required to be independent in so many more aspects of of their social, emotional and academic learning I would have similarly thought, “No way, we will need a work around.”
It feels great to succeed and even more amazing, fantastic and thrilling that WE DID IT! This year learning has come in so many forms and I am so proud of how hard everyone has worked. Turns out, our students are way more resilient than we give them credit for and when given the opportunity they rise to the challenge.
By: Alex Magay, Director of Development
As many of you know, Julian Edelman retired from the NFL and the New England Patriots earlier this week. As a lifelong Patriots fan, I am sad to see him go, but I am happy he chose the right time to walk away from the game. Reflecting on his career, what I enjoyed most about Jules is his ability to persevere against all odds. I see many similarities between Julian Edelman and Learning Prep School.
Coming out of high school, Julian had a tough time finding a college that wanted him, but he never lost faith in himself, he never lost confidence, and he refused to give up. He decided to attend junior college for one year before accepting the first and only scholarship offered to him from Kent State, a mid-major university in Ohio. The 5'10" quarterback had a great college career, but he was not considered a lock as an NFL prospect due to his lack of size. Many would have given up on their dreams at this point, but not Julian. During his pre-draft workouts, the New England Patriots loved his intangibles, like his leadership ability, competitiveness, work ethic, and athletic ability. The Patriots selected him with their 7th round draft choice. Every other team in the NFL could have drafted him seven times over, but only the Patriots believed in him.
Once drafted, Julian was asked to convert from quarterback to slot receiver, and he made the change without any complaining. When asked to play special teams, rush the ball, or play defense on occasion, he was always happy to do what was best for the team when they needed him most. Similarly, at LPS, teachers and staff members are often asked to teach new classes they were not planning on or to cover a class, lunch duty, or cab duty, but just like Julian, someone always steps up to help the team.
Jules was not an instant success by any means. He had to pay his dues and work really hard for years, backing up Wes Welker before getting his chance. When Julian finally did, he shined, leading the Patriots in receptions for many of the next six years as a starter, finishing 2nd all-time in receptions in Patriots history.
Tom Brady said, "On the biggest stage and in the biggest moments, Julian always came through."
Moments like that diving catch in Super Bowl LI, helping the Pats overcome a 28-3 second-half deficit to the Atlanta Falcons, will live in our memories forever. Two years later, Jules became the first Jewish player in NFL history to earn Super Bowl MVP in their victory over the Rams. When LPS faced the biggest challenge in our history, we too came through in the clutch, delivering in-person and remote learning for the 2020-2021 school year during the pandemic.
Like LPS staffers, Edelman has always had a positive attitude motivating his teammates on the sidelines and in the locker room that endeared him to his teammates and fans. It is hard to find a more positive environment to work in or attend than Learning Prep School. Spend a day on campus, and you will see that everyone at LPS says hello, holds the door for you, and supports one another, helping us to be our best. I think Julian would fit in well at LPS if given a chance.
So here's to #11, and here's to Learning Prep School for always giving your best, working hard, and having a great attitude. We salute you!
By: Susan Smith Powers, Dean of Students
Peer socialization is very important for all of our pre-teens and teens. We all know these are difficult social times, but they are especially difficult for our students. During a regular year, our students have many opportunities to explore friendships and connect with peers in a structured and safe environment. Students meet different peers during their varied classes, enrichment groups, lunch in the cafeteria, recess/hanging out on the playground as well as during after school programming. Unfortunately, many of these are on hold due to our many restrictions brought on by COVID. In addition, due to our cohort model, students are often with the same peers during much of the day. Because of this, many of our students have worked hard to maintain their connections after school through social media and technology. Social media and technology can be a welcomed addition to those who are stuck at home or live far from their friends. However, social media and the use of technology can also create difficulty for our teens and pre-teens who want more independence but don’t quite know to manage it.
Many parents struggle with how much they should be involved when their teen is using social media or technology to connect with peers. How do you know whether your child is managing it well or needs help? Of course, there is no “one size fits all” model for social media. Ask yourself “how much support does my child need (no matter their age)? Be aware of your teen’s mood after spending time with peers on social media. Have you ever noticed increased drama, tears or anger after being online or after texting/Facetiming/gaming with peers? This may be a clear signal that your child needs more support or guidance with social media/technology. Talk to your teen about group chats/FT calls/texts. Many of our students are successful when they spend 1:1 time together but struggle when they need to negotiate many friends at the same time. If group connections are causing anxiety or drama, limit your teen’s digital connections to 1:1 time.
Margie Daniels from Massachusetts Partnership for Youth (through the Attorney General’s office) suggests that parents be involved as much as possible by setting clear rules for computer use and monitoring their child’s social networking sites on a regular basis. She believes teens need structure and guidance to navigate their social world as well as keep them safe in the cyber world. Some tips include:
Get to know your pre-teen’s/teen’s friends and their parent/guardian. Call to introduce yourself. If any issues arise later, it will be easier to call and talk about it.
Write down and go over internet/device rules with your pre-teen/teen (only text/chat/game with peers that you have met in person, don’t say/type anything you wouldn’t say to someone’s face, never give out personal information, don’t share your passwords with anyone)
Let your teen know that you will be checking their phone, texts, chats and all devices to make sure they’re following your rules (Teens should not expect privacy because they will make mistakes and can learn from them).
Let your teen know that if they receive or witness any concerning or inappropriate information or behavior, they need to tell you and won’t get into trouble.
Educate yourself about the websites, gaming sites and apps that your teen uses, learn how to change privacy settings (if there are any) to keep your teen safe
Some resources to check out:
By: Kurt Moellering, Head of School
Learning difference or learning disability? “Difference” is a much more accurate and humane term than “disability.” After all, all our students have the ability to learn; they simply learn differently. Difference can be good. Difference can be essential. Difference makes us who we are. At Learning Prep we love the differences in our students. And yet I know some of our students hate their learning differences. Before they came to Learning Prep, our students’ differences may have made them feel out of place, isolated, or not as smart as their classmates. One of the best things about coming to a school like Learning Prep is that those differences are seen, recognized, celebrated, and addressed. New LPS students will walk into our classrooms and think, “Finally! These kids learn like I do!” We have heard this over and over. Our students see themselves in their classmates. This acknowledgement is one of the things that allows our students to make progress for the simple fact that stereotype threat is diminished. We know our students can learn; we expect them to learn. Their difference is not negated, but it is no longer something they have to hide.
But what about our students of color? Or our students who are LGBTQ+? Do they get the same relief of recognition by simply walking in the door? Do they look around the classroom and say, “Finally?” I can’t say definitively since I have not asked this question enough. But I do know that Learning Prep must help to create an environment where each of our students can come into the building and see their whole self represented, reflected, and respected.
The mission of Learning Prep School is to provide an education for students with language-based learning differences. All we do here, every day, is to that end. This has been true for the 50-year history of our school and will remain true for the next 50 years. However, we cannot fulfil this mission if we keep explicit or implicit barriers to education up for any of our students. Learning differences are acknowledged and celebrated here. This philosophy marks how we do our work with our students and how we meet the high expectations of our mission. Acknowledging and celebrating other essential aspects of our students’ identities will likewise help us fulfill our mission. In other words, a commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) helps us do our mission better.
To address the topic of DEI at Learning Prep, the Educational Leadership Team here has been focused on this as our main topic for discussion at each of our weekly meetings since we participated in Dr. Kendi’s webinar a few weeks ago. We will soon be inviting others into these conversations, and I ask all of you to watch for an opportunity to get involved. In this week’s newsletter is an invitation for our families of color and for our families with students of color to connect with one another.
At Learning Prep, we celebrate differences. This makes our community stronger. As a school, we stand with our families of color and students of color; we stand with our LGBTQ+ community; and we stand with all our students who have learning differences.
By: Korina Martin, Director of Admissions
This school year marks my 5th school year as Director of Admissions here at LPS. This means that I have personally worked with most of the families currently at LPS, helping them arrive here. This has not only a privilege but a sincere joy. Helping families learn about Learning Prep, getting to know their child, and providing a path for them to enroll here is the main, and favorite, part of my work. I love getting to know every family’s story and having that personal connection with them. When I started this position this is what I fully expected - meeting kids, meeting families and onboarding them to their new school. After some time I soon discovered that there are some longer paths to that same work. While lesser known, they are additional aspects that have helped me grow to appreciate our little world of LPS.
I’m always in touch (you may have noticed). I love being in touch with families once they’ve started at LPS. Especially at the beginning, I love hearing the anecdotes like how a child finally feels at home, or how they’re finally excited to go to school again. Seeing the end result after months and sometimes years of work, is incredibly rewarding. Additionally, every time you receive an email about an important event coming up, a survey request, or inclement weather notice, that’s from the Admissions Office (although I am hopeful that we’re done with that last one for a while). Speaking of surveys, this office also manages those parent surveys because it’s important to know how families feel about the current landscape of our community. Having an open line of communication between families and administrators is how we can best know how to help your children thrive here. And being in touch with parents, guardians, grandparents, and others, always reminds me to appreciate that our community is amazing because of our families.
I’m always in touch with others. While it’s (of course) necessary to communicate with and celebrate with our internal community, it’s also imperative that we maintain great connections to the outside community so that other families who need LPS can find us. Through visits, presentations, calls and everywhere in between, the Admissions Office connects regularly with neuropsychologists, advocates, educational consultants, district professionals, local private schools and other Chapter 766 schools with the purpose of sharing the LPS story and maintaining relationships with professionals who help their clients find schools like Learning Prep. Connecting with people who already love LPS, and educating others who are excited to know that a place like LPS exists - reminds me to appreciate the great connections that extend out well beyond our community in West Newton.
I’m always promoting Learning Prep. This can mean attending conferences, sending direct mail or print advertising but the most important one in the last several years has been maintaining an online presence. You may have noticed that our social media sites have more regular posts, our Leadership Blog is up and running again, and that the website is more regularly updated. Or maybe you yourself discovered Learning Prep originally from a site like niche.com or privateschoolreview.com. After all, the average person spends almost 7 hours a day online - so that’s a logical place to be if you want people to know about your great organization. Spending time highlighting what we love about our school and the features that make it unique, helps me appreciate the amazing staff that make this great place what it is.
At the end of the day, all of this work - communication, outreach and promotion - has two main goals; to help children find a program that helps them realize their potential and to build our strong school community. With growing appreciation every day, I’m so glad that Admissions is more than enrolling students.
By: Jennifer Thorell, High School Principal
In my lifetime, not one date resonated with me more than 9/11/2001, despite wonderful milestones to celebrate. That was until 3/12/2020. The day at LPS began as usual, with some murmurings of a “flu-like” illness that was becoming more of a concern in the US. It wasn’t until lunchtime when I found myself in the cafeteria with an announcement for the staff and students that something shifted. When I stated that we would be closed on Friday, March 13th for no school, the cafeteria erupted with cheers from the students. Who doesn’t like an occasional day off from school unexpectedly? “We will be learning remotely for next week and hope to see you back soon. Bring your Chromebooks and all of your belongings home with you.”
Never once at that time did I realize what laid ahead for our students, families, and staff. We were left scrambling for toilet paper and soap. Fearful to go out for groceries. The basic needs of families were left unmet. Words and phrases like pivot, new-normal, pandemic, social distancing, Zoom, quarantine, and social bubble became commonplace. And while all of this was happening, so was hope. We celebrated essential workers like they have deserved all along, spent time with those in our homes more than ever, and slowed down the race of life, and looked forward to a different time.
Our teachers learned how to navigate technological platforms at lightning speed to provide the students with a schooling experience and the students, hungry for connection, joined them. They learned together what worked, changed to make it better, remained flexible, and were compassionate. They complied to wear masks all-day in order to be together on our campus and they showed such resilience that I can only be in awe of when I reflect on where we were March 12th, 2020 and where we are on March 12th, 2021.
We will all have stories to tell, some good, some tragic, about that day and the days we lived during a pandemic, but the ones that I will remember the most are the ones where we saw resilience, showed compassion to each other, and bonded as a community needing to be together. While there is still much progress to be made, I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel and look forward to getting there with this community.
by: Gretchen Petersen, Chief Operating Officer
Communicating effectively with others is something that we all struggle with from time to time. Effective communication requires us to listen, process what others are saying, express our thoughts well, pay attention to our tone and body language, take someone else’s perspective, understand others’ nonverbal cues, and so on. Some of this we have learned over time and some we are still working on, but I think we can all agree that communication can be complicated.
Those with learning challenges may have a particularly difficult time picking up on ways to socialize appropriately. I say “picking up on” because these skills are typically not explicitly taught. They are something that people are expected to know, and when they don’t there can be unintended negative consequences. Teaching socially expected ways to communicate positively and practicing communication with our students in the learning environment is a primary focus at LPS.
Each class is like its own social skills group where the staff utilize Michelle Garcia Winner’s Social Thinking concepts to guide students in taking the perspective of their fellow classmates, developing a better sense of their own way of thinking, and expressing their thoughts in a way that creates an outcome that matches their intent. For example, a discussion in history class may trigger a student to think about something that happened in their own life not directly related to the topic. That student may then interrupt another student with this thought, which would cue the teacher to explain that interrupting someone is unexpected and could lead to some negative thoughts within the group. The teacher might also explicitly teach the group that thoughts can remain in our minds as bubble thoughts until it’s the expected time and place to say them. Lessons like this occur throughout the day in and out of classes in order to help students practice communicating with others effectively by reading social cues, identifying behaviors that may have a positive or negative impact on social interactions, and understanding others’ perspectives and thoughts.
Navigating peer relationships is another focus when developing positive ways to socially interact. The counselors and our Dean of Students play a pivotal role in coaching students when it comes to friendships, peer conflict, and problem solving. Counseling sessions give students a safe space to talk about misunderstandings and learn/practice positive strategies to help problem solve. Peer mediation meetings occur with a focus of processing situations to allow for a better understanding of each student’s intentions and to normalize that people make mistakes and can move forward with the relationship still intact.
Our students have hundreds of Interactions with others throughout the day. What we say and do within the social realm is an important part of who we are. Students with learning challenges benefit greatly when social communication instruction is infused within the environment. This creates the ability to practice in a safe setting where redirections are viewed as a learning experience, which is part of our whole child approach to student success.
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