When a child is struggling in school, it can be hard for parents to know where to turn for solutions. But when parents have that gut feeling that their child is struggling and they don’t know why, one place they can turn is Learning Enhancement Centers. Since 2002, Learning Enhancement Centers of Spotsylvania County has been using research-driven methods to identify and improve specific brain processing issues that can lie at the heart of children’s academic struggles. As our February Expert, Learning Enhancement Centers founder and executive director Christina Carson talks about why she is passionate about this work, and how Learning Enhancement Centers helps students.
Q: What is your approach to helping children who are struggling in school?
One of the most valuable things we do is our evaluation. This is something I have created over the years as I have delved into the research on how we can train the brain to improve processing skills. We are looking at the whole person, their memory, attention, reasoning, how they think about what they see and hear, but then we also look at how their eyes are working, fine and gross motor skills, and then the academics.
This makes us different from, say, a psychologist, where you might go to get a diagnosis of dyslexia or ADHD, or the school counselor, who will evaluate a student’s eligibility for accommodations or special services. We are here to identify what is breaking down and use targeted brain-training strategies to improve it.
Q: Why are you passionate about this approach?
It goes back to my career as a public-school special education teacher. One of the things that really broke my heart was that in order to accommodate children who were struggling, we would do things like read test questions to them so that they could pass and move to the next grade. This is done with the best of intentions, but at the end of the day, that child did not learn to read and is no better equipped to succeed the next year.
Whereas the schools accommodate and modify the activities for the student, we are trying to fix what is causing the problem in the first place. If memory is the issue, we work to strengthen memory and then work on comprehension. We are trying to correct the problem, not just treat the symptom. If they can’t read, we aren’t just reading the material to them. We are identifying the specific breakdown that is interfering with their ability to read and working to improve that area. That is the most important thing that distinguishes us from a typical tutoring center.
Q: What do your coaching sessions look like?
Everything here starts with that evaluation, and then we make a plan. All of our sessions are one-on-one. This is different from what you may see advertised as “individualized” tutoring at some of the national tutoring centers. We don’t individualize things by giving children a different packet of worksheets from everyone else. That is not the kind of work we do. These are one-on-one sessions where our learning specialists are working with a child to improve a specific skill. This skill-based work is essential if the child is then going to succeed in the academic work.
We usually want to see students twice a week, and we re-evaluate after every 20 hours of coaching, because we tend to see improvements quickly, and we want to always make sure we are adjusting our program to reflect their level. To give you an example of the kind of progress we can see, we had one student who came to us recently, a sixth grader who had been diagnosed with dyslexia and was on a second-grade reading level. After seeing her for 20 sessions over the course of one semester, this student was up to a fifth-grade reading level. Another student with us went from a first- to a fourth-grade reading level in a similar period of time. While everyone will progress at a different speed, it is not unusual for us to see growth like this with the methods we are using.
We provide a lot of support for our families, and we do ask parents to sit in on the first few sessions, because we want to train them to be able to work with their child at home. Continuing that work at home really helps the child progress faster—meaning you will ultimately need to pay for fewer coaching sessions.
Q: What have your coaching sessions looked like during the COVID-19 pandemic?
We have done a mix of in-person and virtual sessions via Zoom. We will do whatever the family is comfortable with.
Q: What kind of student is a good fit for Learning Enhancement Centers?
Anybody who is struggling in school, and there’s no apparent explanation for why. It’s that parental gut feeling we get when it’s clear that something more is going on. It’s those situations that don’t make sense, where a child is falling behind, but other indicators show that they have the intelligence where this should not be happening. Parents can call the center and speak with me, and I can usually talk through with them whether they are a good fit for us, or whether another practitioner or therapist would be a better route to pursue. We are not a place to go for a specific medical diagnosis, and we are also not a solution for addressing behavioral challenges.
Q: What causes most parents to call you?
It’s that feeling when you have sat with your child for the 100th day in a row and they are still taking three hours to do what should be a 30-minute assignment. Many call when they see their child’s self-esteem is beginning to suffer due to academic struggles. That is often a clue that something is not working.
Q: As children continue to learn in virtual and hybrid settings in many area schools, and as we approach the transition back to in-person school, what should parents keep in mind?
Now is a great time to work with a place like us, because many children are not being seen by teachers in person right now, and it can be harder to know if they are getting what they need, and if gaps are starting to occur. Family schedules are also lighter now with fewer sports and activities. It’s important to know that if your child is having a hard time right now with the academics, that is still going to be the case when they go back. For children who have processing issues, the gaps are getting bigger, and this is a good time to start trying to identify what the problem is and start using strategies to improve.
To learn more, visit learningenhancementcenters.com, or call 540-412-0992 to talk about whether your child should be seen for an evaluation.