Empowering the young male spirit lives at the heart of Grand River Academy. For educators like Shannon Farrell, GRA's Foundations Learning Program Coordinator, the desire to help young men recognize their potential, uniqueness, and ability to achieve anything they set their mind to is unwavering.
Learn what Mrs. Farrell had to say about the Foundations Leaning Program, her approach to boys' education, and her experience at GRA:
1. Tell us about the Foundations Learning Program. What is it and why was it formed?
The Foundations Learning Program is a comprehensive service and class that was created to assist students in developing strong, independent learning skills and strategies. We provide extra support and instruction to students with ADHD, and mild to moderate learning disabilities. Focus areas include brain and sensory integration exercises, studying and test-taking skills, strengthening executive functioning, academic coaching, goal setting, and mindfulness practice. We personalize instruction and communicate with our students' other teachers to ensure that they are receiving appropriate support in all areas.
2. What do you feel is one of the biggest challenges facing young men in academics today?
Young men are often expected to fit the same educational mold as females, even though research clearly shows that boys and girls learn very differently. Add to this the stress that often accompanies learning differences and young men can become discouraged very quickly. They often think, "I'll never get this" or "It's impossible." They may become overwhelmed in larger classes and slip through the cracks. A large part of this may be that they often do not have the exposure to the success that they can find in an all-boys environment with classes that are designed to work with their strengths. Sometimes, all that lies between them and success is learning the strategies that work for them.
3. How do you strategize engaging curriculum and teaching methods toward young men?
I think a core component of designing engaging curriculum is making connections with your students and getting to know them each on an individual basis. When students can make a real life or personal connection to content, their perspective sometimes changes and they can quickly grasp the relevancy and real-world application of what they are learning. It's also extremely important to be aware of your students' personal learning styles. When you have a strong grasp of how they learn best, you can modify and create instruction based on need.
4. How does GRA and the Foundations Learning Program help young men prepare for college and their future success?
Our main goal in the Foundations Learning Program is to equip our students with "a tool box for success." We teach and model strategies that work for our boys. These are strategies that they can implement immediately while they are at GRA, and then adapt for college and future use. We work with our students on developing self-advocacy skills, strengthening executive functioning, and integrating practices that enable them to find success. In addition, our students learn what it means to be a part of a community. Grand River Academy has a 360-degree approach. Not only do we address academic needs, we also address social and emotional growth as well. By providing the structure that we do, students not only find their academic stride, but they also grow and mature in the ways necessary to excel at a college or university.
5. Every student has his own unique interests, passions, and goals. How do you help students realize and activate their true potential and pursue their goals?
One of my greatest joys is seeing my students find a passion or reach a goal that they once thought was impossible. I tell my students that they can achieve the impossible, they just have to figure out the right way to do it. In my classroom, we celebrate ALL of their successes; not only the big ones but the little ones as well. Maybe that small success is trying something new, asking for help when they need it, being ahead on their work for an evening. By setting goals weekly with them, and celebrating these successes, I find that over time they raise their own expectations and move toward achieving the larger goals. Positive reinforcement is extremely important.
6. What are you most passionate about at Grand River Academy?
I am most passionate about helping my students find a joy for learning. Often, when [young men] come to us, they are discouraged and want to give up. My goal is to help my students recognize that not only can they find success, but they can also enjoy the journey. I am also very passionate about being a member of the GRA community. Our students are not only our students in the classroom, but they are also our students outside of the classroom as well. I try to get to know each and every student and want to be able to witness their growth while at GRA. My husband and I live on campus and delight in attending athletic events, eating weekend brunches in the cafeteria, and enjoying community events.
7. Any additional comments, stories, or insights you'd like to add?
Grand River Academy is truly a very special place. I have never had a more fulfilling and rewarding job. Not only do I get to see amazing growth from some amazing young men, but I also get to be a part of a very special community – a community that believes in never giving up and finding the true potential in everyone.