Making A Difference
The hidden jewel for learning among us
By Dan Briody
From a very young age, children are told by parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles that they are one-of-a-kind—snowflakes with a unique personality and perception of the world. All of which begs the question: Why do most schools treat, teach, and test students in the exact same way?
For the last 80 years, The Forman School, a coed, college-preparatory school in the heart of Litchfield, has embraced students with language-based learning differences such as dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia, executive functioning, and ADD/ADHD. Its staff is steeped in the science and study of attention, memory, language development, and higher order cognition. Its curriculum uses highly individualized instruction. And it is a place where learning differences are not only understood, but celebrated. And yet very few people in town, not to mention the county, know about the school, which is less than a mile from the Litchfield green.
“This is an extremely unique place,” says Helen Waldron, associate head of school at The Forman School, which boasts Albert Einstein among its early board of advisors. “It was designed for students that struggled with learning. The students come here because they have a diagnosed learning difference. But they stay because their differences are nourished.”
Walk onto the 120-acre campus of The Forman School and you might think you’ve stumbled onto an Ivy League campus. The grounds looks like a traditional New England boarding school, with colonial-style buildings, rock walls, and massive mature trees. But the school itself is anything but traditional. There are about 175 students from 22 states and 12 countries. The average class size is six students, and the student-to-faculty ratio is 3:1. Many of the classrooms take advantage of advanced technologies, such as iPads, Smartboards, laptops, and Kurzweil Systems, which translate text into speech to assist those students who have trouble reading. And though the path these students take to knowledge may be very different than a mainstream preparatory school, the destination is the same: college. “The world used to think that intelligence was fixed, that IQs never change,” says Waldron. “But at Forman, we’ve always known that’s not the case. The world is just catching up. We are training these kids for college. We’re just doing it in an environment and a style that suits their learning needs.”
Forman is about more than just academics, however. For example, students have a full range of athletic and artistic extracurricular activities to choose from. In fact, students from Litchfield High School play on the Forman School varsity football team. And the arts programs include everything from theater, videography, photography, rock and jazz band, and even boat building.
Ultimately, however, Forman is about providing an opportunity for kids who would normally fall between the cracks of traditional school systems a chance to attend and succeed in college. In fact, every year, 100 percent of the graduating class is accepted into a four-year college or university. And the 11th- and 12th-grade students are required to take College Transition classes that help them understand their individual learning styles, what services they may need in college, and how to advocate for themselves after Forman.
We may all be unique individuals. But most institutions in this world can’t afford, or don’t bother, to treat us as such. The Forman School does, and that makes all the difference.