Our Academic Program
In general, many of our kids don’t feel like they “fit” in school. For some, that is because of learning disabilities, either diagnosed or undiagnosed. For others, anxiety prevents them from attending class or paying attention once they get there. Others will only engage in schoolwork for teachers that they like– and they don’t like many of them. Homework is a struggle to remember, to complete, or to submit to teachers. Easily frustrated, our students don’t trust that they can complete work successfully, so they don’t. The bottom line is that most of our students don’t trust that teachers have their best interests at heart, nor do they trust themselves to be able to succeed in school.
To help our struggling learners, we provide differentiated instruction in a classroom setting led by Missouri-certified teachers. Our small class sizes of 6-10 students allow our teachers, coaches, and tutors to get to know students well. Our staff of seven teachers includes four who are dual-certified in special education and their subject matter content. One of our special education teachers is certified in reading instruction, and is available to work with students individually or in very small groups.
While Calo offers a range of core subjects and electives, our primary goal is helping students learn to regulate their emotions and their behavior in a classroom. Although a few of our students will graduate from Calo, most of our students will return home to conventional schools with normal expectations. Using our relationship-based approach, we strive to help students become a more self-aware learner who is comfortable in a classroom.
Yes. Calo has met the requirements established by the Cognia Accreditation Commission and is accredited by the North Central Association Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement. Cognia not only accredits private schools, but many of the public schools in Missouri and other Midwestern states.
Yes. Because Calo is accredited by a recognized regional association, credits earned here transfer to a student’s home school district or to other private schools. When a student transitions from Calo to a public or private school at home, an updated transcript is produced for the student to inform the home district or school of the student’s earned credits.
Calo currently has students from more than 30 states, so we are practiced at working with state and local curricular requirements. When students are admitted to Calo, our Registrar analyzes their transcripts and interviews a local school administrator to clarify local requirements. For example, some years ago, we were able to provide an Alaska History course for two students from Alaska.
Our mission is to create lifelong academically and socially competent interdependent learners. For Calo, the social aspects of learning underline its interdependent nature. Learning is an inherently social activity in which students learn to trust that teachers have their best interests at heart. As such our baseline goals for our students are that they (1) turn in and complete their work on time, (2) come to class and maintain appropriate behaviors and boundaries, (3) achieve knowledge of, and practice in, executive functioning skills, and (4) understand the importance of self-advocacy. Most of our students will be returning home to traditional public and private schools, and we believe that if we can instill the above skills and habits in our students, they will be served well at home.
The skill range is wide among our students. At any given time, 40%-50% of our students arrive with IEPs and 10%-15% of our students are funded by their local school districts. Most of our students come to us with full-scale IQ scores in the normal range, but variation among one or more subscores compromises that full-scale score. As a result, most of our students have struggled with school, whether that is due to executive function difficulties, school refusal, or emotional dysfunction. At the same time, about 20% of our students are capable of honors-level courses and have the capacity to attend college. It is for this reason that we ask parents to add their own goals to Calo’s goals, when appropriate.
Just as Calo really has two programs—a boys’ program and a girls’ program—so the school educates genders separately. Monday through Thursday boys are at school from 8:20 in the morning until 12:20 in the afternoon; girls are in school Monday through Thursday from 1:00 to 5:00 pm. Fridays are devoted to electives like art, music, physical education, and extra time for students to complete assignments. Classes meet in blocks of 50 minutes, with breaks between for exercise and working with dogs.
Our curriculum is based upon the Common Core, to which the state of Missouri subscribes as well. Students take the four core subjects of English, Math, Science and Social Studies, each taught by a certified teacher. Classes meet twice a week on Mondays/Wednesdays and Tuesdays/Thursdays, for six classes per week per term. In addition to the core subjects, students take electives such as Psychology, Economics, and Study Skills.
Teachers employ a range of methods. We use technology extensively in classrooms from laptop computers to smart boards to DVDs. Because of the range of our students, teachers are mindful to differentiate curriculum and instruction as much as possible. We do this by focusing on the process of learning more than the content of learning. That is, we stress literacy and study skills across the curriculum, meeting the student where she is. For example, in an English class students might not be reading the same text at the same time; more capable students may be reading more sophisticated texts and writing essays, while other students might be reading simpler texts and focusing explicitly on various interpretive strategies.
Calo has not traditionally assigned much homework to students. We have begun to focus on homework in regards to test preparation. Students are given study guides the nights before an exam and coaches are alerted to work with students in their team homes to study. For more capable students, home work may be more regular. For example, a girls’ honors English class featured regular homework reading assignments of Pride and Prejudice, and writing assignments drawn from AP English essay prompts.
The school administrators and teachers work closely with the boys’ and girls’ therapists and coaches. Because of past school experiences, many of our students don’t initially trust teachers. Indeed, students with trauma and attachment issues have trouble trusting in general, which often leads to emotional dysregulation. For that reason, coaches attend school with students, as canines attend school with students. Moreover, teachers attend treatment team meetings, and may attend therapy sessions with students to work on some school-related issues.
All teachers at Calo are certified by the state of Missouri; four instructors have additional certification in Special Education. Additionally, Calo employs tutors that hold Missouri substitute certificates. The school director has a PhD, and is retired from a Midwestern research university, where he taught teachers for 15 years as a tenured professor.
Yes, just about every student here has struggled in school. About 1/6 of our students have IEPs when they enroll with us, but most of them certainly could qualify for an IEP. Just about every student at some time here has trouble regulating their emotions enough to attend class or to stay in class. So most of our students could qualify for IEPs with an emotional disturbance. But we also see the full range of learning issues and learning disabilities: ADHD, auditory processing, Autism spectrum, language-based disabilities. We know that adopted kids have LD diagnoses at a great frequency than the population as a whole, so we aren’t surprised by this. My own observation through the years as an academic director, education consultant, and father of adopted boys is that adoptive kids’ heightened sensitivities and heightened anxieties in general are magnified in a classroom. Such hypervigilance can look a lot like ADHD or other learning issues. So, to the extent that we can soothe those fears and anxieties through trusting relationships, we can help with some of those learning issues.
This is really the crucial question, isn’t it? So many of the parents I talk to as they are enrolling their child at Calo are exhausted with school—the marathon homework sessions, the endless calls from school administrators, the gyrating grades, the tears and school refusal. So many parents have run the gamut of emotions from hope to despair concerning school that by the time they reach us, they speak of school success in very modest terms: learning how to behave in a classroom, getting a high school diploma, learning how to count money and live independently are all markers of success that parents have given me.
So the answer to the question is “It Varies.” But again, we can look to our model to help parents and to help us answer this question. Acceptance is a huge part of the answer. If we accept that students really are trying their hardest, then we can take our clues about success from them. As they begin to feel safe and to build relationships, they will begin to tell us what they want and we will begin to see what their strengths are. So many of our students have interests and aptitudes for hands-on experiences that college may not fit their talents, but vocational programs might.
As parents, it is often difficult for us to really see the child we have in front of us. We are tempted to see our hopes, our fears, our expectations, our projections—anything but the child herself. My own feeling is that many adoptive parents have been traumatized themselves through the adoption process and put more emphasis on school because it is something they understand, and more times than not, were fairly good at themselves. It is easier to focus on what you know and think you can control than on the messy reality of developmental trauma.
For most kids with Attachment Disorder, school success looks something like this: Can I be in a classroom without jumping out of my skin. When kids can reach that goal, then they have lots of further school-based or training-based options. Until they more or less have that, school will always be a place of further traumatization.