Written by Kaylee Dyson, LuHi Access teacher
As the Access teacher at Lutheran High School, I hear many different questions throughout the day. What’s thirteen times nine? How do you do this Mineralogy assignment? What’s personification again? Can I go ask Mrs. Rogness a question? Have you seen my planner?
With as many questions as I get in class, I’m sure there are nearly as many questions being asked about Access. What is Access, anyway? Who is it for? How is it different from resource programs at other schools?
I’d like to take time to answer a few questions about our Access Program and how it functions at Lutheran High School. As a note, Access is abbreviated for Academic Success.
Why the switch from a resource class to Access?
Resource classes are something that exist in other schools (more details to follow), but because our class is unique, we thought it should have a unique name. Enter Access. We picked it because it embodies what we’re shooting for - Academic Success (or Access) for students that need a bit of support. We are making sure students have “access” to all the resources they need and giving them “access” to their full potential.
What is Access?
At first glance, Access looks a whole lot like a study hall. And in some ways, it is a study hall – every student comes to Access and is given time to work on whatever it is they need to work on.
There are a few subtle differences – for instance, the class size is smaller than that of a typical study hall. We usually have an average of 11 students in each class. Another difference is that I work with students on an individual or small group basis.
The biggest difference has to do with the demographic of students being served in Access. Access is geared specifically toward students who need some extra encouragement or support in a particular academic or school area and are eligible to be in the class (more on that to follow).
Some students may struggle with a specific subject, such as math or literature. If a student struggles with math, he will likely use Access class time to work on math homework. This way, if the student finds out he is not comfortable with a math concept, he can get help while he’s at school. I am available to work with students on math concepts in class, but they also have the option of seeing their math teachers for help. We can also provide them with extra math practice and we can focus our review on specific concepts before tests come up. Another option is suggesting a tutor for a student if more individualized or intensive help is required.
Other students may generally succeed with academics, but struggle with one specific aspect of school, such as test-taking. These students can work with me to prepare for upcoming tests. I can provide review games, practice test questions, and assist with study tips and ideas. There is also a portion of Access students who are quite academically gifted, but have grades that suffer due to poor organization or time-management skills.
These students are likely to use Access time to write down their homework assignments, check to make sure they turned everything in for the day, or organize their folders, binders, and lockers.
Who can be in Access?
Access is for any student with a learning difference or disability. Some examples (but not all) include Dyslexia, ADD/ADHD, Executive Function Disorder, or a Specific Learning Disability.
Most students who are placed in Access at LuHi are bringing an IEP or a 504 Plan from a different school with them. If a student has received academic services or participated in any sort of support program at a previous school, Access will be a great fit.
You listed several examples of learning differences. Can you explain some of them?
Sure! If you want some more in depth explanations and resources, check out this website: http://www.additudemag.com
- Dyslexia – Dyslexia is a learning disability that affects language. Individuals with dyslexia may struggle with reading, reading comprehension, spelling, and sometimes speech.
- ADD/ADHD – These are the acronyms for Attention Deficit Disorder or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. ADD/ADHD is a neurological developmental disability that usually impacts a person’s ability to get focused, stay focused, or control impulses and activities.
- Executive Function Disorder – Our executive function is the part of our brain that is in charge of analyzing how we will get tasks done – assessing how much time tasks will take, when we will complete them, how to get the materials we need, etc.
Our executive function develops around the time of puberty, so many high schoolers are in the process of developing their executive function. A student with EFD has serious struggles in these areas – no matter how hard they try, they can’t seem to remember deadlines, keep track of papers, or successfully budget time.
- IEP – This is the acronym for an Individualized Education Plan. It’s just what it sounds: an individualized plan for a how a student with a disability will be educated.
It explains what the student’s disabilities are with details about what areas are difficult for her, and it provides recommended accommodations to use in school. A student will receive an IEP if her disability falls under qualifications for a specific disability in accordance with federal law.
- 504 – A 504 Plan is very similar to an IEP. IEPs are for students who qualify for Special Education as explained by the federal government. 504 plans are for students who do not qualify for Special Education (and therefore an IEP), but still have a disability that impacts their lives and would benefit from some accommodations. The plan gets its name from Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which protects people with disabilities from discrimination.
What is a Support Plan and how is it implemented?
The Guidance Counselor creates an individualized Support Plan for each Access student. This plan details the different accommodations that a student can receive at LuHi in order to help her be most successful.
If the student has an IEP, 504 Plan, or has had educational testing done, the recommended accommodations from that plan are often implemented into the Lutheran High School Support Plan. Most of these accommodations have to do with assignments, tests or quizzes, and general life skills.
Some examples include an extra 24-48 hours to complete an assignment (as needed), fill-in-the-blank notes, the option to type most writing assignments, extra time on tests and quizzes (as needed), or an extra set of textbooks to keep at home.
Teachers have access to each student’s Support Plan, but it is also important that students are advocating for themselves and asking for these things when they feel like they need to take advantage of them (self-advocacy is an important skill we’ll discuss in more detail later on in this post).
As the Access Teacher, I also work with the Support Plans. Part of my job is to make sure students understand their Support Plans and feel comfortable communicating with their teachers about what they need.
What’s the difference between a modification and an accommodation?
- A modification happens when the curriculum is changed to meet the needs of a student, or expectations are changed for what a student has to learn.
- An accommodation happens when there is a change in how the student is expected to show what they have learned.
For example, let’s say a history class is memorizing all the presidents of the United States. A modification might ask a student to only memorize the most recent 20 presidents, or to memorize a different set of information altogether. An accommodation would still ask the student to memorize all of the presidents, but with the option to verbally recite or type the information instead of writing it down on paper.
Accommodation options are varied and differ based on an individual student’s needs. At Lutheran High School, we provide accommodations, and not modifications.
Part of this is due to the fact that we aren’t equipped to provide modifications – these would require separate classes (Modified Algebra, Modified Literature, etc.) or serious changes in the curriculum.
Accommodations work for us because we like giving a student the opportunity to learn everything his classmates are learning – but while also recognizing that he may learn best in a different way than the typical student.
What’s the difference between Special Education and Access?
Special Education is almost always a program rather than a class, and a Access class or lab is often part of such a program. Special Education programs offer modified or remedial classes, and they often have several different professionals on staff, such as a speech language pathologist, school psychologist, and sometimes even an IEP and Assessment Specialist.
A resource class, like Access at Lutheran High School, is often part of a Special Education program. Special Education programs are common at public schools, while private and private Christian schools are more likely to have a Access Program like the one at Lutheran High School.
What is self-advocacy, and why is it important?
Self-advocacy is an extremely important part of high school. It means advocating for yourself – speaking up when you don’t understand something, asking a teacher for additional help, or explaining why you believe you are struggling with something.
Parent involvement can be extremely helpful when it comes to high school and problem solving or ensuring one’s success, but high school is an excellent arena in which students can get their feet wet in speaking up for themselves and learning how to navigate these issues and conversations.
Every high school student is learning how to advocate for himself, but self-advocacy can be particularly difficult for Access students. Self-confidence can be low for some of these students, and they may not feel comfortable asking for extra help that goes beyond what they see their peers getting from teachers.
Part of being in Access is learning what self-advocacy is and how to go about asking questions and seeking help. A big part of my job is helping students figure out what they are struggling with and then coaching them through seeking help from a teacher.
What do you like about your job?
All kinds of things! Every day is different, for one thing. That’s always fun. One day we may be reviewing factoring polynomials and another day we may be preparing for the mother of all vocabulary tests, or discussing the importance of having an organized locker. More often than not, all of these things will happen in one day, actually.
We do a lot of celebrating in Access, which I love.
- Celebrating finally understanding that pesky math concept that has been eluding a student for weeks.
- Celebrating good grades or good essay scores.
- Celebrating the fact that a student didn’t have a single late assignment for the last two weeks.
We do a lot of problem solving, too.
- Trying to figure out how to pay better attention in class.
- Dealing with low test grades and trying to make sure students involved in extra-curriculars can stay eligible grade-wise.
- Struggling with not feeling motivated, or feeling defeated by school.
While the problem-solving isn’t as encouraging as the celebrating, I still love it.
These students are incredibly talented and bright, though perhaps not in the ways that school traditionally asks them to be. I love encouraging them to give their best efforts and to believe in themselves.
Do you have any study/school tips to share?
- Setting goals is a very effective way to be successful in school and in life. But what’s even more important is remembering to also come up with action steps that will help you achieve your goals.
For example, you may set a goal to get a B in Algebra II. Some appropriate action steps would be to do your homework, always complete the study guides, ask one question about the homework per day, and to visit your teacher for extra help every Tuesday and Thursday during AcLab.
- When it comes to memorization, everyone’s brain works a little differently. Try several different methods to figure out what works best for you. Writing terms out, speaking them aloud, using colored flashcards (maybe your brain will remember a specific color well), or creating hand movements or signs for each item are all good things to try.
- Do silver homework on silver days and purple homework on purple days. Let’s say John has Theology and Algebra on purple days and Literature and Biology on silver days. If John does his Theology and Algebra homework after school on the same day it’s assigned, he reduces his risk of getting behind and he can ask his teacher the next day if there was a concept he didn’t understand.
- If you want extra practice in math, go back to one of your previous assignments in the textbook and complete some of the problems you weren’t asked to complete for homework. Most of the time, the answers for the odd numbered problems are in the back of the book, so you can check your work.
- Using a planner is positively vital when it comes to success in school. However, your planner doesn’t have to look like everyone else’s. Figure out what works best for you. You can keep a traditional notebook planner or use a planner app in your phone, a system of sticky notes, a series of texts sent to your parent, or anything else that works for you.
- We've written several blogs about student success in the past and we believe that every student can thrive in high school. Check out these two blogs: Setting Your Student up for Success Part 1 and Setting Your Student up for Success Part 2 for more suggestions.
If you have any questions about our Access Program, please feel free to contact me at email@example.com. Our Guidance Counselor, Denise Noffze, is also an excellent resource. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.