Landmark College Offers Hope for Learning Disabled Students
Set in Putney, Vermont amidst glorious colors in fall and Grandma Moses-like white winters, Landmark College, which opened in 1985, offers students with learning disabilities new hope for success in higher education by providing academics bolstered by cutting-edge learning tools and a well organized, very accessible support structure. Dedicated to “multi-model teaching,” Landmark instructors conduct classes in a variety of ways, offering effective strategies to different kinds of learners until they are able to say, “I get it.” An intense advising program is key. At weekly meetings, immediate, short, and long-term goals are established and reviewed and resources accessed. Lena Jahn, assistant director of advising explains, “Self-esteem is a big issue for many of our students. A lot of what we do is helping students reframe who they are. Often students can list their weaknesses but don’t see strengths. We help them set realistic goals and remind them of their progress. Students with a diagnosis learn to relax with it for the first time here.” At dedicated Centers for Writing, Reading, Study Skills, Coursework, and Coaching, one-on-one attention is available many hours each day. Skills workshops teach strategies for coping with challenges such as volume reading or writer’s block.
Offering a two-year associate’s degree in general studies or in business, Landmark’s goal is preparation of students for transfer to four-year institutions. President Dr. Lynda Katz, a respected neuropsychologist, speaks with pride of her students and the college’s “uniqueness” and commitment to the “whole person.” “If a student falls, there is someone to pick him up and out of that comes the ability to learn who he is as a person and to be a self-advocate.” She wants Landmark to be a place where “instead of stigma, it’s acceptable to learn differently.” Learning disabilities education is changing rapidly as understanding of ADA (Attention Deficit Disorder) and ADHD (Attention Deficit with Hyperactivity Disorder) grows and the effect on learning is increasingly recognized. Dedicated to developing and disseminating best practices, Landmark houses an impressive Institute for Research and Training in the field. (More on the Institute in a future issue.)
Stephen Gagnon came to Landmark after receiving a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering because he “never learned how to live with his learning disabilities and wants to move on without riding the bomb (waiting for the next disaster).” He reports, “Everyone comes here for a solution. They find a level playing field. They’re not the odd man out.” He is learning strategies and life skills—how to have a conversation, how to organize thoughts. Ann Fein, an associate professor and Landmark parent, is struck by the “we” and “how” approach. Unconventional approaches to learning can be tried at the college. An Adventure Education program recognizes that skills and confidence gained outside the classroom can contribute to academic success as well as greater autonomy and sense of self. Steven Querry, a third semester student leader who came to Landmark directly from a public high school, explains that Adventure Education such as rock climbing, white water rafting, caving, and a ropes course helps build confidence and trust. The importance of teamwork and attention to detail is learned. Yet, Querry notes, “The hardest thing at Landmark is success, because success brings previous self-conceptions into question.”
Landmark’s focus is classroom learning. De-emphasizing remediation, it helps students understand how they learn and how to process, retain, and communicate information. It makes available the latest assisted technology (more in a future issue). The goal is independence as preparation for a four-year college and for life. The traditional range of college courses is offered, from political science to cultural anthropology to math to computer studies.The arts are well represented. Classes are small (10-12 students) and 50 percent more total classroom time than at other schools is allotted for the associate’s degree. A Landmark chapter of Phi Theta Kappa, the international honor society for two-year colleges has inducted 260 students in twelve years. The campus includes dormitories, an athletic center, two theaters, science labs, dance and art studios, an auditorium, library, and student center, many in handsome Edward Durrell Stone-designed buildings.
The majority of students are from public high schools in big cities, New York and California being the biggest feeder areas. To qualify for admission students must have average to exceptional intellectual potential and a diagnosis of a learning disability. More than 50 percent have duel diagnoses. Eight out of ten Landmark graduates go on to 4-year colleges. Dale Herold, vice president for enrollment, cautions against “getting hopes up too much. She explains, “For some, this is a last hope…It comes down to, Can you handle being in college?” Some students do drop out of Landmark. Dean of Students, Michael Luciani, says, “A student has to be ready to go to college. He needs to commit and engage. For some, this is hard to do.” Student Steven Querry suggests, “Those who make the most of it are those who want to be here, who want help. Some kids have had people yell at them their whole life so they block out support.” As Fein points out, “Even those who don’t graduate benefit because they have had the seeds planted.” New Yorker Letitia Davis, who struggled at Bronx Community College before being diagnosed as dyslexic, has completed 2 semesters at Landmark. She exclaims, “Landmark has changed my life. It was not until Vermont that people took time out to finally listen to me. I couldn’t write a sentence and barely communicated but now all that has changed.” A Landmark success, she advises young people having difficulty in school and in life, “Don’t give up on yourself.”#