To unlock the emotional capacity to tackle academic challenges, students need a learning environment where they feel their teachers and peers support them, appreciate them as individuals and actively work to help them find success. This is the community that Christina Carson has built at the Marshall School, a private school in Spotsylvania County. The Marshall School focuses on helping children build the learning and thinking strategies needed for a lifetime of real-world success. The school’s smaller environment and customized learning programs are good for all children and have been found to be particularly helpful for children diagnosed with ADHD, dyslexia, auditory processing disorders, learning disabilities, and executive function disorders.
Carson talks about the successes she has seen as the school held in-person classes throughout the 2020-21 school year, and what distinguishes the school’s approach to educating children with a wide variety of learning styles and needs.
What defines the learning community at the Marshall School?
I think a story from the band concert we held at the end of this school year really illustrates that. One of our performers was a student who is gifted in playing the drums, but he has a lot of anxiety. Just before his performance, he had a panic attack. Our teachers kept the program moving on to the next act to give him some time to work through that. We as teachers talked with him and talked about how we believed in him, but what was so remarkable was that so many students came out to him and said, “You’ve got this.” He calmed down, went out, and performed. I looked back and all of the students were standing and cheering him on. In the end, the entire audience gave him a standing ovation. This is the perfect picture of who we are. We face obstacles daily, and despite that, we overcome those challenges. This wasn’t just a success for one student, but for everyone else at the concert who encouraged him.
What about the school encourages that kind of community?
At the Marshall School, we talk openly about our struggles, whether they are related to learning, social skills, or anxiety. We do this in our morning meeting at the start of each school day, and we model this as teachers. But we don’t stop there. We actively give our students strategies to overcome their struggles. We talk through books, such as Stephen Covey’s “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teens,” to give students and teachers the language they need to talk about their challenges and the tools they can use to overcome them. Instead of covering up their struggles, never talking about them, and never getting the help they need, our students can grow and build skills that don’t come easily. Identifying and addressing the specific difficulties they are encountering with academic and social skills is a prerequisite for students to be able to succeed in school.
What is unique about the Marshall School’s approach to academics?
It all goes back to the reason I started the school. We know children are individuals, with different interests and learning styles. We have seen stressed-out students trying to keep up with the “one pace, one method” style of learning that is prevalent in most other schools in this area. As a special education teacher in the public schools earlier in my career, I became very frustrated when I saw the approaching shift to “accommodating” students who couldn’t read or do math on grade level. Instead of working on these skills, teachers would read tests out loud to students in a race to pass them on to the next level. This constant push to move up to higher and higher levels of math and reading gets us nowhere if kids are slipping through the cracks and not getting the fundamentals of these skills. When students come to us who need to catch up to their grade level, we work toward that goal by using our unique assessment process to identify the underlying cause of their academic struggles. We then use brain-based strategies to develop their skills, backfill their gaps and move them into new material when they have the tools to succeed with it. Because we take this individualized approach, it is not uncommon for us to see students catch up at a fast pace. But that doesn’t happen because we are putting pressure on the students to move quickly. It’s because we are getting to the root of what is causing their struggles.
How can parents find out if their child might be a good fit for the Marshall School?
A common question parents have is whether their child needs to already have an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) to come to our school, and the answer is no. Creative, gifted and struggling learners benefit from our teaching strategies, low student-teacher ratio, and individualized approach. We are specially equipped to help students with brain processing and executive functioning struggles; however, we do not specialize in behavioral or emotional disorders.
Parents who are interested in learning more can call the school at 540-412-0992. Let’s talk about what’s going on and whether your child might be a good match. The next step would be to come in for an evaluation, which is the same evaluation we use at our Learning Enhancement Center tutoring center. It tells us exactly where the child is with brain processing and academic levels and gives us the information we need to craft a learning program that will serve those needs.
To learn more about the Marshall School, visit themarshallschool.org.
Stay tuned to the Fredericksburg Parent Facebook and YouTube channels in July for a video interview with The Marshall School Founder Christina Carson.
The Marshall School
What We Believe
Given the right environment, students can be confident learners, equipped for future success as a student and become a civic-minded citizen leader.
This goal is supported by guiding beliefs:
All students can succeed when given the right tools and strategies.
When parents and educators work in partnership, students experience the strongest personal growth.
All students should be met “where they are” and taught using research-based, effective teaching strategies that nurture and build the whole child.
Parents and educators should provide a balance of both confidence-building and challenging experiences for children socially and academically.