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The Arrowsmith Program: Opening Vistas of Opportunity for the Learning Disabled


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If you are a parent, chances are that you have enjoyed reading Herman Parish’s series of children’s books based on the outrageous character, Amelia Bedelia. All decked out in her housekeeper headgear and apron, Amelia is perpetually getting into trouble at the Rogers’ home. Inevitably misconstruing her bosses’ instructions, her resulting hysterical antics never fail to entertain young and old.

After chuckling good-naturedly along with my children one day about the chickens that Amelia had “dressed” – in doll clothes, no less – instead of spicing them according to instructions in order to enhance their cooking flavor, I came to an astounding revelation. Amelia Bedelia had a blatant auditory processing difficulty! Properly diagnosed, she would have been labeled “learning disabled!”

Tucked away in the wonderful world of imagination and fiction, Amelia Bedelia’s dysfunction is charmingly amusing. For those children in the real world who struggle with learning disabilities, however, the frustrating ramifications associated with them are no laughing matter. Frightfully burdensome, these disabilities obstruct the capacity to internalize the basics of skills and facts, numbers, theories and ideas. So intensely overpowering are they, in fact, that they can jeopardize the very potential of a promising intellect and talent, as well as a child’s social and emotional well-being. In short, the challenges brought on by being learning disabled can obliterate the beautiful vision of a flourishing, prosperous future.

An Arrowsmith student at Bais Yaakov of Boro Park describes the anguish: “I did not understand always what my teacher said After my mother used to tell me to get her something, I used to go to my room and then ask myself: “Why did I come in here for? Or, what did she want again?”

Growing up in Canada in the 1970′s Barbara Arrowsmith Young knew exactly what it meant to have to contend with learning disabilities. Faced with the effects of crippling auditory processing difficulties that had continuously impeded her personal learning endeavors as a child, this gifted young woman decided she would not allow herself to become victim to her challenges. Working feverishly with the scientific premise that the brain is plastic and has the in-born ability to restructure itself, she developed an unbelievable breakthrough: a series of cognitive exercises that actually corrected the problem behind her learning disabilities. Unbeknownst to her at the time, she had unleashed what would become a virtual revolution to the silent suffering world of those struggling to learn The Arrowsmith Program!

The Arrowsmith Program:

A Young Discovery Becomes Widespread

Encouraged by her own personal triumph, Ms. Arrowsmith Young has worked and expanded on her novel program for over three decades, integrating successful solutions for many of the most common learning disorders found within students of average or above average intelligence, including dyslexia, auditory processing, auditory memory, executive function, comprehension and fine motor difficulties. Rather than providing an alternate support system that compensates for a weakness like many of the other curriculums that attempt to assist a child with learning difficulties, she has demonstrated what many would have assumed impossible. Through specific exercises that produce valid results, a child’s brain can actually transform its abilities and strengthen its capability to learn!

In The Brain That Changes Itself, Norman Dodge’s New York Times best-selling book about the theory that Arrowsmith Young utilized to reach her milestones, the program is depicted as the leading expert in learning disabilities and neuroplastic work. Reviewed graciously by the Scientific American Mind and the American Academy of Neruology, the book’s recognition of the program has elicited the approval of a distinguished audience of academics.

In a 2007 Toronto Catholic District School Board report, researchers observed students who had benefited from the Arrowsmith Program over a ten-year stretch. Documented results revealed that their rate of learning in regard to specific tasks, such as word recognition, arithmetic, reading comprehension, and reading speed, actually increased by one-and-a-half to three times their rate of learning prior to the inception of the program.

“The program is truly remarkable,” writes a 25-year Toronto Catholic District veteran schoolteacher, who has been an Arrowsmith instructor for the past ten years. “It’s giving some traditionally disadvantaged children much brighter futures. They are able to reach their potential and progress alongside their peers in the regular stream.”

The Yeshiva System Takes Heed

Not immune to the challenge of learning disabilities, Jewish day schools and yeshivas have been heartened by what they have heard about the Arrowsmith Program. To date, there are six Jewish schools all across the United States incorporating the program, including Maimonides Academy of Los Angeles, Toras Emes Academy of Miami, Yeshiva Degel HaTorah of Spring Valley, the Jewish Educational Center in Elizabeth as well as the Brooklyn based Beth Jacob of Boro Park and Yeshiva Tiferes Yisroel – where New York City resident parents were actually reimbursed by the New York City Board of Education for their expenditures towards the Arrowsmith Program.

“When our school decided to host the program, we saw great possibilities in helping children who were not reaching their potential through traditional educational methods,” writes Rabbi Eliyahu Teitz, Associate Dean of the Jewish Educational Center in Elizabeth, New Jersey. “We were willing to see what the program could do. In sharing the following vignettes, I am exceptionally pleased with the changes we have seen in our students in the program. Read on and imagine the pride the children feel that they really can learn and perform in school (and the relief the parents feel that there really is a program that can help their children on the path to greater learning).

“This past weekend, while walking my son to his friend’s house, I started quizzing him: 1+1, 2+2, 4+4, 8+8 etc. When he answered 16+16, I was relieved. When he answered 64+64, I was impressed. By the time we got to 1,024+1,024 I think even he realized what he had accomplished–though he won’t acknowledge that it is due to Arrowsmith, I do.

“Yehudis’s mother said that she is a completely different child now compared to when she began Arrowsmith. We see a tremendous difference in her also. Last year we could barely get her to work through 5 minutes, this year she is working through a whole period. Her coping skills and self-confidence have improved and she is finding success here.

“A teacher reported that Yossi is able to grasp the meaning of the literature they are reading and has been very insightful with his comments. This directly ties in with the Arrowsmith work that he did last year.

“A parent has also indicated to me that her daughter is reading books for enjoyment, which is something that she did not do before Arrowsmith.

“Another parent wrote: “If I can brag about my daughter – I can’t believe the wonderful changes in her. From a child who could not cope with school and life before Arrowsmith – I just spoke with her guidance counselor at school and she is getting all As and Bs on her report card.”

“As an administrator in a school that runs the Arrowsmith program, I have read many articles about Arrowsmith. I, too, was skeptical about the results being reported. I am now convinced that the Arrowsmith program can significantly change the way some students feel about themselves, how they interact with others, and how they perform in and out of school ”

As the encouraging success stories in regard to the Arrowsmith Program continue to abound and rapidly circulate, its popularity has increased double and triple-fold, prompting parents in Jewish communities where it has not yet been implemented to begin the exhilarating process of initiating the program within their very own education systems.

Bais Yaakov of Boro Park and Yeshiva Tiferes Yisroel

Parents and Students of the Arrowsmith Program Testify

Speaking with an obvious pride, the parents and students of the program share their heartwarming message of hope and inspiration. In place of the depression and anxiety so often related to learning, they tell the story of optimism and a treasured self-confidence rarely realized before. All this, credited to the cognitive programs created by Barbara Arrowsmith Young!

” At first, when I started doing much better in math class I didn’t notice it. But when I did, it felt so good, and whenever I came upon addition and subtraction equations it went so quick, now it comes to me quick. I jumped from 70 or lower to 95% on math tests ”

” And my handwriting did get better! It’s not all the way neat, but I have to say, I believe it’s better from the beginning of the year. Also, like when I’m taking notes during class and the teacher is talking fast, I’m able to write neater and faster (but don’t worry I don’t write every word that she says!) ”

” Everything that I had trouble with, now I don’t have any trouble with because I am going to Arrowsmith. I finish my test one of the first from everyone. I know the answer right away on a test that I had. When my mother or father or teacher or someone tells me to do something, I do it right away. I could remember a little better, like double sided, hole punched, stapled too ”

” In Mishnayos, my son has always had problems. He was always bright and did well in all subjects until 3rd grade when it started to get more difficult – but he still got ‘alefs’. Problems started in 4th grade with dual curriculum of Chumash and Mishnayos and he had a lot of difficulty in Mishnayos and got his first ‘gimmel’. This year he is learning Baba Kama (very complicated) but the Rebbi gives out a pre-test from which the boys study and the Rebbi takes questions for the actual test. This makes it easier for him; still a 98 is an accomplishment. I think his Arrowsmith exercises are helping his memory and ability to understand concepts previously too difficult for him ”

In Conclusion

In the make believe world of Amelia Bedelia, life’s fumbles can be momentarily fixed by baking a delicious lemon meringue pie. In the REAL world, however, quick fixes are no solution.

Illustrating its worth by first addressing a child’s weakness(es) and setting him or her on an individualized program of exercises that fortify the brain’s ability to learn, while implementing them in a three to four year program, The Arrowsmith Program has successfully achieved enduring solutions to those who once suffered from the effects of their learning disorders. In fact a child who has completed his or her individualized program can participate in a full academic curriculum with no further need for program accommodations!

But the genuine remarkable thing about the Arrowsmith Program’s method above all, is that it unlocks a child’s individual potential – the true treasure bestowed within by the Almighty, Himself.

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If you are a parent, chances are that you have enjoyed reading Herman Parish’s series of children’s books based on the outrageous character, Amelia Bedelia. All decked out in her housekeeper headgear and apron, Amelia is perpetually getting into trouble at the Rogers’ home. Inevitably misconstruing her bosses’ instructions, her resulting hysterical antics never fail to entertain young and old.

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