Ask Danielle Jaynes, Orinda Academy’s Learning Specialist, what her long-term goal for OA students is, and she’ll get a smile on her face. “By senior year you know your learning differences, you know your strengths and weaknesses, and you’re able to advocate for yourself.”
Danielle’s work with OA students, through creating learning plans, working on the student support team, teaching study skills classes, and one-on-one mentoring, directly works toward that goal: help students discover how they best learn and to advocate for their needs.
Danielle has seen first-hand how essential those skills are. As a former classroom teacher, and mother to three children with combinations of ADHD and dyslexia, her passion for helping children with learning disabilities led her back to school to earn a certificate in educational therapy. As a teacher and mother, she also understands the trauma that students can experience when they don’t receive the support they need at school, and how it negatively affects their self-esteem.
Combating negative school experiences: study skills class
In Danielle’s study skills class for incoming 9th graders, she’ll ask students to talk and write about their past schools. Similar experiences keep popping up:
- Not feeling supported by teachers/administration
- Increased anxiety about tests
- Poor grades
- Thinking that they’re bad students
- Believing they can’t learn
- Low self-esteem
She loves to have the students go around and say their learning disabilities (LDs). As student after student lists their challenges, they’ll get excited to realize that they’re not alone. Students will jump up, saying, “Oh my gosh! I have it too! I have it too!” That realization, for Danielle, is one of the best parts of OA. The students discover, as she says, “I’ve found my people.”
“A lot of students just haven’t been shown their strengths and aren’t able to fly,” Danielle explains. Her job is to change that mindset. She works to “build up their strengths piece-by-piece.” Part of that comes through her study skills class, and other comes through her one on one mentoring.
Providing Space to Achieve: one-on-one mentoring for students
During the semester, you’ll find Danielle working with students in focused, one-on-one sessions. Some students require less-intense “check-ins” where Danielle will help them keep them on track and accountable. Together they:
- review the week’s assignments
- write down homework on an assignment sheet
- look at current grades
- locate missing assignments
Other students require more in-depth help where Danielle will supervise their work. “I don’t do their homework,” she laughs, but she encourages and enables them to be productive. “I’ll say, ‘let’s open your laptop and set the timer for 20 minutes. After that, we can go get a tea and then come back and work some more.” By holding the students accountable while giving them a safe, comfortable place free of distraction, she teaches them that they really can do the work they thought was overwhelming.
One such student who needed that encouragement was Aidan*. Starting his senior year, Aidan came to OA with dyslexia, dysgraphia, and auditory processing disorder and struggled to complete his work. Aidan often struggled to complete his work, and after consulting with the Student Support Team, Danielle took him under her wing. Aidan and Danielle were able to finish the semester off strong by:
- meeting daily
- creating a plan with the English teacher
- getting an extension for missing assignments
- encouraging Aidan to complete the missing assignments over the break
The next semester, Danielle kept a close eye on Aidan, but he didn’t need her help. “He got the support,” Danielle said, to teach him that he is capable. “Now he knows, ‘Okay. I can do this.’”
Unique solutions for unique students: learning plans
For each student who enters OA with previous IEPs, 504s, school evaluations, or neuropsychological educational evaluations, Danielle will craft their own unique learning plan. Together with the student and their parents, Danielle tailors testing and accommodations to fit each child’s needs.
Some common accommodations include:
- preferential seating
- extra time to take tests
- copies of class notes
- oral testing
- extensions on assignment deadlines
Because of OA’s unique curriculum, and their overall goal to teach students that they are capable of learning and working, it’s important to note that learning plans will include accommodations, but not modifications.
For instance, Danielle recently worked with Chloe*, who struggles with depression. Even though Chloe wasn’t turning in her assignments, Danielle and Chloe’s teachers knew that she was capable of completing the work. So instead of modifying her assignment, or even excusing it all together, Danielle worked with the teacher to extend the due date, giving Chloe an extra six weeks to complete it. With that extra time and support, Chloe was able to turn in her assignment, turning a potentially defeating situation into one of triumph.
Even with LDs, OA students achieve!
“I love the kids at OA,” Danielle says. “I love seeing them grow and seeing their ‘aha!’ moments. I love reading through neuropsych evaluations and teasing through what kids’ LDs are and then empowering them with it and teaching them how to advocate.”
With advocates like Danielle, your student can thrive.