Learning Challenges

Learning Challenges in High School

All of us who are in close contact with learning-challenged adolescents know the constant agony, the disappointments, and the struggle they wage every day both at home and at school.  For a young person, who is trying to fit in, there is nothing worse than feeling that no one understands him and that everyone around him is setting unreasonable demands.

By the time they reach High School, these children have already experienced, both in school and at home, heart-rending situations that are the result of their daily fear of being rejected by teachers and parents alike.  Notwithstanding, the greatest problem for learning-challenged adolescents is their self-image as failed individuals.

To cope with their daily hardships, they often develop defensive behaviors that can manifest themselves in the form of excessive reliance on peer groups, anger, disobedience, indifference and isolation.  At the same time, not only does their self-esteem diminish, so, too, does their motivation to learn.  They feel guilt and shame.  And, we all know that when someone feels guilt and shame, they begin to dislike themselves, resulting in a lack of self-respect.  To sum it up, adolescents with learning challenges become excessively tired and often lose patience in their attempt to learn what others manage with less effort.

In high school, the need to encourage and support these children is far greater.  The stress factors already mentioned, compounded by the stress of exams, create negative attitudes in other facets of their lives, such as academic performance, relationships, motivation for continued studies, and personal development.

How does the High School’s Counseling Office respond to these needs?

  1. Firstly, it provides a confidential and supportive space where these children can express their feelings without fear and guilt.
  2. It invites children to attend sessions, whose duration and frequency are determined by the children themselves.
  3. It helps these children to discover their potential, thereby boosting their self-esteem. Thus, they acquire the ability to set long-term goals with regard to continued studies and career aspirations.
  4. Our team of psychologists frequently meets with their teachers in order to be kept abreast of their development.  During these meetings, we work together with the teachers to find ways to reach these students and help them in school.

 

Some of the advice we offer teachers is the following:

  1. Use simple language when addressing these students.
  2. Assess them verbally and give them more time during exams.
    1. Show them ways and techniques that will help them express their ideas and thought processes.
    2. Avoid remarks and characterizations that degrade these students and differentiate them from the others.
    3. Encourage them to participate in the learning process.

 

In fact, these are the same instructions given to the Faculty in writing at the beginning of the year and reiterated verbally by the School’s Administrators at every Faculty Meeting.

When we invite these students to the Counseling Office, most of them talk about the unbearable stress they face when taking a written or oral exam within a limited amount of time.  Knowing the outcome of excessive stress, it does not surprise us to find that their grades often do not reflect their efforts or, perhaps, their actual abilities.

Our Office offers our students a Summer Internship Program at various companies and organizations.  The positions are offered by alumni who are entrepreneurs, as well as parents and friends of the College.  All children with learning challenges, and those without, are encouraged to participate in this program that not only helps them acquire skills for future employment and for life, but also improves their self-image.  Adolescents need the understanding and involvement of their family and school. Both, together, can restore the innate motivation to learn that children have when they first attend school.  Their challenges can be effectively addressed when this joint effort between school and family is governed by principles that help them:

  1. to understand the underlying cause of their challenges.
  2. to find incentives for learning.
  3. to provide them with opportunities where they will often experience the feeling of success.
  4. to provide them with psychological support and guidance.
    1. to ensure that objectives exist that will lead them to workplaces that suit them.

In most cases, children compensate for their weakness by turning to other creative activities that give them recognition in their social milieu and provide them with outlets in their lives.  When they are released from the visual word, they can exploit their unique talents and feel very good about themselves.  In other words, outside the school environment they can discover their true self.  There, nothing prevents them from developing success in areas such as the arts, sports, music, theater, new technologies, commerce, to name but a few.  

Family and school can help adolescents recapture their lost self-esteem.  All belittling words and disparaging remarks must disappear from their language.  We must not criticize or nag them constantly, nor imply that they cannot succeed.  Instead, we will give them much greater assistance if we try to understand how they think and how they learn.  We owe it to them to emphasize their positive traits and unique abilities at every turn.

What advice do we usually give to parents and teachers?

  1. Firstly, it is vital for parents and teachers to show these adolescents that they understand their challenges and will support them in every way possible.
  2. Having understood how much their self-esteem has been dealt a blow, parents and teachers must find ways to make them feel good about themselves, such as encouraging and applauding successful activities, both within and outside of school.
  3. Parents must not become overprotective.  On the contrary, they must allow their child to take initiatives and risks so that they may feel the gratification of being able to achieve difficult goals.
  4. Parents themselves must accept their children’s differences, and not allow those differences to cause problems.

Let us not forget that the majority of our School’s students with learning challenges earn places in institutions of higher learning both in Greece abroad; nor should we forget that every year many of them are selected by their very peers to represent them in Student Community activities.

(Speech given at the Parents Association seminar entitled “Learning Challenges in Elementary, Junior High and High School”).