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Success at Our Schools: The Power of a Strength-Based Approach

Iyla*, a student at Clifford Academy, had planned to be a famous YouTuber one day. Though her teachers encouraged her to consider a Plan B, Iyla was fixated on her professional mission to achieve YouTube stardom. Most YouTubers don’t need to do much writing, which is fine by Iyla. She detests writing and struggles with it. So when she was assigned a poetry project, she wanted no part of it. Despite the fact that she is wildly creative.

Iyla also has a real desire to move, so she is permitted to pace in the classroom while she learns. Knowing this, Iyla and a teaching assistant took a different approach to this assignment; the two walked the school as Iyla verbally communicated her poem. Once spoken, the TA scribed, and Iyla produced a beautiful poem that met all of the criteria. She felt a deep sense of pride and fell in love with the process. She now tells staff: “I think I’m going to become a writer.”

This example illustrates the strength-based approach of The Home’s three special education schools: Clifford
Academy, The COVE School and The Wediko School. Students come to our schools because they haven’t been able to succeed elsewhere. Often, these kids have experienced trauma, or they struggle with behavioral challenges that make traditional school settings difficult. “As educators, we’re trained to examine deficits in kids and then focus on where they are falling short,” Principal Rene Dickhaut of Clifford Academy explains. “The strength-based approach flips that coin.”

As Iyla’s story indicates, educators at The Home first discover a student’s innate abilities and then consider the accommodations needed to display those strengths. They also think about the type of setting where students can be at their full potential. “We try to find out what kind of learners kids are,” says Principal Sean Clark of The
COVE School. “Oftentimes, they’re very good learners. They’re just not traditional learners.”

Helping kids know their core strengths and feel positive about themselves is the next step, which, considering the adversity many have faced in their young lives, runs counter to what the world has shown them. “A strengthbased approach is about having kids feel success, so they can understand success,” says Sean. “It’s not something you can explain. You need to put the thing in their hands.”

*The student’s name has been changed for privacy.