LAHB classes build confidence in reading
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In a room at the end of the middle school hallway at Driscoll, five 8th graders sit around a table reading a book during English class. Although most of them like to read now, that was not always the case.
The Language and Academic Home Base program serves approximately 35 students starting in 3rd grade through high school who have reading disabilities, such as dyslexia, but high reasoning skills. The program not only helps students improve their reading skills but also fosters independence and confidence among students.
According to Mark Nacht, Co-Director of Special Education at the elementary schools, students in the LAHB program are learning the same curriculum as students in mainstream classes but in a different way.
“It could be modified, or it’s just the same but students get previews and review,” Nacht said. “The students may have some accommodations; they may have word banks, or graphic organizers to help them with their writing.”
Brenna Mahoney teaches LAHB English and LAHB Learning Center at the high school. Mahoney said that the program focuses on using students’ strengths to help them improve their executive functioning skills, which include memory and organization.
“The students in this program have very high, average, to sometimes superior reasoning skills. So the strategies that we’re implementing are building off of that strength,” Mahoney said. “So if the weakness is in processing speed or working memory, our strategies are going to be building off the reasoning.”
Julia Guillemin and Ta’mar Thompson, 8th graders in the LAHB program at Driscoll, take LAHB English and math. Both said that they feel more comfortable in the LAHB classes because of the smaller class-size and the slower pace.
“A typical class, I think, would be just like any other class, but a little more relaxed because there are less people,” Guillemin said. “Things that would take a normal class a day to learn would probably take us two days or a day and a half because we go over it many times and a little more slowly.”
According to Mahoney, although small classes can sometimes be limiting, they also allow students to take more risks.
“The students can be vulnerable. Reading aloud, if you have a decoding issue, in front of people, is nerve-wracking and embarrassing,” Mahoney said. “In our small setting, they don’t have that barrier anymore, and we’re all in it together. It also builds up a sense of self.”
Monica Camara, who teaches LAHB math and Learning Center at the high school, said that most freshmen and sophomores in the program are in LAHB-designated classes for all their academic subjects. Camara said that freshman year of the program is about learning basic skills and as the students get older they focus on reinforcing skills and pushing themselves further.
“ they’re already pretty established; they know what they need to do,” Camara said. “So it’s just reinforcing it and pushing them a little farther. So for example, not dropping an AP is really important. You can do this, you have all the ability in the world. just making sure that we have the skills and strategies that one needs to be successful.”
However, according to Mahoney, going into junior year students try to limit the amount of help they are getting in the program, taking more mainstream classes at the standard, honors and AP level. Mahoney said that the end goal is college.
“Our goal is to get the services decreasing as students get older and prepare to go into an academic environment. The vision and the goal of the students in this program is predominantly college,” Mahoney said. “We want to respect that vision and get them as independent as possible with the remediation that’s needed.”
Guillemin said that the program has helped her to grow and become a more confident reader.
“I used to think, ‘Maybe I can’t read that book,’ because it might be just out of my reading level, but now I think, ‘Well, I’m going to try to read this book,’” Guillemin said. “And every time that I can read it, it just makes me feel awesome, and think, ‘Wow, I actually can do it.’”
According to Thompson, it’s important to remember that students in the LAHB program are really just like other students.
“Just because you’re in this class doesn’t make you any dumber,” Thompson said. “It just means you need a bit more help. It just means you learn slower. It doesn’t mean you’re any less than the other students.”