School: Special Education At Its Best
men say that some of the greatest things in the universe once
started out small. The Windward School — one of the leading
places of learning for language disabled children in the U.S.
— is the perfect example of that adage. “Back in 1930,
the school got its name because the imagery of sailing into the
wind was so fitting to all the difficulties involved in establishing
it,” says Assistant Head and Director of Admissions Maureen
Sweeney. “Our founder, Isabel Greenbaum Stone, had three
boys and she was looking for a good independent progressive school
for them to get into. After many travails, she managed to find
two teachers she liked. Then she decided to buy seven acres of
land right in White Plains. And the Windward School was formed.”
Over the years, while the focus has changed, the name remained.
“In 1976, we became a school specifically for children with
language based disabilities,” Sweeney said. “And in
the late 1980s, due to the unique vision of Judith B. Hochman,
we became the school that we are now.” And that is a focused
place of learning strictly adhering to the Orton-Gillingham curriculum,
a school that places a great emphasis on the processing of language,
while teaching reading, writing, spelling and, basically, an entire
way of thinking in a multi-sensory manner.
the years, there has been much research done in the area of teaching
language disabled students,” Sweeney said. “But for
some reason, not much of this research got into the classroom.
We always felt that we followed what was known to be the best
available way to teach reading. And now the research is finally
catching up to us, confirming what we do.”
Currently with 328 students, the Windward School is probably the
only place of learning in the U.S. that hopes to decrease
its student-body. “We feel that we will have accomplished
our goal when our students successfully return to mainstream education,”
said Sweeney. “The average term of a student here is 2-5
years — and we hope to make it briefer. In a way, our ultimate
vision is to actually disappear one day. That would mean that
all schools are using the best research and the Windward School
would no longer fill a need.”
That, of course, could only occur in an ideal world. In the real
world, Windward Ò currently serves Grades 1-12 — is about
to eliminate its high school grades by 2004. “The main reason
is the State's new emphasis on a Regents diploma, rather than
a local diploma,” said Sweeney. “We do more remediation.
We are not a test-prep program. To change into that would completely
compromise our purpose.”
Responding to current needs, Windward is actually growing. The
school has just purchased nearby Berkeley College and will move
its 6-12 Grades onto that campus next September.
Even on wider territory, Windward will continue to proudly define
itself narrowly. “Students come here based on their disability,”
said Sweeney. “We follow a rule-based curriculum. So if
a student has another primary disability, we can't accept him.”
can't just come in here, they must be specially and extensively
trained,” added Sweeney. “In fact, there is a tremendous
amount of teacher training and teacher supervision going on around
here. Our mission is to teach with a completely consistent focus,
following the same philosophy no matter what the academic subject
everybody leaves their door open around here. We are all on the
same page. This is indeed a very different place. And we are proud
of that difference.”
Windward has its own individual philosophy. “We put kids
in ability groups. The classes are very much teacher-centered.
And the students first do expository writing — in order
to learn the basic rules of the language — before they embark
on more creative writing.”
Sweeney feels that early identification is the best and most important
way to counter dyslexia. “Look for an otherwise intelligent
child in kindergarten or first grade who doesn't hold the sounds
well when reading,” she said. “Or a child who has
trouble rhyming or segmenting words, who has trouble taking away
the 'cow' from 'cowboy.”
It's not an easy road: language disabled children are indeed sailing
against a harsh wind. But the Windward School clearly makes for
a far smoother sailing.#
more information visit windwardny.org or call 914-949-8220.
Update, Inc., P.O. Box 20005, New York, NY 10001.
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