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Crusade grant helps update Learning Lab

The Learning Lab has received an update thanks to a grant from the WHAS Crusade for Children. The grant covers physical improvements like the installation of carpet tiles and new furniture as well as programming to address trauma-related issues in students. The new furniture includes modular desks and chairs, a study bar and modern bar stools, and alternative seating such as padded lounge chairs and Bintiva balance discs.

The goal was to create an environment to support the students’ varying learning needs, said Mrs. Karen (Popp) Schueler ’83, director of learning support services. Students like the study bar because it feels like a coffee shop, and the padded chairs feel more comfortable for reading. The modular seating, carpet, and lounge-type chairs feel more collegiate, while the balance disks help students who are more fidgety.

Most of the students like the new additions, but for those who prefer a more traditional setting, they have the option to study in the kitchen area, which has a long table, or at the conference table in Mrs. Schueler’s office. If they need a space with dim lighting or for individual help with a teacher or aide, there are two offices available.

“They tend to migrate to where they feel comfortable in the atmosphere where they work the best,” Mrs. Schueler said.

The options now “empower the students to make some choices,” and those choices help the staff determine the students’ needs that day, said Mrs. Darlene Valvano, Learning Lab special education teacher assigned to Providence by Greater Clark County Schools. For example, if a student heads directly to the padded lounge chairs, the staff can tell that the student may need some time to decompress – or wants to spend time reading.

The trauma intervention programming is another important benefit of the grant and goes beyond simply sprucing up the room, Mrs. Schueler said. The Learning Lab serves about 15 percent of the school population, and the needs of those students continue to grow more diverse. Ms. Ellen Williamson, behavior specialist with GCCS and the daughter of president Steve Williamson, will be a resource as the Learning Lab plans its trauma-intervention programming.

“It’s an emotionally packed environment” in the Learning Lab some days, Mrs. Valvano said.

“Which is why the look, the feel, and the decorations are so important,” Mrs. Schueler said.

Mrs. Schueler and Mrs. Valvano are proud of their students’ progress and say this grant will only help their students succeed more readily. Mrs. Chris Golembeski and Ms. Cheri Cooke (another GCCS employee) are teaching assistants and also help provide personal attention to each student.

The four staff members ensure students in the Learning Lab stay on task and get the help and support they need to complete their assignments and succeed in their classes. Most importantly, they obviously care about their students. They encourage them, teach them, and listen to them. And they show tough love and enforce rules and boundaries as necessary.

Mrs. Valvano said she is touched when she thinks of the program’s success stories. A student so unable to deal with noise that he or she couldn’t eat in the cafeteria went on to serve in the U.S. military. A student whose attendance record demonstrated a school phobia decided to become a teacher.

“I don’t think anyone leaves here feeling faulty,” Mrs. Valvano said. “I think some do come in (to the program) that way, but we’re trying to rewire their thinking.”

The support the Learning Lab receives from GCCS specialists in various areas from speech and hearing to educational psychologists is invaluable. So is the support and responsiveness from the administration, which helped work on the grant.

Dr. Mindy (Lankert) Ernstberger ’74 is pleased with the achievements of the program.

“The Learning Support team at Providence is integral to the success of our teachers and students,” Dr. Ernstberger said. “They provide tremendous support, guidance, and communication so that teachers have an understanding of the individual needs of their students. When students are struggling in our coursework, Learning Support provides not only academic content help but also organizational and emotional supports so students ‘own’ their learning and find success.”

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