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High School Presents Challenges for Students with Learning Differences

by By Rachel Wylde

Learning disabled high school students are self-aware, articulate and facing a number of social and academic demands. As one student describes it,

"I donít feel different anymore. At my old school, some people made fun of me for having a learning disability. At [the high school], everyone has different needs, but we all feel the same. If I had to go to a public school, I might be pushed around, teased and maybe been a high school dropout. So by being a student here, I can learn and make friends. At [the high school] I can learn stuff that Iíve never learned before. Now Iím doing great at math and communicating better. I travel all the way from San Francisco to come here because itís a place where kids who have learning disabilities can learn."

Families who are looking for a high school often discover that the capability of Bay Area high schoolsĖ-public and privateĖ-to address the special needs of learning disabled students is very limited. Many students are unable to receive the individualized, personal attention they need in large high schools with 30 or more students per classroom. Intensive remediation, specialized curriculum materials, and a trained teaching staff are lacking in public schools. Special education in public schools, rather than enriching special needs students, often limits their potential. Private schools are generally geared for the highest academic achievers who thrive in a fast-paced college-prep environment. Thus, they tend to welcome only those whose deficits are at the mildest end of the spectrum. For students from families with means, there are special education boarding schools on the East Coast designed specifically for this population. Regrettably, however, most students with learning disabilities struggle, and many times fail, in school settings that are neither equipped nor designed to address their neurobiological differences.

For these reasons, a group of educators and parents of students with learning disabilities joined together to found a new high school specifically designed for LD students, the only high school of its kind in the East Bay area of the San Francisco Bay. The result is Bayhill High School, which will open its doors in September of 2007. Bayhill follows in the footsteps of another long-standing LD program which is closing its high school program in June of 2007. Bayhill will preserve the essential features of this program.

  • Research-based remediation of basic academic skills, particularly in reading and writing. Research shows that multi-sensory reading instruction, such as Orton-Gillingham methods, actually change how poor readersí brains process information. At Bayhill, students with reading delays will attend daily classes in which reading remediation is direct, explicit, systematic, and multi-sensory and focuses on teaching phonics and improving reading fluency. This class is in addition to their English class which strives to help students appreciate literature and improve comprehension.

  • For students who are not experiencing delays in certain academic skills, Bayhill will offer college preparatory classes with modifications and support to ensure that students are not overwhelmed by unstructured assignments and crushing homework loads. These options will include advanced science classes, foreign languages, and higher level math classes.
  • Throughout the program and in specialized classes, there will be an emphasis on strengthening study skills for students who have weaknesses in executive functioning. Skills such as note taking, test taking, managing time and assignments, memorization skills, the steps in writing a report or essay, and keyboarding and basic computer skills will be explicitly taught.
  • At the high school level, it becomes increasing important to introduce students to assistive technology that has the potential to allow them to compensate for academic weaknesses, become independent learners, and use these technological tools to be successful in higher education and work. A computer lab, computers in each classroom, student-owned laptops, and specialized software in reading and writing will be part of the daily routine and integrated into instruction.
  • High school is a social time for students - a time when students are at risk for various adolescent problems or a time that can be very satisfying for teens. A small setting where students are known personally by all the faculty and where students are appreciated and accepted for who they are can be a tremendous relief for students who have been stigmatized because of their learning differences. In addition social skills groups facilitated by a psychologist, individual therapy, and weekly advisories will be used by many of the students who need support in social skills development.
  • Other specialized services, such as speech and language therapy, educational therapy, and homework support should be easily available to teens. Traveling to obtain these services takes away from time with family and friends and their ability to keep up with homework assignments. Bayhill will provide all these services on site and every student will receive some language therapy as part of the school program.
  • Even in a small high school that has a specialized focus students want to have the chance to experience the rituals and routines that make high school memorable. Consequently, Bayhill has established an athletic program in which students can compete in sports, has proms and dances, and a community service/vocational program that will allow students to work in the community for high school credits.

Dr. Mel Levine addresses the particular stresses that come about during the high school years. "As they set out in search of success in secondary school, the mind of students unknowingly confronts a series of steep challenges. "Dr. Levine identifies these challenges as being associated with the growing demand for more output and productivity, much of it in written form, as well as increased demands in the language, memory, social and organizational realms.

Even students who have received very good support during the younger grades may flounder in high school. Other students who have not been diagnosed previously and whose skills are well developed enough to allow them to pass the high school exit exam may find themselves unable to stay organized enough to pass their classes. These students need an environment in which supports are integrated throughout the school day to ensure their success.

Please visit our website for information about our school and admissions process at

For information about Bayhill or to discuss your childís specific need, call (510)268-1500.

Bayhill High School
521 Boden Way
Oakland, CA. 94610
Bayhill HIgh School on ISER

Disclaimer: Internet Special Education Resources (ISER) provides this information in an effort to help parents find local special education professionals and resources. ISER does not recommend or endorse any particular special education referral source, special educational methodological bias, type of special education professional, or specific special education professional.


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