Every day at Carroll, 149 highly trained educators are devoted to meeting the needs of each and every student. We spend untold hours thinking about, talking about, strategizing on behalf of, nurturing, encouraging, and supporting our students, individually and collectively.
And we recognize that, just as important, is the need to make space for their voices, too.
Acknowledging and listening—really listening—to our students’ experiences helps us to understand if what we’re doing is hitting the mark.
Recently, Stella Grossman, a sixth grader, and Jay Rubenstein, a fourth grader, sat down with me to share their thoughts on a range of Carroll topics. Not only do their insights affirm Carroll’s mission, they remind us of the very lives and families we have the privilege of touching—even transforming.
Best Thing About Being a Carroll Student
Jay: Here, everyone has dyslexia. It feels good. It's not like my old school, where only two other people had dyslexia.
Stella: I used to feel like I was always three times behind everybody else. I took Spanish in my old school but I never really got to actually do it because I got pulled out. Here, everyone around me is doing the same thing every day, so I’m not behind on anything. I can understand things more.
Renée reflection: All Carroll students share the experience of having a language-based learning difference. It’s a powerful commonality, which we elevate, that makes them feel they truly belong. Kids often tell me that they don't have to explain how they learn and feel relieved being in a school where people “get” them.
Jay: I love Bounders. It’s active like P.E. but with woodworking and crafting. You get to make stuff. My favorite activities are the games Pigs in a Pen and Camouflage, and woodworking. It’s fun because you get to be outside, move your body, and play games.
Stella: I’ve had P.E., Makers, and performing arts so far. [Stella joined the Carroll community in September.] I really like Makers because Mr. Mulready is one of my favorite teachers. He’s really nice and fun, and reminds us it’s ok to make mistakes. I just made a lightbox on the computer and sent it to the 3D printer, then we got to solder on everything else. You can use blow torches, soldering irons, saws, and 3D printers. You can really make anything. I also love P.E. because we get to use the whole gym to play games that I’ve never played before. We’re always working together as teams.
Renée reflection: As Jay and Stella describe, our Multis programming is designed to be hands-on, active, and creative, purposely geared to the strengths that many of our students possess. We love watching how their confidence and camaraderie flourish in these spaces, where they can not only feel safe taking risks and trying new things, but showcase their talents.
Jay: For homework, we have one math page and we read for 20 minutes. Sometimes I read to myself and sometimes to my parents. It feels like just the right amount.
Stella: I used to cry every single day because I got so frustrated with homework. In math, we would do a lesson in class but the homework would be totally different. Now, my math teacher at Carroll explains what we’re doing in class and the homework is the same thing so we know how to do it. Homework feels easier. I can just do it on my own when I get home instead of needing my parents’ help. I feel good about the scores I’m getting on my tests. I used to be so afraid of seeing my test scores because I knew they were going to be low. I knew I could never get the scores my friends got. But I feel like I could get those scores now because Carroll makes it so much easier to learn.
Renée reflection: I’m glad to hear Jay share that homework feels “just right.” It should. Teachers intentionally assign at-home work that allows students to practice what they have already learned because we know that repetition is key. There are no surprises. And there should certainly be no tears. Homework is a chance for students to “show what they know,” and once again, build their confidence.
Jay: The teachers at Carroll make learning more fun. For math, Mr. Walton does some math games where we can shoot hoops to solve problems. Math word problems used to be hard for me because they wanted us to try to read them to ourselves. But here, Mr. Walton tells us what the problem says.
Stella: The teachers at Carroll are so engaged and really want to teach us. They know how we think and learn so it’s much easier to get school work done when they teach things more clearly. Like in history, instead of just writing we get everything to prepare ourselves first—like a graphic organizer and a checklist to make sure we write everything we’re supposed to. Teachers break down all the steps so it’s not just “write an essay.” Also, there are fewer kids in class, which helps. And you can use voice-to-text [an assistive technology that automatically converts a student’s speech to text on the screen].
Renée reflection: I couldn’t agree more with Jay and Stella. We take professional growth seriously at Carroll, which is why our educators are so intimately knowledgeable about how students with language-based learning differences learn best. They are Carroll’s greatest asset, remarkably creative and passionate about their work. I feel honored to work beside them.
Jay: The furniture is different from my old school. Every seat in Mr. Walton’s room is a wobble stool. I like them. And I like the standing desks.
Stella: Every classroom varies, but I like that I can use a standing desk or wobbly stools in Mr. Dunckel’s class. Ms. Howe’s class has two bouncy balls, a nook, a soft rug, and some wobbly chairs.
Renée reflection: It’s affirming to hear how much Jay and Stella appreciate the range of seating options we offer in many of our classrooms. Like everything we do at Carroll, this, too, is intentional. We get that many of our students also present with attention challenges. The ability to move around during lessons focuses their attention and deepens their learning.
Why I Belong
Jay: Because everyone has dyslexia, everyone belongs. Before Carroll, I would get pulled out for tutoring and when I did testing I would miss recess. Here, everyone does tutoring. It’s way better because I’m not missing out on anything. Carroll is fun and different. Most other schools don’t have Bounders or morning recess [for first through third graders]. It’s good because I have a 20-minute drive to get here. It would be hard to just sit after that.
Stella: Being at Carroll feels like a privilege, a great opportunity, and it’s easier to learn. Waking up is still hard, but I’m excited to go to school now. I feel privileged because there are only so many schools that focus on learning differences. I also feel like I’m more connected. We did this thing in Hawks Nest where we got to work with seventh and eighth graders to make posters for the Lower School students for Dyslexia Awareness Month in October. One of our posters was on the good things about dyslexia, like how we see things from different angles. Everybody was so nice. I feel like I fit in a little more here. I can be who I am.
Renée reflection: These are perfect notes to end on. Understanding and embracing your learning difference, feeling a sense of belonging, and recognizing your potential is what a Carroll education is all about.