On the edge of the high school campus, just past assistant head of school Tucker Foehl’s office, lies a small room. From 1990 until this school year, it was known as the Cave, where the Octagon staff designed pages. Now, a new name hangs on the door: “ARC.”

At the ARC, or Academic Resource Center, high school students receive help with their classes. 

While life skills counselor Pat Reynolds, who is not part of the ARC, helps students with social and emotional issues, the three learning specialists located in the ARC help students with reading, writing, organization, research and planning, according to learning specialist Adie Renteria. 

Renteria said the ARC and Reynolds often work together under the “student support umbrella.” For example, if a student received a low test score, the problem might concern organization or preparation (requiring academic counseling) or anxiety (requiring social-emotional counseling).

Learning specialist Tara Adams supports students in fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh grade. Adams also focuses on students’ transition from lower to middle school, learning specialist Kelley Brown said. 

Brown supports pre-K, first, second, eighth and ninth graders, focusing on the transition between middle and high school, as well. 

Lastly, Renteria supports second, third, 10th, 11th and 12th graders.  

“At first, we thought one of us would do lower school, another middle school and another high school,” Brown said. “As we are all (working) part time, we actually found it would be more efficient and we would be able to help more students if we broke it by grade level instead.” 

The academic counseling department has two offices. 

The student support center is located in the middle school quad, next to Reynolds’ office. The learning specialists have worked with lower and middle school students there since the program was revived four years ago.

This year, the ARC was constructed in the former Cave. (The Octagon staff now works in Room 9.) 

“Students went to (the middle school center), but it wasn’t front and center,” head of high school Brooke Wells said. “The idea (behind the ARC) is that it becomes a place where all students will go and talk through their sophomore project or AP exams.” 

Brown agreed. 

“Having this space where our door can be open for middle school and high school students, especially high school, to just walk in and get support or just check in with one of us is such a great addition to the program,” she said. 

Learning specialist Adie Renteria works at her desk in the Academic Resource Center (ARC). (Photo by Arijit Trivedi)

Renteria added that new resources coming to the center, including a large mounted whiteboard, will add to their tools for organizing and contextualizing information. 

However, the learning specialists had a presence before moving into their new space. The revival started four years ago when Brown arrived. 

Before Brown, the school had gone a few years without a learning specialist, Brown said. 

Brown, who has special education credentials for mild/moderate disabilities, helped create a support team of teachers and administrators for students with academic difficulties. 

“It (brought) a lot more accountability and consistency,” Brown said. “(Teachers had) tried to pass on some information (about students) from one year to the next, but that’s very different than having a group of people who get to know the students, their families and their institutional history and can follow them year to year.” 

At first, Brown worked only in the lower school, helping students struggling to learn or write. But by the end of her first year, she started seeing some middle school students as well, mainly helping with organization, time management and planning. 

By her second year, she was working with students throughout lower, middle and high school. By the end of last year, Brown said there was clearly a need for more specialists. 

Thus, according to Renteria, Tucker Foehl, assistant head of school and learning specialist supervisor, initiated an expansion of academic support to as many students as possible, including high performers. 

Adams joined the ARC early in 2019 during Brown’s maternity leave but returned for another school year. Renteria joined the team this school year. 

According to Renteria, at least one learning specialist is on campus every weekday, and two are present on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. This allows the learning specialists to work with lower, middle and high school students, as well as with parents and teachers, Brown said.   

In lower school, teachers and early literacy, reading and math assessments help the specialists decide which students they should meet with. 

In middle and high school, identifying students is mostly based on recommendations, either by specific teachers or by the heads of middle or high school. Furthermore, parents and students can contact learning specialists independently. 

“We love when students are proactive and come to our office and say, ‘Hey, I’d love to meet! I have this upcoming AP U.S. History test, and I want to talk about the best way to study for it,’” Brown said. “But that doesn’t happen as much as we would like.” 

Lower school academic counseling can occur individually or in small reading or math groups. 

In middle school, specialists often meet with students during flex period.  

In high school, Renteria said students of all levels can receive guidance in the ARC by emailing one of the learning specialists to set up a meeting.  

“It’s a stigma that we’re taking kids that are struggling,” she said. “Mr. Wells and the teachers are going to recommend students to us if they are not doing as well as (they could), but we can help anybody. Anybody can come and have a second set of eyes to edit their writing, or to think about how they can make an argument stronger or to study for a test.” 

Brown added that, while some students do check in weekly at the ARC, other high schoolers meet with a specialist only once or twice to get the information they need. 

According to Renteria, services offered to high school students include advice on organization, studying and writing. Brown added that learning specialists can provide additional work for students who “blow through” certain subjects, such as math. 

Sophomores are required to meet with a learning specialist about their progress on the sophomore project. Renteria said the meeting serves both as a chance to check students’ organization and sources and to introduce them to the ARC.

Furthermore,  learning specialists will likely meet with freshmen about their National History Day project in World History, Brown said. 

The space can also be used as another workplace for students, whether they need assistance from the learning specialists or not, according to Brown.

“Somebody could come in and use one of the individual desks to do some work in another (work space) on campus that’s not the library or the quad,” she said.  

Lastly, students who receive extended time on tests and assignments can complete them in the ARC. 

In a Sept. 25 poll of 82 students, 45% said they were aware of the ARC, but only 10% said they had been to it. 

According to Brown, if students are diagnosed with a learning difference, the specialists create a learning profile (a document detailing the student’s needs and accommodations) and try to meet more frequently with them.  

Junior Naomi Cohen, diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), has worked with the learning specialists since freshman year. She said they have helped her communicate her needs to teachers, organize her materials and study for tests. 

“The school seems to be doing a pretty good job with helping me,” she said. 

An anonymous student diagnosed with attention deficit disorder (ADD) agreed. The student visited the ARC once as a requirement for the learning profile and was mostly assisted with organization. 

But not all students with learning differences know about or have visited the ARC. 

Junior Nate Leavy, diagnosed with ADHD, said he has not visited the ARC. His only accommodation is extra time on tests and assignments. 

“My experience will be different from everyone else’s, but (the accommodation) usually gives me enough time to make up for getting distracted,” Leavy said. “I think that enough is done.” 

He added that he usually finishes tests when expected with the extra time and can study on his own “pretty well.”

“I don’t know if it’s just because I’ve been at Country Day forever and learned to adapt to fit into that classroom setting or if the classroom setting naturally complements (me), but I very rarely feel like things are going too fast or that everyone else gets it except me,” Leavy said.

However, Leavy said the ARC is a good resource for other students to have.

An anonymous student diagnosed with ADD who hasn’t visited the ARC agreed with Leavy. 

“All I need is extra time, and when I do need it, all I have to do is ask a teacher,” the student said. “I haven’t run into any problems asking my teachers so far. I think the school is doing everything it can.” 

The learning specialists still see areas to grow, according to Brown. 

“Interacting with every student on campus would be the ultimate goal,” Brown said. “(We want to) have a presence in the high school and make it known that our door is open to all students.”

While the learning specialists already communicate frequently with teachers to gain and pass along information about students, Brown said she hopes to increase the ARC’s presence in each classroom. 

“For example, I’ve spent more time with the kindergarten and first grade the last couple weeks and already have a really good sense of which students I’m going to start pulling out to work with,” she said.

The more the learning specialists meet with students, the more specialized and thorough the specialists’ support can be, Brown added. 

Brown has worked with some students for four years and said there are clear benefits.

“I know exactly where they left off last year; I know their families; I know how they extended their academic support over the summer,” she said. 

In addition to their involvement in National History Day and the sophomore project, the learning specialists hope to expand their presence through Renteria’s high school advisory. 

Wells also said he wants all students to be comfortable going to the ARC.

“It’s not just for students who are struggling or for students doing very well,” he said. “We want to build that familiarity, so people start dropping in and understanding that it’s for everyone.”

—By Héloïse Schep

Originally published in the Oct. 15 edition of the Octagon.

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