John Lawrence has been a principal at Shelterwood since August 2005 and works hard to deliver academic excellence at Shelterwood.
One aspect of delivering quality education is staying on the cutting edge of accreditation. In the beginning, Shelterwood was accredited by the North Central Association, which now lives under the umbrella of AdvancED. John plays an active role in the continuous-improvement accrediting center.
“I’ve gone through trainings and been a lead evaluator for AdvancED,” John says. “It gives me a good grounding in what we need to be doing here. I learn and bring back new ideas to Shelterwood and implement them here.”
But accreditation is just the beginning. A core part of John’s education philosophy is to focus on the commonalities between Shelterwood students and those in non-residential settings, not what sets them apart.
“We don’t spend a lot of time focusing on the differences between our student population and others,” John says. “We focus on the similarities. They are still kids. They need the same things.”
That said, education at Shelterwood offers some really important distinctions for students who are struggling with depression, anxiety and/or substance abuse.
Shelterwood creates individual academic plans for its students, and academics are integrated into each student’s treatment goals. For each student, teachers meet with therapists and house staff members to talk about the student’s progress, goals and struggles.
“We work as a team,” John says. “If a student is struggling, usually they are struggling across the program.”
John says academic concerns aren’t viewed as just the school’s problem to solve. The treatment team works together to figure out how to help the student in a comprehensive way.
“Maybe the house staff helps provide extra time for assignments, maybe the therapist looks at the underlying causes of the struggle,” he offers. “We’re supporting each other.”
Speaking of support, Shelterwood is uniquely positioned to address emotional issues in the classroom. “We can deal with things emotionally in the moment,” John says. “If we have to make adjustments, we can do that. If a student is struggling, we can give them support.”
That’s possible in part because of Shelterwood’s strong commitment to relationship. One of John’s favorite quotes is from James Comer: “No significant learning occurs without a significant relationship.” He talks about this with his teachers often.
“It’s really important. I share with our teachers: If a student is in a tough spot, they are not going to do anything for you unless you have a real relationship with them,” John says.
Shelterwood teachers know that their effectiveness—and their students’ performance—is dependent on forming that healthy relationship.
Strong relationships can help students transition more smoothly into academic life at Shelterwood. Shelterwood prides itself on helping students continue their current academic paths while here.
John says each student’s needs are different. Some students need to continue their core classwork. Some students are behind and need credit recovery help. Some students have been out of school for the semester or year and need to ease back in. Shelterwood meets students where they are.
One unique way to help students adjust more quickly is a software assessment tool that can evaluate where students are in their math learning, and then usher them through individualized lessons tailored to their current levels. It’s a helpful addition to Shelterwood’s traditional mathematics classes.
“Not every student will be using computer classes,” John says, “But it’s a great option for kids coming in midterm, or after not being in school for a while.”
Another strength at Shelterwood is our DESE Approved Private Agency certification. If a public school can’t provide for a student with special needs, the student can be placed with Shelterwood. Shelterwood then works with the student’s former school to coordinate plans, and the family may also be able to gain financial assistance from the state. The two-school cooperation not only makes enrolling at Shelterwood easier, but upon completion of our program, makes the transition back to the original school less difficult.
In addition to helping students settle into school life when they arrive, John says they also create paths for success when the students leave Shelterwood. “The key is providing them a way to stay on track,” John says. For students going back to their previous schools, the goal is for them to be on par with their peers. However, not all students return to the schools they left. When their prior school isn’t a good option anymore, and the student is close to graduation, Shelterwood has a continuing education program that is aligned with national and state standards. “They can continue online with teachers they’ve already built a relationship with,” John says. It gives Shelterwood students one more way to keep working toward their academic goals once they return home.
Some students come to Shelterwood having given up on their academic goals and find those fires reignited.
“We had a young man come to us as a junior,” John shares. “He was already a year behind, but while he was here he was able to catch up and even graduate a semester early.”
He’s now on his way to college.
“Because of the things he was dealing with, his academic goals were pushed back,” John says. “But when he came here, he worked hard and was able to get ahead.” John shares that he’s excited for the young man both because he graduated and because he’s not going back to the setting he struggled in before.
That’s what John loves most about Shelterwood: The opportunity to give students hope. Because they have other challenges, many Shelterwood students are falling behind or failing courses. They can lose confidence in their academic abilities and lose sight of their goals. But Shelterwood’s strong school program gives them their self-esteem back—along with a belief in their academic future.
“We’re providing them with hope when they feel like they don’t have any,” John says.