Transforming Lives by Empowering Students with Learning Differences to Achieve their Full Potential

Friday, December 14, 2018

2018-2019 Salmon Hatchery Update

December 2018

We started with 200 fish and lost 71, we now have 129 fish. We will start feeding them when their sacs are gone. --Cassie

Our salmon are looking good and getting bigger each week. They have their egg sacs on them. Their egg sacs are tan and their bodies and tails are gray. --Porter

There are 129 fish in the tank. They have gray bodies and an orange sac. If they are dead or sick they have a white body. 71 are dead. --Bea

We have lost more salmon than expected at this point, but our remaining salmon are doing well! Some are very active and fast, trying to swim up to the top of the tank. They are fun to watch! Our goal is to release at least 100 healthy salmon in the spring. --Ms. Olson

Friday, October 19, 2018

Salmon in the Classroom at LMA 2018-2019

For more than four years, LMA students have participated in Michigan’s Salmon in the Classroom project. Last year, our elementary students rose to the challenge of taking over the "LMA Hatchery" and  forged a  relationship with the Grand Rapids Steelheaders Association. 

Mr. Strek and the Steelheaders helped LMA students with their Salmon release last spring and attended LMA’s field day with some simulation activities. 

This fall,  through this partnership,  the LMA Hatchery received a new tank for continuing their work! 

Monday, October 8, 2018

What Middle School Students Think We Should Share

Researchers have been exploring the concepts of language disorders since the the early 1800's. The term learning disability first appeared in the work of Sam Kirk in an article in Educating Exceptional Children in1962. In 1977, students with learning disabilities were included as a category for special education through the Education for All Handicapped, or Public Law 94-142. Over the past four decades, there have been five revisions to the law(s) related to special education and volumes of research projects within the education and medical fields completed to help us better understand this group of individuals. Research has answered some questions and has created many more. The one thing that we know for sure is that even after four decades, we have a long way to go in helping people understand what a learning disability is and what it is not.

"Everyone has a story. Everyone has something that makes them unique and who they are." - Stephanie, Roadtripper from Being You

As we prepared for LD Awareness Month this year, we asked our Middle School Students if they had suggestions for what we should share. Some of their statements were for teachers, some for the general public, and some were for others students with learning differences. They all agreed that they wished people understood their world better. To honor their experiences and willingness to share, here are their snippets of their LD stories. We will also be sharing some of them through social media as part of our LD Awareness campaign this month. Join the conversation!

What should we share with people about learning disabilities or ADHD? 

"They're real."
"It's gonna be harder [for us]."
"You see things differently... different perspectives."
"Nobody's perfect."
"Respect your teachers so they will help you."
"Just because [we have to know this stuff]..... doesn't mean you [should] shovel work on us and watch us fail."
"[We] need more hands on & physical activities."
"Bullying should be a felony because it's defamation of character."
"Don't make fun of someone who has a disability."
"Everyone has differences." 
"Don't pity me."

Friday, October 5, 2018

Being Understood Event for LD Awareness

“I really feel like if I had someone saying, ‘You know, this isn’t weird,’ that would be really good. That’s one reason I’m doing this. I really want to be OK with who I am.”       - Nicole

Stephanie, Nicole, and Noah, are three young adults with learning and attention issues. Roadtrip Nation, and the Oak Foundation partnered to send Stephanie, Nicole and Noah on a road trip across the United States to interview professionals with learning and attention issues who have persevered through challenge to create fulfilling careers. The documentary of their journey is titled Being You and we are exited to share their stories as part of our awareness work this month. 

After the film, stay to join in the discussion about the benefits of viewing the world in a different way and learn more about how to work with the learning differences and strengths of people in your life. 

For more about this event, visit To join in the conversation and increase awareness in our community, connect with us through the Facebook Event

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Actions of a Hero Powered by LD

A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles. - Christopher Reeve
Students with learning and attention issues are much more likely than their peers to repeat a gradeget suspended and drop out. Individuals with learning and attention issues also struggle in the workplace and have high rates of involvement with the criminal justice system. But, as the latest State of Learning Disabilities report from the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD) illustrates, this "downward spiral" can be prevented with appropriate academic and emotional support.

Individuals with learning and attention issues have to work harder than an average person just to power through the day. Recognizing and honoring the strength it takes to do that is one of the most powerful types of emotional support we can provide to help individuals with learning and attention issues be successful. 

Survey data in the NCLD report revealed that even though children with learning and attention issues are as smart as their peers and can achieve at high levels, they continue to often bmisunderstood as lazy or unintelligent. To help them be successful, we need to continue to work to change people's perceptions. 

Changing Perceptions

In the United States, we spend at least 13-15 years in school. This means spending approximately 1,260 hours per year focused on learning new things and on tasks, many of which require reading and writing. For students with learning or attention issues, this can mean spending over 16,000 hours of their lives working to find the strength to persevere through the day doing things which can feel overwhelming or impossible to them. Those are not the actions of a lazy or unintelligent individual; in fact, as Christopher Reeve articulated, those are closer to the actions of a hero.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Powered by Learning Disabilities

Most people are quite familiar with the following companies: 
  • Virgin
  • Turner Broadcasting
  • Hewlett-Packard
  • Apple
  • Tommy Hilfiger
  • Kinko's
  • Cisco
  • Jet Blue
  • Charles Schwab
  • IKEA
  • Ford
  • CheckFree
Most people understand that these companies were founded by valuable individuals of society.  What most people might not know is that each of these companies was founded by CEOs who have a learning disability like dyslexia or ADHD. Each of these leaders learned to accept their challenges and not be held back by them. They became innovators, business owners, designers and leaders. These business were successful because they are "powered" by individuals with learning and attention issues.

A Community Challenge

Learning and attention issues impact 1 in 5 individuals. Students with learning disabilities make up the largest population of students receiving special education services. Even so, learning and attention issues are still widely misunderstood (State of LD: Understanding Learning and Attention Issues, NCLD)

Learning Disabilities Awareness Month

At Lake Michigan Academy (LMA), we strive to transform the lives of children with learning disabilities.  We empower students to focus on and build their strengths rather than focus on  their weaknesses.  Our students leave LMA with renewed self-esteem and lifelong tools for success. After leaving, our alumni continue to develop learning skills, social skills, and self-awareness techniques which help them become valuable individuals in society, such Richard Branson, Paul Orfala, John Chambers and Charles Schwab. 

October is Learning Disabilities Awareness Month. We are working to help our community better understand learning and attention issues. We are working to help our community be more aware of the value of these individuals to our communities. We want to help people understand what it's like to be "Powered by LD".

Read more about these CEOs and their success in: 15 CEOs with Learning Disabilities (Business Insider, May 2011)

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Summer Brain Fitness: Read for 30 Minutes

Goal: Read at least 30 Minutes a Day
minimum of 4 days per week

A Little Focus on Reading

“Read at least 30 minutes a day” is the #1 recommended reading exercise: sustained reading is a skills good readers share. Research has shown that good readers spend time reading and practice makes reading skills stronger. But why? 

When a reader is reading, there are many areas of the brain working together. There are multiple reasons to read 30 minutes a day:

  • sustained focus
  • practice decoding
  • experiencing language (vocabulary, phrasing, conversation)
  • following a story
  • building background knowledge
  • building empathy 
  • mental stimulation
  • enjoyment and relaxation

Each of these reasons relies on a group of skills and a group of areas of the brain working together, so a main goal of reading daily is to exercise multiple areas of the brain. For people who are not natural readers, it is likely that challenges in one or more of these areas are their stumbling blocks. Good readers tend to be working on all of these areas when they are reading. For good readers, like the girl in the photo above, books can come alive and those 30 minutes are not only enjoyable, they're somewhat magical. 

".... but reading is like torture".
For children who are not natural readers, reading for 30 minutes can feel like torture, and rightfully so. It is hard to enjoy or be relaxed when reading if it is hard to decode the words and/or follow the story. It is hard to experience the language when you have to take tons of time to just figure it out in the first place. Following a story requires attending to detail, relating that detail to a bigger picture and a lot of sequencing and memory work. If your brain is consistently thinking of other things you'd rather be doing, or how you just want to be done with this task, it is hard to stay attentive to what you are reading. 
"So, what do we do?"
The traditional definition of "Read for at least 30 minutes a day" is: pick a book and read it at least 30 minutes a day and keep reading the same one until you've finished, but that is not the only definition. Look back at some of the purposes of those 30 minutes:
  • sustained focus
  • practice decoding
  • experiencing language (vocabulary, phrasing, conversation)
  • following a story
  • building background knowledge
  • building empathy 
  • mental stimulation
  • enjoyment and relaxation

The main tasks of reading for 30 minutes are: to engage with text for 30 minutes; to be thinking about words and stories; to experience story and vocabulary; to apply decoding skills and comprehension strategies and to build fluency; in short, to exercise your reading brain. 

This summer, we have created a list of ideas for ways to make reading a little more interactive than the traditional definitions. These activities can be used with most ages and most reading levels. They are adaptable to varied learning styles and skill levels. Our goal is to help parents and caregivers support all kids in maintaining the skills and growth they made during the school year while they are off school for the summer. 

Read a Novel

  • Select a novel for interest
  • Reading level should be at the student's decoding level (Lexile)

A note to readers: give it your best shot for 30 minutes. Have you read this book before? What is something new you noticed this time? 

If the story is no good, read a different book next time. And keep in mind - the time it takes to choose a novel to read does not count in the 30 minute time block. 

Enjoying a novel sometimes requires finding a comfortable spot to read! 

Be sure to keep in mind that it is important to find a place and sit in a position you can sit in for a while without needing a lot of movement or adjustment. Frequent movements can break up concentration and make it hard for your brain to remember all that you have read. 

You also need to find a position where you will not be so comfortable that you will fall asleep!
Another note to readers: if you are a more kinesthetic learner, running your finger or a stylus under the words as you read can provide enough movement to keep your attention. 

Read a Graphic Novel

Graphic novels can support readers who struggle to visualize when they read, which is one strategy good readers use for comprehension. An excellent way to use graphic novels is to pre-read required literature for middle school or high school core classes. 

Listen to an Audio Book

Listening to audio books is a good way to support struggling readers in accessing grade level content. Audio books can also be excellent ways to get used to the language of complex texts like those used in classic literature. 

There are numerous options for audio text in today's world. One of the "tricks" can be finding versions which are engaging for kids. Another can be finding a specific title. A good starting point is to check with your local library. 

Another excellent resource for readers who exhibit characteristics of a learning disability is Learning Ally

There is a fee to belong to Learning Ally, but their library is very large and they now have the option for searching by Lexile level. Selecting books that are just above a child's independent Lexile level and having the child read along in the written text can support growth in word recognition. This also provides a visual "anchor" for their brains when listening to a story. 

Another suggestion for using audio books to reinforce comprehension is to have children sketch pictures of what happened in the story after (or during) their 30 minutes. 

Read a Magazine

Many magazines, like Time for Kids,  are now available in online formats and have the option to be able to listen to the text as well as read it. 

One reminder to readers: "reading" is different than skimming and flipping through the pages. 

A note to parents and caregivers: for children with visual-spatial challenges, magazines can be hard to read because articles do not always take up a whole page so it can be hard to track one's place or find the continued parts of a longer article. Magazine formats may also take some instruction since they tend to use columns on a page and children learn to read left to right all the way across a page. 

Read to a Pet

Pets generally love the sounds of our voices and carry no judgement if you need to read the same word three or four times to get it right or if they can't understand all of the words and sentences for sure. This can be an excellent way for a child to practice certain passages. When he feels he can read it smoothly, he can then read it to a parent, grandparent or teacher. 

In many areas, there are programs where children can read to animals in shelters, such as the Reading Between Friends program at the Kent County Humane Society

Younger children may also enjoy reading to a stuffed animal!

Read to a Sibling

This can be a little tricky when the sibling can read. Often, struggling readers are reluctant to read to siblings because they are embarrassed. Also, siblings can often forget that it's a time for the reader to practice and may become impatient if the reader stumbles or misreads a word or three. A few ways this can work well include: 

  • The reader practices a book or passage until he or she feels comfortable enough to share with sister or brother (practice can be to a pet, a stuffed animal, to a parent, teacher or even on video). 
  • Give the listener a specific job. For example, to listen for a specific detail in the story or to be a timer to see how long it takes the reader to read the entire story. In the directions to the listener, you can include that he is not allowed to interrupt or "help" unless the reader asks for help. 
  • Choose books that require a little interaction to give a younger sibling something to do (and a natural pause time for the reader). A great book for this is Press Here by Herve Tullet.

More Summer Brain Fitness

We passed out a list of our ideas as a Brain Fitness bookmark at the Park Party with Maranda in Wyoming and the one in Kentwood this summer. In case you weren't able to join us there, the list is the Activity Menu in the image below!