I had one of the most amazing nights of my life last week.  No, my husband didn’t bring me flowers or take me out on a date; nor did my children surprise me by cleaning their bedrooms without being asked.  No, what I experienced was an achievement of dramatic proportions:  My middle school students presented their first full-length theatrical performance.

It was the first time in five years the middle schoolers had done this.  So, the idea of doing one now seemed daunting.  Not so much for the students, who were really excited for the opportunity, but to me.

To pull it off, 51 children and five adults needed to be involved.  And to further complicate my task at hand, I felt strongly the production should feature each child and the final product had to be entertaining.   Though I am often accused of being overly dramatic, I am certainly not a drama expert!

I felt overwhelmed. 

Our production started out slowly as each child was assigned a part.  Practices were scheduled daily on a rotating basis so that no one class period was impacted more than another.  Students read their lines (or should I say mumbled) and followed along like cattle. 

Then one day, something magical happened.  Two of my eighth grade boys made that transition into “getting into character.”  They were acting.  Really acting!  The change came unexpectedly and brought a whole new element to practices.  These two class clowns became directors, giving their school mates directions on how to speak their lines, where to stand and how to move.  Their enthusiasm was contagious. 

Soon, all of the students became actors.  They questioned how they could better their performance.  “Can I use this kind of an accent, Mrs. Andersen?”  “What about if I stand here when it is my turn to speak?”  “Can I wear wings with my costume?”  These were just some of the ideas that these formally reluctant public speakers came up with as they too made the transformation into thespians.

All of their ideas, creativity, team work, and hours of practice made for a night they will never forget.  Though the impetus to step out of their comfort zones came as a large push from the teachers, the final product came from within them.

I would love to tell you that all of the parents were thrilled with the play.  But I can’t.  There was one, very vocal parent who had some concerns.   This parent was unhappy that we had taken structured class time to practice for the play.  He felt that it would have been a better use of our school day to remain in regularly scheduled classes and to hold practices after school.  He felt the students weren’t learning anything while they were preparing for the play.

I feel sorry for him.

The benefits of the fine arts come in so many forms.  Children learn to be creative in problem solving – i.e. how can we make Tyler look like Humpty Dumpty?  They learn cooperation and tolerance.  Placing 51 students together in one classroom and asking for complete silence while others are speaking is quite a feat!  They grow in self-confidence as they learn to present themselves in front of a large group of spectators.  The kinesthetic nature of play acting also helps to differentiate learning to those who best learn in this manner.              

They learn self-control, discipline, and how to work together as a team.  And the list goes on and on . . . 

The most lasting expression of any culture is the statement it leaves in the arts.  This legacy is found in its painting, drawing, sculpting, dancing, singing, and dramatizing.  Our little middle school play is going to leave a lasting mark on these children for the remainder of their lives.  For some, it might be the only time they will ever get up in front of a couple hundred people and speak.  For others, it is the first step towards a high school career of acting.  And for many, it is the first step in a lifetime of public speaking.  For all, it was an infusion of confidence that they are capable of accomplishing anything with hard work and determination.

As for the concerned parent, I say ENCORE!  Raise the curtain and break a leg and I will see you next year when we hit the stage once more.

Margaret Andersen is the mother of three teenagers and is a middle school teacher somewhere in the Midwest.  She is a regular ShareWIK.com columnist. For more Margaret Anderson articles, click here. 

©ShareWIK Media Group, LLC 2010

I realize that this blog site is intended to inform and entertain.  I love reading my fellow columnists’ witty observations. But today I am not in the mood.  I am angry!

Much of the talk around the nation centers on economic woes, waste and ideas for recovery.  In the educational world, our government is revisiting No Child Left Behind (which, by the way has left thousands of children behind). My home state of Georgia has been rocked by cheating scandals in the public system trying to deal with high-stakes testing and the reporting for student outcomes that link funds to schools.  What a mess!

Of course, each of us in classrooms and schools across the nation are well aware of the waste and “sacred cows” that our individual systems invite.  We see the administrators and state officials whose jobs and salaries remain intact while classroom teachers lose benefits, annual raises and, at times, their jobs. 

We read about the consultants who come into systems for technology upgrades or administrative training that we know are bilking the already depleted budgets. We comb through the storage areas that are stacked high with books, equipment and furniture that have gone unused or unneeded for years.  Just ask a teacher if you want to know where they think school systems could trim and reallocate!

However, I have recently become aware of an area of immense waste that most citizens may not have an opportunity to witness.   As an expert witness in a recent hearing, I saw an obscene waste of funds and watched a circus of unprofessional behavior that I have rarely witnessed. 

The case involved a parent whose rising senior son had been unilaterally removed from the diploma-based program and relegated to a “community-based” program that would award him the equivalent of a “certificate of attendance.”  In Georgia, this certificate is referred to as the “Employment Preparatory Concentration Diploma” or the “Life Skills Concentration Diploma.”  Neither of which will afford a student admission to a college or technical school in our state.  The word “diploma” is clearly a misleading misnomer, but does keep parents satisfied, since once they discover the ruse, it is too late to ask for a do-over.

The young man in question had been educated in the county’s regular education classrooms with some tutorial and reading assistance. Although he has been diagnosed with an auditory processing disorder and a speech and language disability, he was a hard worker and put every effort into succeeding.  Because he was so determined and diligent, he had passed all of his classes except two.  He had even passed the math graduation test and was within 10 points of passing the writing test.  No Child Left Behind afforded him through the age of 21 to receive educational services.  He was 18. 

However, due to recent testing results, which did not take into consideration his speech and language disability and stated that he would never be able to handle high school level work, the school system determined he could not earn a diploma.  Even though he had, in fact, passed three-fourths of the high school requirements, they determined that he required a life skills curriculum.  The county insisted that he be removed from the academic track he was on and shifted to a model that focused on basic life skills and fundamental academic skills.

The mother, a teacher in said system, knew that he was entitled to a “Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) under No Child Left Behind, and insisted that he remain in the program where he was succeeding.  When it became clear to her that the school system would not budge, she enrolled him for his senior year in a private school that targeted students with learning disabilities and insured that he would earn his high school diploma.

In other words, she did what she had to do to see that her son earned what he deserved to earn.  He worked hard all year, earned his diploma and is now preparing for the entrance exam for the local technical school – his goal all along.

Once his goal was clearly in sight, Mom returned to the county and demanded to be reimbursed for what she knew she was entitled…a mere $30,000 to cover the tuition and the therapy he received during his senior year. The county denied her request.

And the very expensive circus began.

Several months and several hearings later, I was called in to testify to the appropriateness of the testing, the recommended county placement and the student’s success at the private school.  What I saw was out of some exaggerated movie scene. What I experienced was beyond my comprehension in today’s “enlightened” society.  Two sets of attorneys, one for the family, and two attorneys and the director of special education for the county school system, surrounded by at least 20 banker’s boxes full of files, notebooks and assorted documents. 

The hearing had been going on for weeks. The mom had been using her personal days to attend the hearings. The attorneys and county administrators, of course, were earning their keep. The school system tried every trick they could to discredit the student, the private school, the parents, you name it, all the while defending their decision.  I cannot even imagine the price tag on the attorney’s fees, the salary of the special education director, and the simple cost of duplicating tens of thousands of pages of documents.  All this to save $30,000? 


If this were one rare case, I would be overreacting.  However, the advocate attorneys that I know have more cases than they can handle.   The legal offices contracted to assist the county school systems have a sweet deal!  Both the school systems budgets and the personal funds of the plaintiff families are being drained.  The students who are the intended beneficiaries of our educational system are clearly left behind!

This case is still in process and one cannot even imagine the outcome.  But one thing is clear.  This system is way out of control. 

Jacque Digieso has been an educator for over 40 years.  She and her husband Joe co-founded The Cottage School in Roswell, GA, to educate adolescents with learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder and other special educational needs. The school currently serves close to 150 middle and high school students.  Jacque and her husband have two sons, one of whom is adopted, and a handful of grandchildren. 

The link to Jacque's Blog is http://cottageschool.org/jacquesblog/

To follow on Twitter: @cottageschoolGA

Facebook Page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Cottage-School-Roswell-GA/163398465552?sk=app_106878476015645

©2011 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC



As we are getting used to the “New Reality,” we should address the “new reality” in education. The adage that you have to have a college diploma to be successful just doesn’t ring true…never did.  I am not sure when we Americans became so myopic, but the fact that we stick our kids in an “either/or” scenario is more than regrettable.

Of course a college diploma is desirable.  But it is not the only desirable outcome for career success. There are many specific jobs that require that one to spend an additional four to 12 years learning the skills.  I would not want my brain surgeon to have completed an 18-month certification program. 

I would like educators, politicians, parents, teachers and the students themselves to face up to the fact that a college education is not the end-all and be-all to success. We not only need to re-adjust our thinking but our allocation of funds to support alternative education options.

I challenge us to take a look at the highly talented skilled professionals in the fields of computers, machinery, or creative arts. We all know highly successful professionals who did not need four additional years of academic study to hone their craft.  They also make enough money to hire a financial planner to manage their loot. 

I submit that the tendency our society has to tell our young people (and their parents) that college is the only route to happiness and prosperity is a major contributor to the fact that we, as a nation, are losing our global edge in science and technology – not to mention it’s hard finding a car mechanic these days. 

How many bright ideas are squelched because the young person who has them has been told they are “not college material?” How many school counselors devote their time and energy perfecting a college path for a student but barely spend any time with a student who wants a technical school? And, why are taxpayers and scholarship funds paying for students who don’t want to go to college and will be doomed to fail? We need to deal with the new educational reality.

I will never forget when my eldest son told me to quit pushing him so hard in high school. “After all, Mom, I am only vocational,” were his exact words.  A chill surged through my entire body. The hair on the back of my neck stood up and I am sure I had flames soaring out of my eyes!  Only Vocational????   I said...with my voice raising incrementally with each syllable….just what did that mean???

Some 20 years later, with years of specific training in a variety of fields, he is a master mechanic for John Deere, travelling from golf course to golf course tending to their precious machinery.  He is a gifted welder. He can diagnose and fix any piece of equipment or vehicle. He owned his own irrigation company until his elbows gave out.  His annual pay surpasses the majority of teachers in our state of Georgia.  Only vocational?

And then there is our dear family friend, Katie, whom we have known since childhood.  She developed childhood diabetes at age 10 but her large high school ignored that she was smart and creative and only focused on the fact that from time to time she would miss school due to medically related complications from her diabetes.  She transferred to The Cottage School in order to complete the high school diploma program she was being denied at her home school.

When we enrolled her, she told us she didn’t need college preparatory classes because she was “only going to be a cosmetologist.”  Only a cosmetologist?  Really?

On our campus, she took the full core curriculum and loved her chemistry classes, as well, as her art and math classes. She is now an educator with Redken, travelling nationwide to advise salon owners and stylists on the latest in coloring techniques. She is highly sought after and is often on stage demonstrating her knowledge and skills to thousands of attendees at Redken’s national shows.  How could anyone suggest that this talented young lady is not successful? Not only is she happy in her career, but her bank account is quite healthy!

I understand that college is an important route for many careers.  I simply think that promoting a college education as the only acceptable post-secondary route is not “enough” to sustain our modern society. 

Employers already know that talent and skill trump the degree.  It is time to take a look at the jobs our society depends on, determine the post-secondary training that best fits those jobs and stop telling our young people that anything other than college acceptance is substandard. 

More attention to our career guidance programs is needed to help our young people determine where their talents lie.  More attention and investment is needed to create and offer an expanded curriculum that raises the level of respect and opportunity for our young citizens who may select a career than does not require additional extensive academic study. 

It just doesn’t have to be so hard!

Jacque Digieso has been an educator for over 40 years.  She and her husband Joe co-founded The Cottage School in Roswell, GA, to educate adolescents with learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder and other special educational needs. The school currently serves close to 150 middle and high school students.  Jacque and her husband have two sons, one of whom is adopted, and a handful of grandchildren.  

The link to Jacque's Blog.  

To follow on Twitter: @cottageschoolGA 

Facebook Page

©2012 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC

I have started making a list of “Things I thought I would never see in my lifetime as a teacher.”  Now, I consider myself a fairly worldly person.  I read a lot, I have traveled overseas, spent a dozen years getting advanced degrees and licenses. I have children and am married.  All of these things should have prepared me to not be shocked by anything.  However, I just realized this past week that there truly are events that are blowing me away.

I assigned a special project for my seventh grade U.S. history class in late January.  We were studying what was going on in the U.S. in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s when many immigrants were making their way to America.  The task was reasonable and I thought at least mildly enjoyable.  Students were to select a country from which they were to immigrate, write a travel journal, pen a letter from a friend or family member already in the U. S. back to the home country telling how the immigrant should prepare for the journey and life in a new land, and finally, pack a trunk with necessities appropriate to the time period. 

Most of the kids had a fun time coming up with fictional names and places of origin.  Jared decided to call himself Ben Koshizelhimer whose name was changed to Ben Kosher upon arrival to Ellis Island.  His character was immigrating to America to escape religious persecution in Russia.  His trunk included photos of family, a lace tablecloth, a valuable candelabra, a copy of the Torah, and his yarmulke.  Good ideas!  Becca became Arianna Alegra Donella di Francesco from Italy whose family was looking for a better life.  Her trunk was packed with jewelry, a handknitted blanket from her grandmother, hair ribbons, books, and silverware. 

Then along came Collin who was supposed to be Frederick from Switzerland.  His project came in two days (plus a weekend) late.  There was no letter from a family member and there was no trunk to share with the class – his DOG ATE IT!  Seriously! That is the excuse he gave me.  The oldest one in the book and he didn’t even flinch as he spoke it. I still can’t believe it.

The event that woke me up to how excuse-making has entered the age of technology occurred about a week ago.  I have been desperately working with a new student in my class to get him on board with the whole idea of doing homework and turning it in on time.  On this particular day he failed to have his work done in two of my classes.  Not to worry though, I got an email from his mother who took a picture with her iPhone and emailed his homework to me! Forget that I couldn’t even read it but I guess it was to prove he had done it.

And last, but not least, is one of the sorriest excuses I have ever heard from a parent.  Madisen was a chronically tardy and absent student of mine.  She lived less than a five minute drive from door-to-door yet never arrived until 15 to 20 minutes after the school day had started.  Eventually, the tardiness rolled into days upon days of being absent.  There was always a seemingly good excuse like “Madisen has a really bad cold.”  “Madisen has laryngitis.”  Or my personal favorite “Madisen has cramps.” 

Fact of the matter was that Madisen’s absence was technically becoming legitimate truancy and could have landed the family in a heap of legal trouble.  I saw mom in the school hallway one morning and decided to have a gentle chat with her about the situation.  After explaining my concern over her daughter’s spotty attendance, which was causing huge gaps in her education, mom simply replied, “You know, after five kids, I really don’t care if she gets here at all.” 

WOW!  Now that was a shocker.  I could go on and on with tales of woe from the classroom but I think you will excuse me for bowing out now before I tell the story about the poop smeared all over the boy’s bathroom last week!.

Margaret Andersen is the mother of three teenagers and is a middle school teacher somewhere in the Midwest.  She is a regular ShareWIK.com columnist. For more Margaret Anderson articles, click here.  


 ©2012 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC 

I have been reading the Newberry Award winning novel "The Giver" by Lois Lowry with my eighth graders these past two weeks.  It is a story written in the Dystopian genre about a society that has scripted the perfect life for its inhabitants.  When the main character, Jonas, reaches the age of maturity --12 years old -- he is selected for his life assignment.  This assignment leads him to the Giver from whom he learns the secrets being held from the community and begins to see his world for what it really is.  

The book brings up so many wonderful topics of discussion in class that it is often hard to figure out where to start.  The major themes in the book all center on “sameness” - life spans, family units, jobs, homes and memories.

I decided to begin the unit with memories.  I posed this question to the students: How do our personal and collective memories shape who we are as individuals and as a society?  The students had a tough time coming up with a personal memory that helped to shape them.  A couple students remembered a particular sports tournament; one recalled learning how to ride a bike; another brought up a family trip; I suggested touching a hot stove.  I was hoping that they would see a connection between a specific experience that lead to a specific consequence that resulted in gained wisdom.

Because these students’ lives, even by age 14, are so filled with experiences, it is difficult for them to focus on even a couple of events that have made a significant impact on them.  They don’t have the benefit of a broader life experience, an earned wisdom so to speak, to figure out what was just a fun or memorable moment, and what was something that really caused a paradigm shift.

We then moved on to the collective memories our community might have.  Hands shot up quickly:  9/11; JFK’s assassination; the capture and death of Bin Laden; the World Wars; the Holocaust; Pearl Harbor; the bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima; and more locally, the church that blew up on three blocks from our school.  

I asked them what wisdom have we gained as a society from these events and the resulting memories?  Mostly the comments were how we learned that war is bad, that there are evil people out there who do unthinkable things to others, and that lives can changed in an instant.  One even connected how the events of 9/11 have changed how air travel is conducted today.  Superficially, their comments during the discussion seemed to make sense and show an elementary understanding of how history affects who we are as individuals and as a nation.  

But I wondered if they have really understood the importance of past events on our lives today.  Will they be able to take the lessons from history and apply them so that history does NOT repeat itself?

The big umbrella project to go along with our reading of "The Giver" has to do with smaller groups creating their own society.  Working in groups of two or three, they must design a government, an educational system, and a monetary system.  Each new society must explain what kinds of jobs are available and how one would get that job.  Additionally, each community must plan for housing, entertainment, and recreation.  Top all of that off with a name, motto, and a flag, and a new society is born!

So I was listening to a group as they wrangled over the style of government they wanted.  They had sort of agreed on a dictatorship but Jessi was adamantly refusing to agree with Amy and Robbie about the actual dictator.  As I listened more closely, I understood that Amy wanted the citizens to worship the ashes of Hitler as part of their duties.  After several minutes, Jessi was getting nowhere.  Amy and Robbie would only relent to say that the dictator could be Gaddafi or Bin Laden or Mussolini.  

I had to intervene.  I started with the soft approach by saying to Amy that it would be in poor taste to use one of those men whose name is so well known.  Amy acted as though she didn’t get it.

I told her that it was in poor taste to have people, even fictitious ones, worshipping ashes of a dead dictator.  She feigned ignorance.

I finally told her that is was insensitive and outright ridiculous to place into a position of importance a man who nearly destroyed a race of people.  That to even jokingly design a society around Hitler or his ashes would be a grievous sign of disrespect to all peoples who have had any connection to the atrocities he committed.  In short, “it ain’t happening, young lady, so come up with a different plan!”

I know that studying history and the mistakes of the past is intended to prevent us from repeating those same mistakes, but if the youth of our generation struggle with that concept, I wonder where is the wisdom that was to be gained?  Where are we as a society headed if enough of our children think that a man like Hitler is a joke?  I pray that the youth of today grow in their wisdom of the lessons of the past before they start the errors of the future.

Are we doomed as a society to have “history repeat itself” as is so often quoted of a famous proverb?

Margaret Andersen is the mother of three teenagers and is a middle school teacher somewhere in the Midwest.  She is a regular ShareWIK.com columnist. For more Margaret Anderson articles, click here. 

 ©2012 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC

The debate is on!  Cursive or no cursive?  Elementary educators around the globe are debating as to whether or not teaching cursive handwriting is relevant.  The topic just came up during the weekly staff meeting at my school.  One teacher asked if any of us were still requiring it on papers from our middle schoolers.  Being that I teach language arts for the middle school, all eyes trained on me.  

The fact of the matter is is that I gave up worrying about cursive handwriting four years ago.  It started from a need to be able to read a child’s handwriting on spelling tests.  One boy’s cursive was so poor that I was having to mark most of his words as wrong simply because he was not able to form the letters “a, e, i, o, u, b, l, m, and n” correctly.  I couldn’t discern if he was misspelling a word or just forming cursive letters improperly.  There simply was not another way around the problem for this 8th grader.

In addition, I started requiring that all papers be submitted in type according to formal guidelines for margins, font size and font type.  The information I was receiving, and continue to do so, was that the high school teachers were expecting all work to be submitted in type.  If I am preparing students for high school then I better get them used to typing their papers.

The question still remains though, is cursive handwriting relevant in our technological world in which we communicate mostly through emails, texting, messaging and twittering?  I would argue that there is a need for all children to learn the art of cursive handwriting.  Our history as a country and as a global community is filled with documents that were written in cursive.  It is logical to assume that in order to read cursive, you must first learn how to form it.

Cursive handwriting also comes into play when signing formal letters sent via snail-mail and legal documents.  Take a look again at most binding agreements and you will see a line asking for your printed name and one for your signature.  I suppose one could print on both lines but a cursive signature tends to be more difficult to duplicate.  Handwriting experts have stated for years that a person’s signature tells a lot about their personality.  My father always used a bold capital J for his first and middle name, followed by an equally bold B for his last name.  I remember thinking how important and skilled his signature looked which is how I knew him to be in his professional life.

Do we judge people by their handwriting?  I know I do!  If a person’s writing looks ill-formed, I often assume that they are minimally educated. Further, if I see someone writing and they are holding the pen or pencil incorrectly, I judge and think they look less literate because of it.  I know that this is insensitive and judgmental on my part but it goes back to being raised by parents who spent years in school learning how to hold their writing tools properly while forming line after line of perfect O’s using their entire arm and not just their fingers.


While I want my students to be prepared for their high school years I also need to provide the foundation that will support their adult professional lives too.  I just wonder if cursive is a battle I need to fight. What’s going on at your child’s school?  Or, if you are a teacher, what are you doing in your classroom?

Margaret Andersen is the mother of three teenagers and is a middle school teacher somewhere in the Midwest.  She is a regular ShareWIK.com columnist. For more Margaret Anderson articles, click here. 

 ©2012 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC

Our school campus is on 27 acres and is heavily wooded.  We have a few cottages tucked around that we use for classrooms and we have a gazebo that our students and staff love to visit during the day.  The gazebo was built in loving memory of one of our students who was tragically murdered almost ten years ago.  It is, for those of us who knew Matt, a daily reminder of his creativity, gentle spirit and positive energy. It is also a reminder to me that everyday counts when it comes to fulfilling the promise that each of our students holds within.

A  clematis vine climbs up the side of the structure.  It was a gift from a dear friend who generously shares her successful gardening skills with others.  She saw the gazebo and within days had shown up with a cutting of her healthy and fragrant gift. She told me that it would take a few years to get established but the blooms were worth waiting for and had an unbelievable fragrance that would permeate the space around them.

I have been watching that plant grow for years.  Even last week when we were having photos taken in the gazebo, I looked over at the brown and scaly vines and thought,” Should I just cut this down?”  It seemed as if it was just a messy bother.  The entangled legs encouraged birds to nest and sit, leaving a mess on the benches.  The lanky visual from the benches is far from attractive.  I had become tired of waiting for its beauty to emerge.

This week, as I walked toward the administrative building in the quiet early morning, I took in a deep breath and surveyed the skies above me.  My eyes caught something lacey and white among the bare skyline of winter trees. There they were….a beautiful cluster of blooms that filled their space and even trailed onto an adjoining tree.  Their pure white color seemed to illuminate the brown shingled roof of the structure.  Their softness transformed that corner of the sharp edges of the roof line.  Their draped elegance was such a sweet surprise that I found myself stopped in mid step to study the scene.

Clearly, I had been mistaken.  Since the blooms were so profuse and actually extended beyond the roof of the structure, this was not even the first year the clematis had put on such a show.  I had just not been paying attention.  Or perhaps, the attention I was paying was to the wrong things.  My range of vision was too low.  I had given up hope of something that actually had more than met my expectations…but I had not noticed.

Spring is a time of expectations in nature and in schools.  Our students recently  completed standardized testing that the staff uses as one of the indicators of  academic growth..  Our regularly scheduled staff meetings keep the staff updated on the social/emotional growth of our students. We have begun the IEP process for our rising 9th and 12th graders that document progress made across the spectrum of our program.  One of the things The Cottage School does very well is to help our students set individual goals and then mark their path towards achievement and success. But we may not always be aware of the growth that is taking place.

The revelation of the clematis seems to be a great reminder to me and to others to continue to set our sights at a level that allows us to truly measure the growth we seek.  Life can force our gaze downward.  Details may hinder our ability to shift our gaze.  Time constraints often prevent us from taking the time to look beyond the obvious or expected.  Our kids are very like our beautiful clematis.  They take time and they often bloom in unexpected areas.  But their blooms are exquisite and their impact spreads throughout the community in which they live.  If we adjust our line of sight, we just might see what we have been waiting for!

Jacque Digieso has been an educator for over 40 years.  She and her husband Joe co-founded The Cottage School in Roswell, GA, to educate adolescents with learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder and other special educational needs. The school currently serves close to 150 middle and high school students.  Jacque and her husband have two sons, one of whom is adopted, and a handful of grandchildren. 

Check out Jacque's blog here, follow her on Twitter @CottageschoolGA, and find the Cottage School on Facebook here. 

©2012 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC

Recently we accepted into our high school program a young man who has had absolutely no discipline issues in his three years of high school. He works hard, strives to do his best and is extremely quiet and shy.  He was on a 10-day out-of-school suspension for grade tampering -- something that he, apparently, had been doing since 9th grade.  

I am not sure exactly how he accomplished it as his earlier forays into this white collar crime went undetected, but  during his last escapade, he was caught in the act.  When caught, he readily admitted his crime and his history.  Of course the school was outraged.  Clearly he needed to be taught a lesson. When he returned from his out-of-school suspension, he would face a Tribunal that would determine if he were to be charged with a felony.  

When he and his father arrived for the interview to enroll, I was struck by his honesty and his vulnerability.  He acknowledged that he was not afraid of failing. He changed his grades because he wanted to be the best.  He was afraid of not having the highest grade.   You see, he already had all A’s….he wanted higher A’s.  The grades that he changed actually had no  significant effect on  his average or his class standing.    His actions did not change nor have a negative effect on anyone else.  In some cases, the grades were changed from a 98 to a 99! When determining a Grade Point Average, he would still be granted four points!

He also had not broken into any classroom or computer.  He had found the classrooms often left open and grade books spread on the desk or computers left with the screens up.  He certainly took advantage of the situation but, apparently, that opportunity presented itself to him on more than one occasion.  With  his ability to hyper focus on a goal, I am sure he was immediately aware when a teacher did not properly secure their classrooms.

He also plays first chair clarinet in the school band.  When I asked how long he had loved playing the clarinet he answered, with a perfectly straight face, “I do not like playing the clarinet, but I learned to play it my freshman year so I could be in the first chair.”  When asked what he does enjoy doing, he paused and answered, "Nothing, really. I just spend time alone in my room studying and playing the clarinet.”   Hmmmm…here is a puzzle.  This is not your usual manipulative scoundrel who connives to get his way, avoid responsibilities and acquire rewards he has not earned.  

When his parents realized  that their son had gone to these extremes to achieve a goal that basically produced no pleasure, they were concerned.  They knew he was different from his siblings but thought he was only more reserved.  His father took this opportunity to take him to a therapist and decided to change schools to a smaller, more nurturing and responsive environment, in hopes his son would gain some insight into his motivation and some balance in his life.  Although he was shocked and disappointed in his son’s choices, he clearly sees this as a cry for help.

His home school, however, sees this from a completely different perspective. They want a pound of flesh. They have begun to obstruct his transfer to another school until they have had a chance to try him for his offenses. How dare this young punk take advantage of his teachers. He has clearly polluted the entire system with his trickery and must have the strongest of punishment.  Never mind that the professional standards of facility and grade security had clearly been abandoned by those teachers for several years.  Let’s not talk about the fact that this young man’s severe emotional turmoil has gone undetected for six semesters.  Heaven forbid that the school should acknowledge the  fact that this is more of a bizarre act, rather than a criminal attempt to deceive or cheat.

We will advocate for this young man and hope that when he enrolls with us we can restore his balance of life and return him to a perspective that is not driven by a compulsion to be the best at everything he does.  Clearly that is a recipe for  disappointment and unhappiness.  In our smaller setting we can supervise him more closely, in case his compulsion to be the best gets the better of him again.  We will surround him with encouragement and accountability.  We will partner with his family and therapist to help him address the reality of his performance and guide him into exploring less intense avenues that can become hobbies and leisure time activities.   

He needs to celebrate the strength of his talents and not view  himself as a failure, no matter what success he achieves.  This is not about punishing him.  He punishes himself every minute of every day.  This is about recognizing that his behavior, although wrong, was driven  by  something much more important than  the school  system and deeper than  not being trustworthy.  

I believe he can regain his balance.  Although educators must value honesty and the integrity of the grades, we also must recognize when the situation is really not about us. This is more than a missed opportunity; it is a shame. For a school to focus on the “wrongful acts” and ignore the mental health of the student is wrong.  I hope these interventions are in time to help this young man restore his soul!  

Jacque Digieso has been an educator for over 40 years.  She and her husband Joe co-founded The Cottage School in Roswell, GA, to educate adolescents with learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder and other special educational needs. The school currently serves close to 150 middle and high school students.  Jacque and her husband have two sons, one of whom is adopted, and a handful of grandchildren. 

Check out Jacque's Blog here, follow her on Twitter @cottageschoolGA, and find the Cottage School on Facebook here.

©2012 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC

Have you jumped onto the newest technological bandwagon yet and purchased an electronic book reader?  There are all kinds of them for sale now:  Kindle, Nook, Sony Reader, BeBook, and several other android models.  There are lots of them out there just waiting to join you at home.  Several of my students have received them as gifts or have saved up their hard-earned pennies from odd jobs around the house to purchase one.  

I don’t own one.  In fact, I don’t think I ever will.  I have become a book snob.  I love the feel and smell of a new paperback.  I like looking at the illustrations on the front and back cover.  I read the reviews and wonder if I will feel the same way as that writer when I am finished with the book.  

And I don’t just love freshly printed, never-before-touched books.  I love reading well-worn copies of novels that I borrow from friends or my public library.  There is something special about knowing that others have lovingly poured over the same words into which I am escaping.  I become part of a private club of readers that have found joy when reading this same book.

Seeing shelves filled with the colorful bindings of books also makes me happy.  Books lined up in mismatched sizes and rows remind me of people.  Like the friends I have in real life who come in all shapes and colors, so too the books are like friends with which I have spent time.  Each book has enriched my life in some way.  Seeing them in my home or in my classroom reminds me of the adventures I have had or have yet to attempt.  

So I asked my 6th and 8th graders about their e-readers.  About half of the students own one and had it at school.  They loved the convenience of their e-reader.  They said that these “books” are convenient, light-weight and efficient.  All of the students’ readers had the ability to access the Internet and play games, which was a plus for them.  For the girls, the best part of owning the reader was being able to purchase the accessories!  The readers can be encased in covers that come in multiple designs, colors and fabrics.  What girl doesn’t love a good accessory!

But like all good things in life, the e-reader doesn’t always work even for these technologically savvy kids.  Serena said that her e-reader is “stupid because it’s slow and the picture gets distorted when I drop it.”  (I’ve never know a paperback book to be physically too slow to produce the next page.  Sometimes the writing itself is slow, but that’s another matter.)  She did, however, like the fact that you can change the size of the font on the electronic book so that the words are easier to read.

Isaiah indicated that the e-reader doesn’t tell you what page you are on, only the percentage of the book that you have read.  He prefers to know the page number so that is a problem for him. 


So, called me old-fashioned or stubborn, but I still like my books on paper instead of on a screen.  As for my students, I don’t care through which matter they choose to read their books, as long as they are reading and adventuring.

Margaret Anderson is the mother of three teenagers and teaches middle school somewhere in the Midwest.  She is a regular ShareWIK.com columnist.


 For more Margaret Anderson articles, click here.

 ©2012 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC

     I received an email the other day from enotes.com entitled “Dealing with Cheating in the Classroom - A New Look at an Old Problem”.  It took me a bit by surprise because I haven’t really given much thought recently to cheating in my classroom.  However, it did get me thinking about my own history as a student.

     I clearly remember the cheating I did as a high school student.  I was particularly guilty when it came to a math class, the name of which I know have forgotten. (Big surprise!)  I cheated because I was too lazy to learn the material in such a way that I understood it and could apply it.  I also cheated because I had convinced myself that I was incapable and that there would be no other way to pass the class.  It never occurred to me to ask the teacher for help.  So, each test I would strategically place myself behind my best friend and copy off of her test, with her permission of course!  I mean, I was a cheater, not a thief too.  In college, she went on to study engineering; I went on to study English.

     After reading the email, I looked around my classroom and began to wonder about each of my students.  Mmmm, I wonder if Allyson cheats.  Maybe Nathan.  Not Joel.  Definitely Megan! 


     I realized that I had to define what I considered cheating in order to determine if my students were guilty.  I suppose a dictionary definition would sound something like “presenting intellectual information as one’s own, original work even when it was taken from another source.”  Well, if that’s the case, then most of my kids are guilty.  Each school day begins with seatwork – a short worksheet that focuses on building skills in math, science, social studies, and language arts.  Typically the kids hate seeing the worksheets on their desks first thing in the morning and complain bitterly.  Few ever take the time to actually read the instructions so there is always a volleying of cries asking “What are we supposed to do?” and “Who gets what this is?” Uggh!

     Inevitably some groups form as they “help” each other with the work.  The more I think about it, the more I now realize that essentially they are cheating.  In fact, I now see how some of their other classroom behaviors could also be construed as cheating.  

     Each quarter I require that students read four books independently and then pass a computer-based comprehension quiz on each book.  The quizzes are supposed to be “movie-proof” meaning that you can’t get away with watching the movie version and still pass the test.  However, I know that there are some students who can get away with reading only a portion of the book and manage to pass the test.  I don’t know if they are savvy enough or just have dumb luck but they often get away with it.  Sometimes I am able to catch them but most times not.

     The one place I don’t see much cheating is during a paper and pencil test.  I usually have a healthy amount of critical thinking questions on the literature and history tests that I give that  makes it difficult to copy from someone else.  Students must prove through their own writing what they know and how they interpret the material.  I have been encouraging them to write more so as to have a better chance that they will cover the answer more effectively.

     I also wonder about the reasons why students today cheat on homework and tests.  I am certain that their reasons are similar to mine from over 30 years ago: disinterest, lack of time, lack of understanding, fear, and laziness!  But do they feel any remorse over the cheating or is it just expected and accepted?

     Next time:  Guilty or not?  How do they feel now?

Margaret Anderson (not her real name) is the mother of three teenagers and a middle school teacher somewhere in the Midwest.  She is a regular ShareWIK.com columnist.

For more Margaret Anderson articles, click here.

 ©2012 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC

Joe and I were just college students when his closest friend found that he and his girlfriend were pregnant.  In the late 60’s, that meant marriage, so they got married and soon their beautiful little boy was born.  Although unprepared for such a life change, they met the challenge of parenting, finished school, got a job and moved away.  Before graduation, their son, Daniel, developed a high fever.  In the hospital they put an IV into his head….James and Kathy swear that everything changed after that.  Who knows if that IV played a part in his difficult youth ?  Remember this was the late 60’s, before autism was so well known.  

We stayed in touch, visited them in their new homes as James’ job moved them all over the place.  Although Joe and I did not have children then, we knew that Daniel was not like other little boys.  He did not speak.  He played with his spit and was a master at twirling the tops of pots on the kitchen floor. He had violent tantrums.  One day when they were visiting us, we left Daniel to play in the living room only to find he had spread his feces all over the top of my  glass coffee table.  

We watched Daniel matured in size, but remain non verbal and difficult to control.  Several times while we were visiting we saw marks on his arms and wrists where he had been forcibly restrained.  James and Kathy did everything they were told to do and spent every hour of the day and night attending to their son.  The constant crises finally took its toll.  John became an alcoholic and they divorced by the time Daniel was ten.

The diagnosis then was autism.  The sound of that word broke my heart for years.  I had chosen the field of learning disabilities and so had little to do with the A word.  However, about ten years ago, we began seeing families with autistic children coming to interview to attend our school.  At first I was adamant.  We could not handle this disorder.  Because our students have at least average IQ, moderate behavioral issues and were capable of modifying their behavior, I did not see that autistic students could benefit from our program.  I also did not want to stretch the attention and training of our staff beyond their abilities.  I was so wrong!!

Since then we have had occasion to serve several autistic students a year.  Of course, autism has as many differentials as any other condition a human being can have, so there are characteristics that bode well for success and others that do not.  If a student is verbal, average IQ, social, to a point, and determines that The Cottage School program is good for them, the success is phenomenal.  

What I have missed all those years is the loving and gentle spirit that our autistic teens display.  They may be quirky, but it is in the most endearing way.  Their insight is mind boggling.  At times they say exactly what the rest of us are afraid to articulate.  Because they want to please the people around them, they can be amazingly helpful and considerate. They leave us and continue to be successful, with continued support from family and other agencies, in college, technical schools and on the job.  Wherever they go they can become beloved by the people with whom they interact!

I know now that Daniel was born too soon.  What we knew about autism was far too little.  He, his parents and the teachers who worked with him needed so much more.  Stories of successful people who have autism are everywhere!  Finally, there is hope!

Jacque Digieso has been an educator for over 40 years.  She and her husband Joe co-founded The Cottage School in Roswell, GA, to educate adolescents with learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder and other special educational needs. The school currently serves close to 150 middle and high school students.  Jacque and her husband have two sons, one of whom is adopted, and a handful of grandchildren. 

Check out Jacque's blog here, follow her on Twitter @cottageschoolGA, and find the Cottage School on Facebook here.

©2012 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC

I like to go directly to the source to get my best information so I asked my 8th graders this week what their thoughts were about cheating.  You should understand going into this that this is a tight-lipped group.  We rarely have any good class discussions because they just don’t like to talk in an organized group setting.  They will talk all day long to one another at the lunch table or out on the playground but they rarely speak a word in the classroom.

The first thing I had to do was to pry their lips open to get them to share their thoughts.  I convinced them that I was doing research for this article and promised that it would not impact their standing with me.  They settled into the conversation and freely shared their definition of cheating.  All of the students agreed that just giving someone an answer is definitely cheating, meaning that the receiver has not put any effort into finding the answer on his own.  That being said, in times of desperation, many of them have resorted to that both in the giving and the taking.

They all agreed that sharing answers if both parties are working together is not cheating.  For example, they feel that it’s O.K. if one student does the even problems, one does the odd problems, and then they share answers.  From a teacher’s perspective I am not to crazy about that idea.  If I give an assignment, I expect that a student does the whole thing, not just half, and gets the other half for free!  

Their reasons for cheating were nothing earth-shattering new.  Not enough time, didn’t feel like doing the work, and didn’t understand the material were the common excuses.  It was clear though that the best student in the class was not into cheating at all.  I have personally watched Isaiah and know that he will usually help a student understand the material but he will not hand them the answer on a platter with a smile on his face!  He knows he had to work to get where he is academically and he expects that his classmate put forth the same effort.

In just 19 school days, these 8th graders will be graduating from their elementary school.  They will be off to the big, scary world of high school and a whole new set of teachers, classmates, and school subjects.  I figure that in the beginning they will put in the work to get all of their homework done, and for the most part, they will do it independently -- mostly because they have not established relationships with classmates that they can pawn off of.  But, being human, I am sure most of them will slip back into their middle school habit of sharing answers, finding shortcuts, and basically being lazy students.  

I wish they could learn from my mistakes in high school and not take the easy route because it is a path that leads to failure not success -- that, and years of regret for not doing work that I was fully capable of doing.  But like each of us, lessons are best learned the hard way.

Margaret Anderson is the mother of three teenagers and a middle school teacher somewhere in the Midwest.  She is a regular ShareWIK.com columnist.


For more Margaret Anderson articles, click here.

 ©2012 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC

Today’s world of education is fraught with potholes, even for a typical child.  Strong statement, I know.  As a parent of two adults, one with a learning disability and one without, and a teacher for over 40 years working with typical and at-risk youth, I speak from experience. 

I can’t speak for the generation that went before me.  I reject the nostalgic concept that life a generation ago was more kind.  However, I do believe that today’s school aged child faces enormous challenges. 

One area of angst that almost every parent experiences occurs during the first few weeks of school.  Unless your child attends a school in a small community that knows each family and the children who are being nurtured in their midst, there are simply too many unknowns.  A great many parents experience a feeling of free-floating anxiety during the first few weeks of school.  Most classrooms are comprised of extremely diverse students (not a bad thing) and the expected pace of academic progress allows for little “getting acquainted” time.  As a result, many parents vie for their position next to the teacher so they can garner, perhaps, some special attention for their child. 

At the end of the day, parents have lots of questions: Is the assigned homework an appropriate amount?; are the friends the child is making good for him/her?; is the curriculum a good fit for their child?  It appears that “danger” in the form of rejection, failure or unhappiness, lurks beneath every student’s desk.

Although I am a solution-based professional, I do not see one easy solution.  Little can be done to make a large school smaller or an overwhelmed teacher more attentive and responsive. I do think that increased communication between parent and school is a good beginning.  Setting aside some time at the end of the day for the parents to talk with the child and each other is also a way to, at least deal with current perceptions – or misperceptions – before they become overblown.  

Every parent needs to be able to allow their child to experience the school day without running interference for them.  However, they also need to be prepared to move in to address issues that go beyond the child’s ability to extricate himself or herself.  Sounds schizophrenic, doesn’t it?  

Today’s parent must walk that very thin line between letting the child learn from life’s experiences and addressing situations (such as bullying or sexual harassment) that require immediate adult management.

As with most problems, timely and honest communication is the key.  If a child feels safe with his or her parents, and knows that special time to talk about school is routinely set aside in the family, they can establish a routine of conversations that allow the parents to get a bird’s eye view of the school experience. And, then they can determine if their advice and support from home is sufficient or if they need to bring in school administrators to address an issue. 

Even if their child is not a talker, they have established a safe and positive routine that will serve them well as a family. 


Jacque Digieso has been an educator for over 40 years.  She and her husband Joe co-founded The Cottage School in Roswell, GA, to educate adolescents with learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder and other special educational needs. The school currently serves close to 150 middle and high school students.  Jacque and her husband have two sons, one of whom is adopted, and a handful of grandchildren. 

Check out Jacque's Cottage School blog here, follow her on Twitter @cottageschoolGA, and check out her Facebook page here. For more of Jacque Digieso's ShareWIK columns, click here.

©2012 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC

As a veteran educator, I have worked with ADHD people before ADHD was “cool.” The trials and tribulations of mismanaged Attention Deficit Disorder and all of its relatives ( Bi-Polar, Tourette’s, Seizure Disorder, etc.) are well documented and a horror to observe or experience.  

However, there are two sides to this intriguing coin.

First of all, there is little dispute about the creativity of an ADHD brain.  The kid who fashions a horseback rider, complete with reins, out of the gum he has been asked to throw away…the imaginative response to the essay question about family strife that somehow finds a way to weave in watermelons and monkeys…the incredibly detailed art work, the sounds of the music composed overnight….the fashion sense that begins on the fringe and becomes mainstream….the list goes on and on.  There is a reason so many successful artists claim that their school years were a nightmare  and they sought solace in the art.

Second is their ability to look for opportunity amidst obstacles and confusion.  They are not afraid of risks.  In fact, risk taking is one of the characteristics of the condition! Perhaps it is because they do not attend to a problem long enough to really comprehend the reality, but if they decide they want to get something done, they will figure out how to do it...perhaps in a way no one else has considered.  

Look at the number of extremely successful entrepreneurs who have launched networks, airlines and rockets!  There is nothing the world market appreciates more than a fresh new idea and the risk-taker who sells it! One of the challenges those of us who teach ADHD adolescents is how to provide opportunities in our setting to offer appropriate risk taking which builds confidence  and redirect them from areas of risk that have costly consequences.

Third is their resilience.  There are days that I am in awe at the ability of our students to be knocked to the ground repeatedly and then get back up and move forward.  How much courage it must take to attend school every day knowing you will feel like crap by the end of the day, be ridiculed constantly and have nothing to show at the end.  Of course that is not the current experience of our students, as our environment does not foster that, but it is their past experiences.  And yet, most of them  kept going to school. By the same token, how many times can they read the same paragraph, take the same tests, practice throwing that ball with little progress and still hang in there to please us?  I love their strength and stamina!

The last trait that I find so endearing is their ability to move on when bad things happen.  Of course, this quality is usually only present when the ADHD person has healthy self-esteem.  When the rest of us would carry a grudge or keep the fire stoked, many ADHD kids forgive and forget.  Again, perhaps it is their lack of ability to attend to that situation for very long, but whatever it is, it is wonderful.  This quality is often mistaken as “not caring” or being uninterested but usually it is just that they have moved on to something else and  what is still eating at us, is a past memory for them.

I have seen all of these characteristics in my adult son.  He is magic when it comes to fixing things and often uses tools and techniques no one else would consider.  He is so easy going and unflappable (most of the time).  When I am fuming at the antics of his ex-wife, he simply picks his battles and moves on.  He makes us all laugh all the time.  His good-hearted nature keeps us on balance as he navigates through life with an ease that belies the struggles he is experiencing  internally. 

He is realistic: “Mom, I know I missed your birthday, but you understand I don’t think about dates the way my brother does.” He is helpful to a fault.  All his friends and co-workers keep him busy when he is not at work working on their cars, their mowers, their plumbing.  He loves to work and help others, so he soaks it all up.  He is happy when he is busy and he is always busy! While my other Type A son is in a tizzy over work-related issues, Steven is content..truly content with his family and his job.  

Yes, I think he has a gift…one that I would like to have, at least some some days!

Jacque Digieso has been an educator for over 40 years.  She and her husband Joe co-founded The Cottage School in Roswell, GA, to educate adolescents with learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder and other special educational needs. The school currently serves close to 150 middle and high school students.  Jacque and her husband have two sons, one of whom is adopted, and a handful of grandchildren. 

Check out Jacque's Blog here.

You can also follow her @cottageschoolGA and find her on Facebook here.

©2012 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC

Summer brings a bit of relief from the hectic school year schedule, but it also brings  stream of prospective families with horror stories about their previous school experiences.  Usually, they are tired, desperate and angry. Some are sad and defeated.  All of them deserved better.

I think I mentioned the young Hispanic student who enrolled at 17 with 11 credits and still in the ninth  grade because she had yet to pass a full year of the integrated math program our county adopted a few years ago. As an aside, the county is now un-adopting it, but those students caught in the middle have suffered greatly.  Maria had failed the second semester of Math I as a freshman.  Her sophomore year they put her in Math II, which she failed.  Her junior year they enrolled her in Math I, II and III….can you say “why don’t you just drop out?” That was exactly what she was preparing to do when her mom brought her to us.  She completed this year with stellar grades and will continue toward graduation with a steady pace.

Last week I listened as a mom described her ADHD son’s experience in ninth grade this year.  When she arrived she was quiet, soft spoken and very polite.  She described her son’s elementary years in a small private school as easy going and positive.  He was well liked and proud of himself.  

For middle school, although she knew his  reading was not strong, she moved him to his local school for financial reasons.  Her daughter had attended there and had done very well.  It did not take long for her son to begin to fall behind, but the staff did not respond  to her request for testing.  The more he failed the more he became the class clown.  By the end of middle school she had sat through several meetings that had described the problems, but no solutions had been implemented.  

He left middle school with a plan to have testing done early in the year and have a behavioral plan in place. None of that happened.  As she began to describe the failure of the school to do the testing that was recommended from middle school, the IEP’s where the teaching staff ganged up on her son, and the final recommendation from the school team that next year he be assigned to the school that handles behavior disordered students, her entire demeanor had changed.  

She literally snarled each time she described the conversations she had with the school administrators.  Her body language was tight and her gestures became aggressive.  She spoke with sarcasm and added little asides that clearly communicated her rage. I could not help but recognize the journey she and her son have been on.   Although her story was not unique, the total disregard of the educators to serve this child and the total disrespect that they both had endured was powerful!  I have not met her son yet, but I know there is a happy, capable young man inside him somewhere and am hopeful that we will be able to help him find himself again.

For the last two months, we have absorbed the hurt and anger that prospective families carry with them. It is not just the teen whose self-esteem is damaged.  Parents and siblings also carry the labels, misconceptions and failure of the identified “problem child” as well.  I wish I could tape these interviews and send them to the school administrators who so quickly discard these teens. I have been known to send them graduation invitations so they can see the end result.  Bet you can guess how many have attended.

Children who learn differently do not need to experience the apathy and misperceptions of the adults who are charged with guiding them through this journey.  Perhaps progress will be made in addressing the injustices so many of our teens experience.  Until then, we must take every opportunity to identify them, listen to their stories, and help them find a better path to success.   


 Jacque Digieso has been an educator for over 40 years.  She and her husband Joe co-founded The Cottage School in Roswell, GA, to educate adolescents with learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder and other special educational needs. The school currently serves close to 150 middle and high school students.  Jacque and her husband have two sons, one of whom is adopted, and a handful of grandchildren. 

Read Jacque's blog, follow her on Twitter @CottageSchoolGA, and check her out on Facebook.

©2012 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC

It’s that time of year.  The first day of school is right around the corner and frantic families are in the throes of last minute decision making.  Their teen did miserably at school last year, perhaps for the last several years. They have given into the pleas of “I will do better next year.”  ”I promise I will get my homework done next year.”  “ I will study harder next year.” Reality has hit.  Graduation is in jeopardy.  It is time to act. 

Mom has been doing her research for months.  Dad is protesting any additional expenses for a child who is not trying.  Grandparents are wringing their hands on the sidelines, offering a variety of solutions, none of which are helpful.   Teen, in typical fashion, sits glumly and watches the circus.  Time is running short and the stress level is palpable.

When I get the call from the mom (never the dad), the request is for an immediate appointment.  I accommodate, of course, since I know this is stressful for everyone!  The sooner they interview, the sooner we can begin the process of enrollment, and they can begin at the beginning of the year. Not all interviews result in enrollment.  However, if I screen the inquiry well in the phone call, I can usually identify those candidates who are most likely a good fit. 

There is one big problem.  One huge obstacle.   One enormous bummer.  The teen…the one for whom this is aimed…the one who is the intended beneficiary (victim, in their mind)…the most important person in the room is not on board.  They may be failing.  They may be on the verge of expulsion or dropping out.  They may be several credits short of graduation requirements, but they do not, under any circumstances, want to change schools. Change is unthinkable to them.  Leaving their friends and the football team (although they are not on the team) is impossible. Their heels are dug in and they will not budge.  They are “in control“ of this situation.  Just watch them!

As I sit across from them in the initial interview and begin to explain our program, I usually see a softening of their countenance.  During the rest of the year, prospective students are in the middle of crisis.  Every day is painful.  They come with a willingness to ease the pain, if not any enthusiasm, for making a school change.  

But our last-minute summer kids are coming off of a several week reprieve.  They have not been in school and they have had little pressure on them to do much more than eat, sleep and play.  To them, this new year is a new beginning and they are determined that “it is not that bad.”  They don’t have to change schools and nobody is going to make them!

Last week I sat across from a young man who had just completed his sophomore year…with no credits earned…in a local private school.   The school is “being gentle” with him because he is such a loveable kid…but they can not have another year of spoon-feeding him when their educational structure is not designed for individual attention.  And, since he does not do homework or study independently, there is little reward for their effort.  His mom and dad see the writing on the wall, but he is oblivious.

At first he barely spoke. He answered my few questions with one word or a nod and he would not establish eye contact.  However, as I described our motivational system with hourly pay for specific responsible behaviors, he began to soften.  He would establish brief eye contact or look at me when he saw that I was looking at his parents.  He began to sit up.  He even asked me to repeat my explanation of the pay system and the field trips students earn.  He really brightened up when we visited the gym and he saw the basketball team practicing. 

For periods of time he would forget that he was not supposed to like this school and would begin to listen with a more positive attitude.  But, predictably, he would catch himself, fall into his slump and the veil of discontent and boredom would take over his persona.  He really had to work hard at not liking what he was hearing.  His mom told me that after he left, he said “She was a really nice lady.  I can’t believe you wasted her time like that.”  

Yep, I did my job.

In the end, they left with the parents more sold than ever and the young man secure in the knowledge that he had done all he could to create a negative impression.  That’s what he thought!  I have done this for a lot of years and what I saw was what I expect to see at this time of year.  

I had assured him that we (parents and school) would not “make” him come here.  The last thing I want is for his folks to pay the tuition to have him fight us every day.  I explained that if he returned to his previous school and found he simply could not keep up, that we would be here to help. 

In a private conversation with his parents I explained that most of these kids have to learn by doing.  If they experience the discomfort, they want out, but until then, they minimize the risks.  If his previous school would take him back, we could give him about six weeks, at best, before he will be eager to make things “easier.”  It may sound risky to most folks, but it works every time.  

This young man is very capable, intellectually, but extremely ADHD.  He can not access his natural talents because his brain short-circuits his intentions.  He left my office feeling  confident that next year will be better and he did not have to argue or convince me otherwise.  

I left him with the knowledge that there are options that are better suited to his needs and that the door will be open when he needs us.  Having a knock-down drag-out session would not have benefitted either of us.  Tearing down his self-esteem would not have been productive either.  If we truly want to begin to empower our youth, we must allow them to experience the outcomes they, in fact, set in motion.  This will not be easy for his parents, or for him, but I believe he will make the right decision before the first grading period!

And now I must prepare for my next interview…my next recalcitrant rebel….and I predict the same pattern. It is that time of year…again!

 Jacque Digieso has been an educator for over 40 years.  She and her husband Joe co-founded The Cottage School in Roswell, GA, to educate adolescents with learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder and other special educational needs. The school currently serves close to 150 middle and high school students.  Jacque and her husband have two sons, one of whom is adopted, and a handful of grandchildren. 

Read Jacque's blog here, find her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter @CottageSchoolGA.

©2012 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC

If you are a teacher, you have probably heard the faculty lunch room chatter that sounds something like “These kids today just don’t understand what I am trying to teach them!”  “Unless I am doing a song and dance routine with a laser light show, my students are bored in the classroom!”  “Do any of our students know how to use a dictionary anymore?”  “How come I am the only one in the room who still doesn’t know how to operate the VCR/DVD player?”

These are the sounds of an antiquated education system that is in dire need of an overhaul.  The majority of our schools in the United States use educators with  teaching practices from the 20th century while trying to facilitate learning with 21st century students.  It’s past time to be moving forward.

Let’s take a look at the way in which we “old folks” think of education versus the way in which our future leaders think of education.  First of all, the vast majority of our teachers are “digital immigrants.”  We didn’t grow up with the lightning fast technology of our youth today.  We can remember seeing the first microwave ovens enter our homes and used rotary dial telephones.  Our classroom experiences had us as students sitting quietly in our desks listening attentively to the teacher as she droned on for seven hours each day.  Each of us worked independently of our mates as we scoured dictionaries, thesauri, and reams of ancient encyclopedias as our primary sources for information.

By contrast, our students of the 21st century are “digital natives.”  They are accustomed to food that cooks fast and phones that can be carried in their back pockets.  They have been raised on a constant diet of hundreds of television channels in multi languages right in their own living rooms 24-7.  Looking for a classroom resource?  These Millennial students pull out their iPhones, iPads, or laptops and type in a question to a search bar; moments later they have access to hundreds of up-to-date resources.  No more do they walk to the classroom shelf and pick up the dusty volumes to find an answer.

So, how must our educational practices respond to these Net-generation learners?  Surely education has the need for the talents and experience of our Digital Immigrants to educate our Digital Natives, but the way in which we do that needs to change.

Classrooms of the new millennium will become more project-based, aimed at asking real-life questions and solving real-world problems.  Students today are very social and are comfortable in ethnically and racially diverse settings.  They are adept at multi-tasking and quite used to being on-the-go all the time (soccer practice, music lessons, dinner and school work in the car, etc).  These students take in an enormous amount of information each day thus craving the interactivity all of the technology has afforded them.

Teachers will need to operate more as facilitators in the classroom and less like lecturers.  One of the buzz phrases in teacher education training is “What is the essential question?” that we are trying to solve in any given lesson.  When we work with our students, we need to have them drive the lesson by asking the messy questions that require the higher order thinking skills of creative thinking, problem solving, and critical reasoning.  Students will want to work in group settings with access to parallel informational resources to find answers to questions that matter.  No more can teachers rely on the “you need to learn this because it’s good for you” mentality. Our students today are too savvy to accept that answer.

As quickly as our classroom is changing due to technology and the abilities of our students, we as educators must change quickly too.  It is no longer an option to regurgitate last year’s lesson plan book with new dates to accommodate this school year.  It’s time to let go of the control.  We need to take the lessons we have taught in the past and reproduce them into lessons that are student-centered, reach across the curriculum, and use the inquiry method.  Yet we can’t achieve that all in one year’s time.  

My personal challenge, and one that I pass along to all teachers, is to step out of your box and find at least one lesson each week in which you try something new.  Find a way to incorporate technology into group projects that allow students to show their mastery of the information.  Sit back and enjoy watching students sift through the mountains of information that come through to them via the internet.  Marvel at their adeptness to create a multi-media presentation that rivals award-winning documentaries.

And BTW, it wouldn’t hurt to bone up on the new IM language so that you will be able to understand your students.  It sometimes creeps into their formal writing (which I still don’t allow them to use) because they use it everyday to communicate with one another.  Better to be multi-lingual than miss out on what they are talking about.  OK.  G2G.  TTYL

Margaret Anderson is the mother of three teenagers and a middle school teacher somewhere in the Midwest.  She is a regular ShareWIK.com columnist.

 For more Margaret Anderson articles, click here

 ©2012 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC

For years I have read and interpreted professionally geenrated diagnostic reports used to determine the cognitive and emotional profile of students. These psychological batteries or educational assessments include an assortment of  diagnostic exercises that require verbal, written and manipulative responses.  Aside for the fact that some are very enlightening and well done and others are a waste of paper,  this battery is considered to be one of the most reliable means of making educational decisions about a student.

Of course, in the case of school placements, there are accompanying additional tools for acquiring much needed data on a student’s academic functioning, cognitive profile, emotional stability and social skills.

For schools who are targeting high IQ students with well developed verbal skills, the indicators are clear.  The test numbers are well defined and the picture of the student’s high verbal and analytical abilities is clear.  Also, in the case of a student whose intellectual capacity is limited, the indicators are also clearly defined.  There is a number below which  the child is considered intellectually impaired and the sub tests  scores are usually uniformly clustered  within the lower half of the percentiles.  

A Full Scale IQ is determined by both a Verbal Score and a Performance Score.  Each of those indicators represents a different style of learning, utilizing different aspects of the brain. Ideally, a  brain functions equally well in both categories.  However, many a frustrated student has fallen into failure due to an inordinately large gap between the two.  

If a student has high verbal skills, in our current educational setting, they can usually overcome the challenge resulting from inadequate ( or relatively inadequate) performance skills.  However, should the profile be tilted in the other direction, serious  problems can arise. A student with an extraordinarily high performance  score will present with a high IQ score, but not be prone to successful and efficient analytical or abstract reasoning.  Expectations are set for that student that  are inappropriate and unattainable.  You can guess the outcome for that student.

Of course, a variety of circumstances can depress a person’s score on these diagnostics tools.  If a student has a pronounced language disability, their ability to generate correct answers  gets in the way of measuring their comprehension of the task at hand.  A severely depressed person will also under perform on such  assessments.  

In one case, the student applying for school admission scored a full scale of 86, considered low average.  When we began working with him, he was clearly an above average student.  When questioned, months later about the testing situation, he confessed that he had been smoking marijuana on a regular basis when that  testing session was scheduled.  A fact he chose not to disclose to the professional administering the battery.

As you might expect, many of the educational batteries that I see are not so clear cut and the decisions being made from those scores can be skewed considerably.  When looking at scores that are widely scattered (from high to low scores) it is essential to take a much closer look at just where the strengths and weaknesses lie.  It is also important to  combine the data from the IQ test with other indicators of abilities.  Just because the IQ numbers fall below or above 100 does not mean that  is the end of the assessment story.

I have been looking at psychological profiles for years  that indicate that a student has limited intellectual abilities and is poorly suited for higher level educational settings.  Once that student is placed  in a setting that  provides structure, varying modalities of instruction, alternative assessment options and frequent feedback, the performance of the student begins to show remarkable achievement. 

Now that we know that the human brain continues to grow neurological connections well into adulthood, we know that it is possible for a child who performed poorly on a cognitive battery early on can improve his performance after very targeted attention to memory, analytical and executive functioning skills.

I can not tell you how many students, whose educational battery indicated they should not be continuing in higher educational settings after high school graduation, participate in a prescriptive or highly individualized educational setting, select a college that is a good match for their learning style and go on to complete their degrees.  

Or, on the other hand, how many students  who have tested off the charts in intellectual capacity but have stalled out along the way because they were unable to access their brilliance. When making decision about a child’s future, the time has passed for traditional decision making.  If we want to see the child clearly, we must look at a broad array of skills, talents and scores. Otherwise, we risk misdirecting a student whose potential was tragically  lost in the numbers.

Jacque Digieso has been an educator for over 40 years.  She and her husband Joe co-founded The Cottage School in Roswell, GA, to educate adolescents with learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder and other special educational needs. The school currently serves close to 150 middle and high school students.  Jacque and her husband have two sons, one of whom is adopted, and a handful of grandchildren. 

Read Jacque's blog here, find her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter @CottageSchoolGA.

Read more columns by Jacque Digieso here

©2012 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC

For all of my teaching career, I have worked with students who found little success in their school setting, which then resulted in little success in their lives as a whole. Due to a variety of variables (poverty, learning disabilities, abuse, emotional fragility, language barriers, adjustment reactions) the behaviors required for task completion, content mastery, and skill development are not learned and the deprivation of successful abilities continues in a circle of frustration and failure. 

The pattern is repeated generation after generation  and is an equal opportunity visitor.

For all my teaching career I have also worked with students who discovered the joy of achievement and became absolutely and unequivocally addicted to the taste of success. Once the tasks are defined within their area of skill and the environment is conducive to risk-taking (in the form of the risk of failure by trying something new or previously impossible) students of all ages begin to work with energy and pride that seems endless! 

Not that finding that combination is easy. It is not. People who expect failure avoid opportunities that could result in that outcome.  That means that their opportunities to experience success become extremely limited. How many movies have we seen where the emotionally fragile, hopelessly depressed teen, wife, business person meets just the right partner, job or mentor, and, through trials and tribulations, finds happiness?  Sounds sappy, but it is true.  

One of my recent explorations into this theme is a book entitled “The Language Of Flowers,” written by Vanessa Diffenbaugh. I doubt that the book will be a historical success, but since I work with so many adopted teens and am an adoptive parent as well, the pattern of avoidance rooted in low self-esteem that is presented in this book plays out in households and classrooms across our country. Granted, the scenes in the book are far more extreme than most cases, but the truth is there.

As a new teacher in the late 1960’s, I was in a world where little was known about the emotional impact that anxiety and depression play on the ability of a person to learn and to cope.  I however had been a lost soul for several of my adolescent years and knew/believed that if I could create an environment of acceptance, I could begin to reach the students I was most attracted to…. those kids whose faces reflected negative emotions or little emotion at all.  Childhood is a developmental time of exploration and growth.  When something interferes with that natural process, the “business as usual” model does not work.

I saw it in Thailand when I worked with teens of ex-pats who were without a culture of their own and whose parents were absent or preoccupied.  I saw it in rural Ohio where I taught the children of farmers, many of whom only attended school until the legal age of  returning to the farm to help with the family business. I saw it in the public classrooms in Georgia where the pace and expectations of the school were no match for the learning needs of the students in those classes.  I especially saw it in the psychiatric hospital classrooms where the emotional toll of their young lives left students incapable of believing that they could join their peers in the academic journey to success.

It was not my college educational training that molded my approach.  My lessons came from the students themselves. Once I had established a safe environment and accepting attitude, they began to trust that we could work together.  Once we worked together, they began to trust that I could help them.  Once they learned to believe I could help them, they could begin to help themselves.  And the trajectory moved upward from there. Not every day. Not always. Not every teen. But enough to keep me motivated by their success!  

I am addicted, as well!

Jacque Digieso has been an educator for over 40 years.  She and her husband Joe co-founded The Cottage School in Roswell, GA, to educate adolescents with learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder and other special educational needs. The school currently serves close to 150 middle and high school students.  Jacque and her husband have two sons, one of whom is adopted, and a handful of grandchildren. 

Read Jacque's blog here, find her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter @CottageSchoolGA.

Read more columns by Jaque Digieso here

©2013 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC

©2011 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC. All rights reserved. ShareWIK does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. For more information, please read our Additional Information, Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

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