The Cove School Creates a Space for Learning and Community for Children with Learning Disabilities

“My daughter is one of triplets, and when she was in second grade, we could tell that the model of public school instruction was great for her brothers, but not for her,” says Winnetka parent Lisa Flanagan. There’s a school on the North Shore that was right for her, though; The Cove School in Northbrook has been described as inclusive, empowering, patient, collaborative, and cutting-edge. The school offers highly-individualized instruction to children with learning disabilities from kindergarten through high school, and has been doing so for more than 70 years. It holds the honor of being the nation’s first institution founded exclusively to serve these learners.

Flanagan says, “We did neuro testing and discovered that, basically, our daughter’s receptive language outstrips her expressive language — meaning that she understands information but isn’t always able to put her thoughts into words. A psychologist suggested we look at Cove.” At Cove, the aim is to prepare their students with not just knowledge and skills, but also the self-confidence needed to transition into post-secondary education or a job.

All of that preparation requires a very child-centered approach and the school makes ready use of IEPs (Individualized Education Programs) for each student to guide the teachers. “What my daughter was receiving is different from the instruction received by her classmate,” Flanagan says. Even the school’s facility supports the goal with loads of natural light and small class sizes. Rather than being separated and relegated to specific times, speech pathologists and social workers are frequently in class, their services worked into the curriculum. The programming is purposely flexible to support student success.

The preparation isn’t only academic — Cove provides myriad opportunities for students to form peer groups. From sports like basketball and track to clubs and activities like school play performances, students are able to connect and explore outside the classroom. Research shows that when there’s a sense of community — like that developed in after-school activities — kids are less likely to drop out of school. “Sometimes these students can feel alienated in a traditional environment,” says Flanagan. “Shoring up the social stuff allows them to focus on learning.”

However, it’s not only the students that need a social support system; their parents benefit from Cove’s community as well. “Parents of past and current students act as resources for each other. It can be isolating to have a child with a different learning style and it’s wonderful to be with others who understand your language. When we got to Cove we felt like we weren’t alone anymore,” Flanagan says.

The school generates these kind of success stories by being flexible and extremely research driven. Flanagan says that, in large part, that’s thanks to Dr. Sally Sover, the school’s executive director. Sover is committed to staffing the school with experienced, “visionary” teachers and implementing the newest, well-founded research to make improvements in the curriculum and structure of the school day. For example, Sover added more movement time in each day for students after reviewing research that showed physical activity improved behavior in classrooms and increased academic achievement (especially in math and reading). The school also regularly brings in speakers — like clinical neuropsychologist Dr. Jerome Schultz — on topics of interest to educators, parents, and students, such as how stress impacts kids with learning disabilities and ADHD.

It’s not easy to create a community this special — it takes resources. To that end, The Cove School hosts a yearly benefit. Generally, school fundraisers tend to be heavily parent-attended affairs, of little interest to the community at large; but Cove’s event attracts such a diverse slice of its nearby communities that only about one-third of the attendees are parents. The majority of guests are community members or friends of Cove who have attended in the past and have fallen in love with the school’s warm, inclusive environment. It’s a sophisticated, yet fun, evening that raises funds for school programs, such as investments in technology, training, upgrading the space, scholarships, and more to keep Cove going. In the words of Wilmette resident, and former Cove president, Ed Finnegan, “Cove is a place where miracles happen every day.”

Consider attending the school’s upcoming 2019 Annual Benefit:

Be the Spark

Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019

6 p.m.

Loews Chicago O’Hare

Find more information and an opportunity to RSVP here.

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