PE Integration by Ellen Gonzales
Our Mission at Cambridge School is to prepare every student with the necessary academic, personal and social skills to succeed in life. For students with dyslexia our teachers, who are trained language experts, provide strong research-based literacy instruction. This instruction can be life-changing for students, but it is equally important to leverage the unique strengths of a dyslexic mind to further their life success.
The many attributes of the dyslexic mind have come to the forefront over the past several years. In March of 2022, Dyslexic Thinking was listed as a vital job skill by LinkedIn. Further, Dictionary.com added the following definition:
“Dyslexic thinking: an approach to problem solving, assessing information, and learning, often used by people with dyslexia that involves pattern recognition, spatial reasoning, lateral thinking, and interpersonal communication.”
These dyslexic qualities lend themselves particularly well to success in sports and fitness. Those with dyslexia often experience a history of lagging behind their peers in the typical classroom, but sports participation presents an opportunity for them to truly level the playing field. Christine Kean, PE Instructor and Athletic Director, routinely witnesses this dynamic. An 18-year veteran of Cambridge, Christine described our students “unique problem solving ability. Their world view is so different because of their dyslexic thinking that they offer unique solutions, often ones she had never considered.”
Christine’s teaching philosophy integrates the PE environment to support fitness but also to build important academic and life skills. In her opinion, “PE skills directly transfer to success in the classroom and in the real world.” While working on their fitness, students are encouraged to set personal goals, to advocate, problem solve, resolve conflicts and manage stress. Once they see the benefit of these skills in their fitness, they feel empowered in the classroom as well, and begin to believe in their personal ability. All students benefit from this skill integration process but especially students who are challenged by learning differences.
When a student connects with a supportive teacher who is also a strong mentor, they begin to understand the value of perseverance in the classroom. Though Christine’s classroom is on the field or in the gym, she masterfully leverages the students love of sports to support their academic, personal and social development.
by Ellen Gonzales
The culture at Cambridge School is vibrant and multi-faceted. It is what sets us apart as a school. In our blog, Learning Fiercely, we have chosen to shine the spotlight on one facet of our school culture to appreciate how it contributes to the whole. In this, our first blog entry, we are focusing on the Cambridge Art program.
Art is a critical element of every school program, but at Cambridge it is a vital part of a high quality multisensory education. Melissa Mack, Cambridge’s Art Coordinator, recognizes, and nurtures the budding talent of every student artist. When a student, especially one who learns differently, realizes a newly discovered talent, it strengthens their confidence and awakens in them a whole new outlet of creative expression.
Even beyond that, Melissa is passionate about bringing the experience of art into every class, no matter the subject. When art is integrated into the curriculum and taken beyond the confines of the art room it makes academic concepts come alive. For students who learn best by doing, art is the ultimate multisensory learning tool. Melissa takes inspiration from Sally Smith at the Lab School in Washington DC. In her book The Power of the Arts Sally writes:
“The arts need to be looked upon as organizers of expression… as exhibitions and performances that can and often do host academic achievement.”
In just the first part of this year, Melissa has integrated art at every grade level. When middle school science students studied Newton’s laws of motion, she designed a pendulum painting project that demonstrated the laws of motion. When the freshman literature students began reading Speak, Melissa designed a linoleum carving project that helped them to demonstrate their understanding of a character. In the MS I study of geography, the students made colorful topographic maps out of salt dough to gain a three dimensional understanding of landforms. Melissa made the idea of metamorphosis come alive to the elementary students as they designed butterfly and caterpillar costumes for a story reenactment.
Multisensory teaching experiences such as these, capture the excitement and joy of learning. As Melissa shares her own love of art, she has also inspired Cambridge students and teachers to gain a new appreciation for the far reaching power of art.
Music & Theater Integration
by Meghan Peters
At Cambridge School, thoughtful integration of the arts is essential to our whole-child approach to education. Our previous post highlighted our strong visual arts program, and this entry will spotlight our robust music and theater offerings.
Our Music Coordinator, Ray Nugent, is an accomplished handbell ringer and talented piano player who uses his passion and expertise to make music and theater accessible to our students at every level. The Cambridge chime and bell choirs are a unique aspect of our music program in which each student really shines. Ray directs lower school students on the chimes, and middle school groups graduate to the bells as their skills develop. Our winter and spring concerts come to life as our chime and bell choirs are complemented by student vocalists and class harmonies. Ray’s patience and wonderful sense of humor (he is often seen sporting colorful socks and snazzy blazers) keeps our students engaged and helps them adopt a growth mindset as their confidence grows. While his classes are fun, they also challenge our students’ brains in different ways than the traditional classroom. University of Southern California researchers who study the effects of music training on children’s brains note:
“If the brain is a muscle, then learning to play an instrument and read music is the ultimate exercise… Music training accelerates maturity in areas of the brain that are responsible for sound processing, language development, speech perception and reading skills… Music instruction also boosts engagement of brain networks that are responsible for decision making and the ability to focus attention and inhibit impulses.”
Thus, our music program is an important tool we use to address our students’ challenges, while also celebrating their strengths.
When Ray is not busy with bell ringing and singing instruction, he is directing our school musicals. As a director, Ray is skilled at recognizing each student’s potential and matching them with roles that enable them to excel on stage. This year our Upper School will perform “Zombie Prom” and our Lower and Middle Schools will present “The Lion King.” We look forward to starting our ticket sales soon!
Ray also helps our students showcase their exceptional abilities through our Annual Talent Show. The numerous students willing to perform original acts in front of the entire Cambridge Community is yet another testament to the confidence building work Ray does through our music and theater program.