Teach to the Edges

Example of sensory rice being used with the letter "J" with students of WCDS intensely looking on.

In the fall of 2012, we began noticing an alarming trend among a subsection of students at Wheeling Country Day School. Despite our best intentions and our willingness to adjust or omit outdated classroom practices, some students just seemed unable to keep up with even the most foundational linguistic concepts. It’s an age-old issue in education, but rather than shake our fists and blame kids these days we decided to embrace learning differences, take a big swing and try something new.

We began creating the Center for Multisensory Learning (CML) at Wheeling Country Day School by instituting an architectural principle known as Universal Design, in which alterations of existing designs are developed in order to increase accessibility to those with disabilities. While the ‘curb cuts’ at crosswalks were originally intended to aid wheelchairs, they also help kids on bikes or parents pushing strollers. The same is true in education. Rather than developing a new version of one-size-fits-all learning for the imaginary average, WCDS designed our CML to meet the needs of students on the edges, so everyone benefits.

“I often wonder what it feels like the first time a child is sitting in a classroom and realizes that he or she cannot do what everyone around them is doing. How does it weigh on that child’s heart – on the playground, in the gym, at the lunch table? I don’t want any child to feel alone or feel that he or she is less than others because of differences that should be acknowledged as strengths.”

-Elizabeth Hofreuter, Head of School, WCDS

So while the Ortan-Gillingham multisensory approach applies directly to those with Dyslexia, Dyscalculia, Dysgraphia, ADHD, and Executive Function issues, it also assists students navigating the loss of a family member or returning after an extended illness. With the antecedents in place prior to both temporary and more permanent learning differences, students understand the support system available on our campus, which has helped students advocate for their own learning rather than silently falling further and further behind.

In 2018, the CML at WCDS, thanks in part to funding from the Robinson S. Parlin and the Rosemary M. Front Charitable Trusts, is an International Dyslexia Association accredited learning center directly impacting more than 60 students with learning differences during the school year and more than 40 more students working with CML tutors over the summer. Our director, Theresa Kowcheck, and staff also complete diagnostic assessments as well as Dyslexia screenings and simulations in our surrounding area, expanding our influence as a leader in educational innovations in the Ohio Valley. At home, Wheeling Country Day School now employs at least one Ortan-Gillingham trained instructor in each classroom, Pre-K-6, in order to exponentially increase the impact on our student body and further incorporate the universal design thinking so vital at the launch of our Center.

As an independent school we have a responsibility to be an educational leader, and by investing in such a mindset shift we have created a climate of possibility and an atmosphere fearless risk takers. The CML offers the structure and support for those children whose minds work differently, but by designing for extraordinary needs, our school now better serves all learners.

We teach to the edges.