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How private school can help students with learningand behavioural difficulties

Students and parents talk about success of specialized programs that have helped bring positive change

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It’s not easy being viewed differently by classmates in school. It can be a difficult experience that can strain one's social and personal development.

Many traditional schools offer extra help to students with learning and behavioural difficulties, however, it’s not unusual for students who have dyslexia or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) to feel insecure and frustrated about their progress when compared with peers.

As educational researcher Alan Hoffman has said "The stigma attached to learning disabilities encourages many students to hide their disabilities, inhibiting the development of self-awareness and belief in themselves."

At a specialty school dedicated to children with learning and behavioural difficulties, however, everyone is in the same boat. Based in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, Landmark East School is a special needs school which caters to students who need extra help and uses a success-oriented teaching style to help boost confidence.

“We break things down to the smallest concept and we work with students until they ‘get it’,” says Wendy Harris, who taught at Landmark East for over two decades. “Their homework is also success-oriented and, if they have any problems, they have access to one-on-one help the next day.”

Landmark East also teaches important skills such as how to ask questions and effective note-taking. Landmark East’s maximum class size of six students in middle school grades and eight students in high school grades ensures no student is ignored. “The teachers give you their undivided attention,” says Linnea Fritz-Watson, a Grade 10 student from the state of Wisconsin. After just one year at Landmark East, Linnea has noticed changes in herself. “I take more charge now. I’m not afraid to ask questions.”

Linnea’s older brother, Kai, who is severely dyslexic, spent his last two years of high school at Landmark and, seeing his progress, Linnea convinced her parents to send her there, too. “She was impressed by (Kai’s) transformation,” says their mother Heidi Fritz. “He went from floundering to excelling.”

At Landmark East, Kai learned how to advocate for himself, Fritz says. Now attending Normandale College in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Kai took control of the post-secondary application process. “He said this is what I need to succeed. Can you accommodate me?” Fritz says.

Alicia Suwaina has also noticed a transformation in her son, Saif, who is in Grade 10. “Wow. It’s like day and night,” she says. “He stands straighter, makes eye contact and he’s so much more relaxed.”

The Suwainas, who live in Abu Dhabi, the capital city of the United Arab Emirates, decided to send Saif to Landmark after realizing there wasn’t a local school that could accommodate his needs.

“He is quite bright, but he has dyslexia and ADD,” Suwaina says. She visited Landmark and was impressed by the school’s welcoming atmosphere and structured environment. “Their values are aligned with ours. For example, they discourage dating. That’s a social pressure I don’t think my son needs right now,” she says.

For his part, Saif doesn’t mind the school’s rules. “I can handle the no chewing gum rule. I’m more of a mint person, anyway. And I can deal with the uniforms,” he says, adding he also appreciates having extra help. “I had trouble with this math thing. I went in for some help with my teacher for about half an hour, and I finally got it."

Saif has also learned how to be more independent: he does his own laundry and he travelled alone to visit his family in Abu Dhabi. “Sending him to Landmark has given him a sense of identity,” Suwaina says. “He feels so confident now.”

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