Friday, June 9th, 2006
Sanford Shapiro looks at Winston School, San Antonio
© 2006 Sanford Shapiro
As it turns out there are several schools throughout the country named Winston School and while they are all for students with learning disabilities, they are separate entities. There are even two in Texas, one in Dallas and this one in San Antonio. Of course their namesake is Sir Winston Churchill one of the famous statesmen reported to have been dyslexic.
On the day I arrived the school had been preparing for a visit from the founding headmaster and were quite excited. It was again interesting to see a longstanding school retain strong connections to founding members and yet be able to move forward in its own direction.
This year there were approximately 170 students in this K-12 school. About 70 were in grades K-6, fairly evenly divided among grade levels, another 40 in the middle school and 60 students in the upper school. There are a growing number of girl students and ratios of boys to girls are in the 3:1 range.
The learning profile of this Winston School takes a bit of discussion. Most kids here have more language-based learning difficulties, resulting in struggle with reading for meaning and fluency, as well as writing challenges. There are some kids here who do not enter with an official diagnosis of LD but who are nonetheless struggling with foundational learning skills. Though only a small number fit into this category the school does have a diagnostic center that can assess the learning strengths and weaknesses. In addition there are maybe a handful of students who fit the characteristics of Asperger’s Syndrome but have strong enough social skills to fit in well.
In terms of placement and admissions information that is noteworthy, I would say that the admission’s committee can look at a kid who may be a bit out of their norm (whether in terms of social or academic needs). For such situations the school is set up to enroll a student who needs a closer and longer look, with what they call a diagnostic placement. This is generally a six-week period. They often use their summer program as a way of assessing the relative fit of a prospective student.
There appeared to be a pretty strong use of computer technology. There was ample use of Kurzweil Readers and digital projectors were part of the instructional delivery in many of the classes I visited. Arts appeared alive and well at the school and in fact the word on the street is that the head of the Upper School has made expansion of the arts program a priority. Curricular approaches are Orton Gillingham based for reading and spelling particularly for the younger students and up to middle school. Starting at about the 4th grade you’ll see more mainstream type readers, such as the Harcourt Brace series, that focuses more on comprehension.
A pretty clear emphasis seems to be placed on teaching students pro-social skills. All kids up to 6th grade are on a token reward system that focuses on organizational success as well as behavioral. There is a free time before lunch that is earned from these tokens as an example. The whole school has a study hall/homework time available from 3 till 4 pm. In addition to the Token Reward system for the younger kids, the high schoolers may take a special class, like an elective, that is based on the Seven Habits of Effective People/Teenagers work. Speaking of electives, there’s a pretty healthy choice of clubs for kids to choose from including Chess and Dance (separate classes).
Each high school student meets with an advisor twice or three times daily, first thing in the morning, right after lunch and again before the end of the day.
Related at this site: Winston School, San Antonio