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Opinion & Essays - Jan, 1990 Issue 

The Requirements Of Academic Success

Lon Woodbury

There are three conditions that must be met before a student can succeed in school. First, a student must know the fundamentals a subject is based on. For example, the student must master arithmetic before having any hope of succeeding in algebra. Second, a student's brain must be able to properly process the information it receives from the senses. When a child has dyslexia, for example, he or she actually does not see what is written, at least in a way they can make sense out of it. A child with a learning disability needs to learn how to compensate for it in order to succeed in school. Third, a child must have the emotional strength to believe he or she can succeed. When a child has a low self-esteem and feels it is no use to make the effort, it is very likely he or she will fail in school.

The above is the order of priorities of traditional education, both public and private. Although it seems to work for most students, the high drop-out rate and number of students identified as "at-risk", shows these priorities are not working for many, many other students.

The special purpose schools and programs I work with, including those reviewed in this Report and the previous Report, reverse the emphasis. They are specifically designed for those students who are failing because of emotional immaturity and the resultant behavior problems. Because emotional immaturity and behavior problems often arise out of learning disabilities, most special purpose schools also have expertise in special education. Academics is then approached in ways the student can learn to succeed.

The goal of a special purpose school is not to replace traditional education, but to prepare the child with special needs so he or she can succeed in the traditional classroom. Special purpose schools and programs play a vital supplemental role in American education, and are currently succeeding with young people who had been failing all other attempts to work with them.

I think the existing network of special purpose schools is a little known national resource. In the new national spirit of education reform, these schools can not only be used directly to help students, but can serve as models of what really works. What is called for is for educators to be open to learn from them, and be creative in their own school systems with the knowledge that now exists in special purpose schools.

Copyright 1990, Woodbury Reports, Inc. (This article may be reproduced without prior approval if the copyright notice and proper publication and author attribution accompanies the copy.)

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