I meet with countless families who are looking for guidance on which schools offer the best support for their students with diagnosed learning differences or ADHD. At public schools, students with diagnosed learning differences qualify for either 504 or Special Education, depending on their needs. Private schools, however, are not beholden to the same regulations and are therefore allowed to do whatever they want.

I am fortunate to work at a private school that provides, in my opinion, the best support program in Austin. One of my colleagues and good friends Renee Blanchard has run it for the past 5 years. I have seen firsthand what a difference a program like this can make, so I thought it would be valuable to share some insights.

Rather than give you my opinion on the types of programs for students in private schools, I wanted to invite Renee to contribute to this month’s blog post so you can get an idea of what is out there. As the counselor I work very closely with Renee. She is as passionate about her job as anyone, and I hold her thoughts in the highest regard. It’s always fun to poke her brain and get some new ideas!

Without further ado…

What is your title at Hyde Park High School, and what are your credentials?

I hold various roles at Hyde Park, but my primary role is Director of the LEAP program (Learning Environment for Academic Progress).  I also service as our school’s assessment coordinator, so I’m in charge of managing all of our AP, SAT, PSAT, and ACT testing.  And last, but not least, I’m the head volleyball coach.

I have my Bachelor’s in Exercise & Sports Science and Master’s in Special Education.  A year ago I completed my certification as an Educational Diagnostician.  I also hold an All-Level teaching certification in Health and Physical Education.

What is the LEAP program?  Is it similar to Special Education or 504?

The purpose of the LEAP program is to provide academic support for students formally diagnosed with an identified learning difference to help meet the academic expectations of Hyde Park Schools. The program strives to provide a supportive and enriching environment in which students can achieve success by developing and managing strategies for lifelong learning. The ultimate goal of the program is to provide support for each student to embrace his or her abilities and acquire an individualized method of learning to maximize strengths and achieve success within the classroom.

The LEAP program is similar to 504 in the public schools, but we offer an elective class you can take to work on study skills, academic strategies, organizational support and academic interventions.  So students actually receive academic credit for taking a LEAP class.

How do students qualify for LEAP services?

Eligibility decisions for the LEAP program are based primarily on the student’s documented learning difference from a recent, complete, and approved psychoeducational evaluation.  Students must have the necessary documentation and complete an application to be considered for the LEAP program.  The data gathered must demonstrate the student has an educational need to receive services to be in LEAP.

What are the most common types of learning differences you see in your students?

The most common types of learning differences we see are ADHD, Dyslexia, Dysgraphia, and Anxiety.

What do you see as the biggest obstacle in school for students diagnosed with learning differences?

Learning how to be proactive versus reactive and how take initiative for their academic lives is always something LEAP students must learn to overcome.  Learning an organization and time management system that works best for them individually often time proves challenging as well.  I constantly work with students on helping them identify their personal strengths and weaknesses and how to properly communicate with teachers in regards to their learning needs.  A lot of these obstacles are ones they will face in college, so it’s good for them to get used to them now.

In your opinion what are the most successful tools students with learning differences can acquire?

It’s really important to learn about and understand the diagnosis and how that impacts their performance in the classroom.  I also want students to determine how they learn best so they can adopt appropriate study skills that take advantage of their strengths.  And one of the most important skills, especially as the transition to college, is self-advocacy and communication skills.  Students have tons of resources in high school every day, but in college you really have to speak up to receive your accommodations.

Can students with learning differences transition successfully to college?

Absolutely!  Look at me!  I’m a great example of someone who worked hard to understand her learning difference and make the best out of it.

What additional advice do you have for parents who suspect their child may have a learning difference?

Don’t wait to get your child tested if you or teachers notice anything in your child.  If your child does have a learning difference, properly educate yourself and your child on the diagnosis.  Instill in your child that the learning difference does not label him or her. These students are intelligent and this is not a label. It only means they learn in a different way and need to be taught a little different at times.

Thank you Renee! I appreciate your words. Hopefully there are families out there who can benefit from your advice.

Public school offer pretty standard programs across the board. Private schools, however, can do whatever they decide is in the school’s best interest. And often times, that isn’t necessarily your child’s best interest. If you have questions or are looking for the right school for your student, don’t hesitate to contact me. I love helping families find the right resources and make the right moves!