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Four Semester (Flexible in Summer) Comprehensive Wrap Around Service

At the Vancouver Learning Centre all aspects of the person (child youth or young adult) receives a thoughtful, sensitive response that includes intellectual, academic and emotional factors. These are outlined in detail in the multi-year program that emerges from the neuropsychological and educational assessment. The learner proceeds at his or her own pace through the journey described in detail in the program.

Each semester is completed with an anecdotal report from each teacher. Consistency and attendance at every session ensures that the journey takes place at a good rate.

In April, at the beginning of the 3rd semester, recommendations for 4th semester participation are prepared by the teachers and sent to the parents for consideration.

Up to the summer of 2011 every student was encouraged to participate in some aspect of our summer offerings. However, in the summer of 2011 we created personalized recommendations for each student and invited participation. Many students took advantage of this offering.

We found there was such a substantive difference in the fall programs for those who participated and kept up the momentum, or participated in the accelerated learning by subject we call “camp intensives,”* or participated in our school readiness program**, that we needed to make this a regular part of each learner’s experience.

Why We Are on a Four Semester Program

A key myth on which the summer holiday in our education system is prescribed needs to be addressed.

According to this myth, young children’s fragile development and mind should not be overextended. Each child should work only five hours a day in school, and each child needs a long summer break to recover from the rigours of their education. Therefore, ten weeks are mandated as summer holidays.

In practical terms this means that June, a winding down month, is not fully utilized, and that teachers coming back from holiday in September need most of that month to organize for the next year.

Thus half of each of these two months can be included in down time for serious education.

Considering that long weekends, Christmas, Easter and Spring Break account for another month, students are actively engaged in serious education for at most, 7 to 8 months or 32-35 weeks each year during the most productive and vigorous learning years of their lives.

Research shows that children lose up to 30 percent of core skill progress in these down times, especially between June and September, but students with learning difficulties who are slow starters in September lose the most.

They love the summer holidays, when the pressure of learning in a competitive environment, where they struggle harder than their peers to keep up, disappears. They seem to flourish and become their natural selves in the summer. They find it harder than their classmates to put themselves back into the constraints of an academic classroom. As the teachers review the previous year’s work in the first weeks of school in September, these students are consolidating only part of this review. They are not ready for new learning in early October, and as their classmates take off, they struggle even more.

At this very same moment, their new teacher is building expectations for each student into their mind (albeit probably below awareness). As they watch these children with learning difficulties struggle with new grade content, they (probably also below awareness) lower expectations for these students. This is communicated in subtle but important ways, and is usually expressed at the first parent-teacher’s meeting, or on the first report card.

This dynamic process produces lower expectations for the student and the outcome becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. This process is cumulative, so that by Grade 5 at 10 or 11 years old, a child’s future academic outcome (without intervention, change of school, or outstanding personal experience with an excellent teacher) is set.

It is these very expectations that are disrupted by the VLC assessment and programs. But what if a summer of less pressure but active viable learning could change this whole dynamic for the long term?

VLC students begin to build momentum 3-6 weeks into their programs. By June they are learning at their best rate ever.

What if . . . momentum could be maintained by a target designed Summer program followed by a School Readiness program that put them in contention for their next grade?

What if . . . the School Readiness program reviewed the key concepts of the past grade and previewed the first semester of the next grade?

What if . . . the Summer programs offered intensive instruction in their core weaker areas like Math or Written Expression, in an uncompetitive and fun atmosphere?

And what if these programs were systematically designed and built into the process as a full year program?

If this were the case, VLC students would not lose ground in core skills between June and September, and they would come out running in September so that their new teacher’s expectations were high.

The overall cumulative effect would be very strong.

This hypothesis was waiting to be demonstrated. The VLC began this process in the summer of 2009 in which 80 percent of the students participated. By the summer of 2011, 90 percent participated. Our experience has been very positive and we have such solid feedback and results that we have built the summer session into a flexible fourth semester. Indeed, even our full-time BOOST students are taking part in some aspects of summer programs to keep their momentum going.

The flexible fourth semester will become a hallmark of a successful VLC experience.

For this reason all program designs have a regular fourth semester summer component built in. The VLC teachers’ specific recommendations for the summer session are provided early so that the students may anchor their summer program in the planning of family holidays in the vacation period in July and August, and so preserve the precious momentum we see in May and June for the first semester of the next year beginning in September. An open scheduling process that allows flexibility around vacation time becomes available to each student on a first-come-first-served basis. This approach will produce more consistent ongoing progress and a personal best outcome for each learner without losing any ground over the summer.

If the learner is planning to be out of town for the entire summer, a summer package can be provided in June if it can be supervised by a parent, and our new “Skype Lesson Service” can keep the momentum going with a few services over the summer months.

* Camp intensives. For one week, 2 hours a day and practice on site or at home, a student can concentrate on improvement in a particular subject area such as Math, Reading or Writing, or participate in an enrichment program as designed in their program. This allows the skill to develop in a short time since both the lessons and the practice sessions work together to upgrade skills.

**School Readiness Program. We preview the subjects in the student’s upcoming grade to provide a running start in the new school year, just as the teacher is integrating first impressions of each student’s skill, thus improving teacher expectation on outcome for the grade. This has a powerful effect on both confidence in the classroom and on the actual outcome the child or youth experiences.


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