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Westminster Schools of Augusta program aims to help students with learning disabilities

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Wearing an eyepatch over his left eye, Hogan McCully carefully traced the symbols that filled a sheet of paper.

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Westminster seventh-grader Hogan McCully (left) works on a tracing exercise that helps strengthen motor symbol sequencing skills while his teacher Traci Boutwell explains some of the different activities the children work on during an open house at the Westminster Schools of Augusta.  MIKE ADAMS/SPECIAL
MIKE ADAMS/SPECIAL
Westminster seventh-grader Hogan McCully (left) works on a tracing exercise that helps strengthen motor symbol sequencing skills while his teacher Traci Boutwell explains some of the different activities the children work on during an open house at the Westminster Schools of Augusta.

At an open house and informational meeting Satur­day, the Westminster Schools of Augusta seventh-grader demonstrated one of the cognitive activities of Arrow­smith, a pilot program the school has implemented to help students with learning disabilities like himself.

It’s a nontraditional program created by Barbara Arrowsmith-Young, who founded the Arrowsmith School in Toronto. It is based on neuroscience research showing that students can strengthen weak cognitive areas that keep them from learning.

Students maintain a regular class schedule but spend part of their day in the Arrow­smith classroom. There they perform a variety of tasks tailored to their individual needs that are meant to strengthen parts of the brain responsible for certain functions.

For example, Hogan’s favorite exercise works on word memory and requires him to memorize a short list of words. He then answers a math question, designed to make him forget the words for a moment. Then he must recite the exact words in the order he heard them.

“A lot of things you accommodate to the problem so you can get around it … but Arrowsmith’s not that way. You go straight toward it and you just make it disappear,” Hogan said.

“It’s Olympics for your brain,” said his mother, Kathe­rine McCully.

Westminster’s acceptance of the program was in large part because of the efforts of Cathy Paradise, who tried for two years to find a school willing to try it. Her daughter, Lindsey, an eighth-grader in the program, had always struggled academically.

“It’s not traditional. That’s not what school’s about,” Para­­dise said, explaining some of the resistance she encountered. “You don’t take them out of class and you don’t just do weird games.”

Academic Dean Craig John­son said he was skeptical at first but was willing to try it.

“It’s a strange thing, but it’s been accepted because it fits our mission and it fits our values,” he said. “We think these kids are going to college.”

Only five schools in Geor­gia offer the program. Westminster started offering it at the beginning of the school year.

McCully said Hogan had always been a hard worker and made good grades, but he was spending five hours each night doing homework. She said he is already more confident and his reading comprehension is improving.

Hogan said he can tell a difference in his performance in other classes.

“I can multitask better. I used to have a hard time writing and it’s starting to get better. My handwriting is getting better,” he said.


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