More than one in ten children have ADHD, according to the Center of Disease Control (CDC).
ADHD is the acronym for Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. The Mayo Clinic defines the disorder as a chronic condition diagnosed in school children who exhibit hyperactivity, a trait alluded by its name, and impulsive behavior. Often times, those afflicted by the condition have difficulty maintaining their attention on a single task, leading to problems with school lessons.
Last December, the CDC reported its findings after a study of data from the National Survey of Children’s Health. The study reported 6.4 million children had been reported by parents received a diagnosis from a health care provider. The data suggests an increasing trend. In 2003, 7.8 percent of all children were reported with ADHD. In 2007, the figure jumped to 9.5 percent.
“I struggle with ADHD,” said Olivia McLeron, an 8th grade student at Brown School in Schenectady. Though she’s not quite a high school student, next year she will be among the one in 11 high school girls afflicted with the condition. “When I came to the Brown School, I needed help. I was just diagnosed with ADHD. I was just scatter-brained.”
The Mayo Clinic states that symptoms may subside over time, while others are faced to deal ADHD their whole lives. For these individuals, there are strategies they can learn to be successful.
Brown School facilitates a unique educational program coined IGNITE, an acronym which stands for Individualized Goals Nurtured in a Team Environment. The program, which is offered to all Brown School students, focuses on helping each child reach their goals in areas that include academics and extracurricular activities.
IGNITE is not a franchise, it is a program unique to Brown School and developed by one of its own educators, Nina Benway. Benway, who is the director of the program, adopts aspects of different learning practices and applies it to the students at Brown. The focus of the program highlights the metacognitive awareness of each student. Metacognative awareness is defined as an individual’s self knowledge of how he or she thinks. Benway said people commonly develop this form of self-awareness in their mid- to late-20s. “Here, we’re going to give you a little boost.”
“The value of IGNITE is in inclusively offering every student access to appropriate educational opportunities, such as best practices in gifted education, in a way that mindfully considers a student’s strengths and areas for further development,” said Benway. “IGNITE is particularly well suited for students simultaneously demonstrating both areas of strength and areas of need, but the inclusive nature of the program naturally benefits every student.”
McLeron, feeling scatter-brained in her new surroundings, was one of those students in need. Though the program was not designed specifically for students with ADHD, the practices were not lost on the young student’s plan.
“If you can, find a teacher or a parent to help you set goals,” said McLeron. “Even if someone doesn’t play a specific part in your goal, they help in the overall picture. They will be there to say, ‘I know you don’t feel like it right now, but I think you need to study.’ … When I don’t get As, I get very disappointed, and sometimes I shut down and stop. But, with support, that person can say, ‘you may not have received a good grade on this one, but let me help you get a better grade for next time.’ … Learn from your mistakes.”
In the beginning of the school year students, families and educators collaborate to document meaningful and obtainable individualized learning goals for each respective student. IGNITE started in part after the school’s participation in the MindUP curriculum through The Hawn Foundation. Through that program students learned social and emotional learning skills. Now in its fourth year, IGNITE still places emphasis on the importance of establishing a social network for emotional support as students set goals for themselves. That social network helps with motivation to stay on task, and for consolation if the expected outcome is not achieved. Brown School Principal Patti Vitale said the school’s network involves the collaboration of fellow faculty members, teachers with parents, and both teacher and parent working along with the student.
Once a student meets a goal, that student is recognized for it. A walk through the school’s hallways will often have one find a student wearing a paper badge on his or her chest, signifying the goal that was achieved.
The program impressed upon McLeron the need to be mindful of her role in her own education, to set goals and establish plans to achieve. “Now, I get straight A’s and I find it’s easier to get things done.”
Despite McLeron’s role as a student, Benway said the teenager has developed into an expert on the program, mastering each step and utilizing the program to achieve her academic goals.
McLeron said she aspires to become a writer. She already identifies it as one of her passions. She has interviewed and published pieces in her local newspaper. So, when the opportunity presented itself for her to interview a guest speaker visiting the Brown School, she jumped.
“She volunteered on her own; she wasn’t asked,” said Vitale. What happened next, the principal said, was a lasting experience for the career educator. “There I was sitting at the round table as she conducted her interview and I felt like I was having an out-of-body experience.”