I’ve been going to Singapore American school for three years now, and as a senior, it saddens me to admit that I do not know everything there is to know about my wonderful school. One thing that truly intrigues me is the learning support program here at SAS. While most of us have not been enrolled in the said program, there is still a significant portion of SAS students who go through the curriculum. I find, like myself, not a lot of students know what learning support is which is why I decided to speak to Mrs. Kelsely Pierce, the high school psychologist and Marie Anne Patrick, a senior who was initially in the learning support programme but has since “graduated” the course.
As per Mrs. Pierce, “learning support here is a programme to support kids that may have different needs. So, when [she] say[s] that, it means different learning needs so some of them may have a learning disability or they may just struggle at school here especially because of the fast-paced nature of SAS. Some of them may also have social or emotional needs; they need a smaller environment to connect with people or to feel safe within this huge school, and so, we have a team of four specific learning support teachers that work with the kids in the programme to help them develop skills and strengthen their weaknesses.” The course takes into account a student’s emotional and social well-being as well as their academic successes and challenges to ensure that a student has the tools necessary to succeed in such a rigorous environment. The course is very specific to each student and they each need to make their own goals which will cater towards their individual weaknesses.
“Learning support here is a programme to support kids that may have different needs”
Additionally, the end goal is for each student to achieve those goals and to pass out of the programme. In order to leave the programme, it needs to be prevalent that a student has changed their method of learning, for example, they can create a study plan or they can prioritise work. Moreover, grades on PowerSchool are not an indication of improvement. Mrs Pierce asserts that “if you’re getting C’s but we are able to answer [those questions above], it would still be okay criteria to exit. So, you don’t need to be an A student to exit… we’re really looking at those learning behaviours.” That being said, stellar grades but poor learning behaviours is not a case of required support.
A common misconception is that every student with a learning disability such as dyslexia or dyscalculia is 100% in learning support. This is not the case, as there are many dyslexic or dyscalculic students who have the ability to succeed without the additional care. To reiterate, it all depends on any given student’s needs.
“Grades on PowerSchool are not an indication of improvement.”
Another common misconception is that supervised study, math lab, ELA (English Language and Arts) lab, and learning support are the same thing. While they all fall under the umbrella of enrichment programmes, each is specialised and has a distinct function. Supervised study is a course for students who have the potential to do well in a course as they understand the concepts but struggle to follow through in the sense that their work is not being completed or turned in on time. Mrs Pierce states that “Mr Walthall is trying to help the kids stay on top of their work and make sure everything is turned in on time.” On the other hand, specialised course labs (ELA labs and math labs) are additional courses to help a student in a specialised subject area. So, a student who struggles in math only would come in and get a head start on what would be taught in the following math lesson. Placement in these courses depends on what your teacher believes, what the counsellors believe and what the learning support PLC also believes. Furthermore, admission into one of these support programmes does depend on your learning behaviours.
When I spoke to Marie Anne Patrick, grade 12, she stated that “[she] was in learning support during her freshman year and it was because [she] struggled in the beginning in all of [her] courses, and [she] had Mr Petrosino help guide [her] in [her] learning.” She got out of the course at the end of the academic year, as she took on the responsibility of changing her work ethic. Patrick describes her experience as being pretty fun but it was initially hard as she felt as though people perceived the course as “a course for dummies” and that’s not what it is. “It’s a course where you learn the tools you need in order to better yourself as a student, and really they teach you useful things that you can use in life as well.” She overall believes that learning support did help her academically, which is something she lacked in middle school, but she does think that the programme could be bettered. For starters, based on her experience, she noted that other students used the course as a period to finish their homework rather than to learn tips and tricks to succeed in high school. In fact, Marie Anne argues that the course should be mandatory for freshman to ensure that their transition from middle to high school is as smooth as possible. Moreover, she argues that “learning support is not a place for people who suck or for people who are dumb because that’s what many people associate with the course, so [she] want[s] [those currently in learning support] not to be ashamed and they’re going to be happy that they learned those tools which can be applied throughout high school and university.”
As someone who has never been in any enrichment programme like learning support, I’d like to support Marie Anne’s beliefs on the topic in that no one should ever be ashamed of needing help. While it may be perceived as a weakness, having the courage to ask for help when needed is a strength and it is nothing to be ashamed of. I urge all learning support students or any student who receives external support from the school, to take pride in themselves and their work, as no matter how much or how little support their receive any accomplishment is a victory.