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Services for Academic Success: Helping our Students Thrive

By Virginia Solórzano, SAS Coordinator and Diego Zaragoza, Director of Academic Affairs

Many of you at ASF have probably heard the term “SAS”, or walked past its small office, located between the Founders’ Garden and the Sundial Garden. But how many of you actually know what the school’s Services for Academic Success actually are, and how they help our students succeed?

The American School Foundation prides itself in offering differentiated learning support for all students enrolled. The belief that all students can learn is at the forefront of our thinking and educational philosophy in order to develop contributing citizens for a changing world.

Our goal is to prepare students for the challenges of a changing society by allowing them to construct knowledge, transfer and apply it. Our belief is that all students can acquire the skills necessary to learn through the approaches enlisted below," - Diego Zaragoza Tejas, Director of Academic Affairs.

The Services for Academic Success (SAS) support students with Specific Learning Disorders (mild to moderate), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Communication Disorders; and provides them with the necessary tools to build confidence, enthusiasm, and independence, both in the classroom and beyond. Services are available in grades K-12, as an integrated support system in which regular and special teachers work cooperatively to support the students in reaching their full academic potential.

“We consider our students’ emotional well-being of utmost importance, and much of the work we do involves supporting them to develop a growth mindset. Finding opportunities for them to experience success is always our goal. We also work closely with the counseling team to make ourselves available for students when facing challenging circumstances, helping them use their experiences as learning opportunities and build coping strategies as stepping stones to move forward. One of our students shared: ‘SAS is a “safe place” where I can ask questions, take risks, receive support and feel understood,’” states Vicky Solórzano, SAS Coordinator.

The SAS program goes back a long way at ASF. It was created in 1983 and was originally called the “Center for Educational Development”. The center’s main purpose was to address the needs of English-speaking students who had difficulties coping with the regular classroom demands because of a learning disability. “It offered individualized programs in all academic areas to accommodate the specific learning needs of each student, allowing them to advance according to their individual accomplishments. These students attended self-contained classes and were mainstreamed only in Physical Education, Art, and Music,” explains Vicky. In 1985, the school’s Support Services adopted a mainstream modality, in an attempt to be coherent with current special education policies, seeking to offer educational services in the  “least restrictive environment”.

Classrooms that successfully include students with learning differences are designed to welcome diversity and to address the individual needs of all students. “Being able to provide targeted intervention, while helping the students meet their grade-level academic standards is one of our greatest challenges. Finding the correct balance to support the students on both ends involves careful planning and open communication with teachers, students, and parents. We need to be flexible and sensible to student's needs while making sure the students receive the intervention they need,” affirms Vicky.

Throughout the years, the SAS program has evolved and is constantly seeking to adopt best practices in the field, while responding to the needs of each individual student, age group and academic division,” - Virginia Solórzano, SAS Coordinator.

Today, an Individual Educational Program (IEP), based on a student's learning profile and needs is created to define intervention goals and accommodations for each student in the program. Learning support teachers/speech and language pathologists, counselors, general education teachers, parents, and students are all involved in defining the goals for the IEP based on the students’ diagnosis.

“Inclusion and participation in the regular ASF curriculum is the main goal for all students, supporting their uninterrupted integration into the curriculum and school community,” asserts Vicky. Students who participate in the SAS program complete the ASF curriculum requirements per division in both required languages of instruction (English and Spanish) with only necessary accommodations to meet each student’s academic needs. Modifications may be considered in particular cases.

Teachers review the needs of their students with learning differences. Extra planning helps them tailor their offerings to the student's needs. They use their joint planning time to problem-solve and discuss the use of special instructional techniques for all students who need special assistance. Monitoring and adapting instruction for individual students is an ongoing activity. The teachers use curriculum-based measurement to systematically assess their students' learning progress. They adapt curricula so that lessons begin at the edge of the student's knowledge, adding new material at the student's pace, and presenting it in a style consistent with the student's learning style.

“The type of support, frequency, and duration of services are determined on a case-by-case basis. Data gathered through the psycho-educational evaluation, progress monitoring tools, grades, work samples and observations from teachers and counselors are evaluated carefully by the student’s support team,” shares Vicky. This team includes classroom teachers, learning support teachers/speech and language pathologist, counselors, deans, SAS Coordinator, and Heads of School. The student and the parents are key participants in this process.

Integrated classrooms provide a real-world atmosphere that teaches all students how to better cope with challenges, explore new concepts, and develop the positive personality traits that prepare them well for a world full of people with different learning abilities.

The opportunities ASF offers also allow students to discover their talents in other fields, such as sports, visual arts, music, technology… After they leave ASF, we often hear back from them, to share their accomplishments,  family pictures and sometimes also to seek advice. Architects, engineers, lawyers, visual artists, sound/light technicians, electric engineers, construction managers, assistant vets, cinematographers, actors, screenwriters, naval officers, historians, musicians, personal trainers, football players, chefs, foreign service officers, forest rangers, computer programmers, entrepreneurs, teachers and special educators are some of the areas they have pursued. What a privilege to witness their success!” - Virginia Solórzano, SAS Coordinator.

Today, the SAS program provides ASF students with two types of services: Learning Support and Speech and Language Intervention. “Speech and language intervention is available for both English and Spanish speakers. Learning Support services are delivered in English,” explains Vicky. Services provided through the SAS program incur a monthly fee in addition to the ASF tuition. When there are more qualified candidates for admission than there are openings available, priorities follow the Admission Enrollment Guidelines:

  • Children of U.S. citizens residing in Mexico and qualified native English speaker who need a U.S. accredited education
  • Children who contribute to the diversity of the school
  • Siblings of children already in attendance
  • Children of teachers and staff
  • Children of alumni

Understanding learning differences is not an easy task. When students struggle to meet expectations both students and families may experience moments of frustration and anxiety in supporting students,” expresses Vicky. This is why establishing partnerships and keeping open communication between the school’s support team, parents and students are key.

As with any successful classroom plan, positive classroom management techniques are key. A good plan will help students of all abilities understand and adhere to your expectations. More importantly, providing students with clear guidelines helps them to take ownership of themselves and their actions. This extra responsibility can foster a sense of ownership of their actions, as well as increase their independence.

In addition, learning support teachers play an important role in helping students identify their strengths and areas of opportunity, and build strategies to overcome the areas in which they struggle. “Learning about metacognitive skills, allows the students to discover themselves as learners, identifying their learning style and preferences. With this, we seek to empower them to become self-advocates and agents of their own learning and build confidence, enthusiasm, and independence,” concludes Vicky.