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New Perspectives - Apr, 1997 Issue #45

Bethlehem, Connecticut
by: Abigail Wiscombe
Assistant Director of Admissions 

The Woodhall School is a small boys’ secondary school for young men who have not experienced success in traditional schools. Our boys do not have serious drug, alcohol or behavior problems. They have struggled in school because of learning style, familial issues, or what-have-you. They are a diverse group with this profile in common: difficulty in school and therefore low-self esteem. 

A student whose learning style makes class work difficult may also encounter obstacles in social situations. For example, slow processing affects one just as much on the playing field when in the heat of the game the child misunderstands his teammates’ shouts, as in the classroom when his history teacher asks a question. A youngster may develop a charming and sociable manner to compensate for his poor performance in school. Alternatively, he may become pugnacious because he is angry at knowing he is clever and yet not able to learn. These children are not uneducable; they need only a different kind of education. 

At The Woodhall School, we offer just that by giving attention to the whole child. A well-trained faculty offers nurturing attention to our boys who come to us at very important times in their lives. 

Individualized academics are a cornerstone of our program. With a class of two or three students, teachers are able to assign homework according to students’ relative strengths and weaknesses. 

I once taught an English class to two ninth graders. One had difficulty reading; the other found paying attention a struggle. The first got books on tape and a great deal of attention given to improving his reading skills. Assignments broken down into small, manageable units were essential for the other. An emphasis on oral testing was necessary for each of them until reading and writing skills improved, at which point they learned to take more traditional tests. 

But a boy doesn’t reach adolescence and endure years of failure in school without acquiring some emotional scars. My two English students, in fact all boys who come to Woodhall, needed social skills and self-esteem as well. 

Residential life and sports are structured to encourage cooperation. Students may prefer the atmosphere of competition found in team sports, the holistic attitude taken during Outdoor Education, the fun-and-games of Group Sports, or the enjoyment of skiing, canoeing or the Martial Arts. Life in the dorm helps students learn how to share time and space with others. Clubs provide opportunities for self-expression and create leadership positions. 

Our Communications Program teaches self-expression with accountability. Our students are given permission to express their anger, frustration, sadness, confusion, and often loneliness as they are taught how to do so appropriately. Without this important emphasis, an academic approach, no matter how excellent, is bound to fail. 

Adolescents who are happy and secure are more receptive to learning coping skills for dealing with learning disabilities. Adolescents with solid self-esteem can overcome family problems and do well in school. The Woodhall School’s pedagogy recognizes these important facts. Its approach combines the teaching of study skills in a rigorous college prep or general education program with the teaching of social skills in order that our boys may be successful in life, not just in school. 

Copyright © 1997, 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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