AJA Diverse Learner Lab Makes Success Accessible to All Students
AJA Diverse Learner Lab gives children the opportunity to build friendships and good learning habits. Photo credit Robin Littrell.
Austin Jewish Academy’s Diverse Learner Lab ensures that students achieve success in the classroom and in the real world by viewing and embracing diverse AJA students, and coupling this ideal with differentiated strategies that build on students' strengths.
When Deborah Graham, director of specialized learning, took over the DLL three years ago, she began to implement the use of research-based best practices for students with diverse needs in all areas. This includes students identified with needs in areas including ESL (English as a second language), dyslexic, having a specific learning disability, autism spectrum, speech delayed, developmentally and emotionally delayed, gifted and talented, and those with other health impairments.
Since then, Graham and the teaching staff at AJA have provided students with a crucial advantage in their classroom environments and school community.
Keeping the learning momentum for each child’s individual needs moving forward every day takes special care and requires faculty and staff to look at the whole child and understand their individual needs. By implementing an early intervention mindset, teachers and staff work side by side with Graham in creating a robust learning environment immersed in Jewish tradition and a school culture that embraces student differences at every level.
Each child at AJA has their own unique path to success. Graham puts an emphasis on a multi-tiered system of support that allows for her to partner with families, teachers, specialists and local service providers in creating individualized learning plans that work for every child.
Additionally, Graham stresses the importance of being able to develop strength-based learning strategies, and is able to effectively do so because of the well-structured project-based learning environment AJA has created within its curriculum.
The AJA curriculum has allowed Graham to combine students’ strengths through a multitude of concepts and objectives that engage students with various projects and daily class assignments. Furthermore, the use of assistive technology as a learning tool helps students demonstrate what they know and allows teachers to create meaningful and positive modifications in the learning environment. The key to the success that children experience while working in the DLL program stems from this research-based instructional approach.
Research on today’s learning environments and best practices for optimal outcomes for students with a diversity of needs has proven that classrooms designed to educate children in an inclusive setting are at the forefront of the Universal Design for Learning theory of superior classroom environments.
So much of the learning process involves being in relationships with others. Being able to establish positive social connections, partnered with substantiated learning opportunities, constitutes the foundation for AJA students to continue to excel in academics, their social environments and their communities. ■