The Charles Armstrong School
Mission & Philosophy
Charles Armstrong School serves high potential students with language-based learning differences, such as dyslexia, empowering them to thrive as learners in school and life.
All kids can learn.
All kids learn differently.
All kids must learn to use their minds well.
WHAT WE TEACH
The Four Essential Program Components
Charles Armstrong School has proven its ability to change the lives of students with learning differences by providing a signature educational environment. Our program is research-based and stresses academic excellence while emphasizing students’ strengths. The foremost goal at CAS is to prepare students to transition successfully to their next life experience, fully prepared with the capabilities to thrive. If students know themselves well, and can articulate their strengths and needs to others, there is a great possibility that they will be successful no matter where life leads them.
Our program is comprised of:
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HOW WE TEACH
The Six Essential Components of the CAS Methodology
How instruction is delivered at Charles Armstrong School is critically important to the overall program. Students usually come to us having experienced very little success in a traditional school setting with traditional instructional methodology. From research we know that specific intervention and instruction is imperative for our students in order for them to thrive in school and in life. Therefore, our methodology was developed precisely for our unique student population.
The National Reading Panel report released in April 2000 provides an evidence-based guide to what works in teaching children to read. The study, titled Teaching Children to Read, was conducted over a period of three years and included an analysis of over 6,000 studies of reading. The report recommends instruction that is direct and explicit, simultaneous and multisensory, includes checks for understanding, is structured and systematic, and is appropriately paced and repetitive.
Academic Concepts & Skills
Literacy, Mathematics, Science, History/Social Studies are the cornerstones of the academic program at Charles Armstrong School. Our program is embedded throughout with Technology and Communication skills. The California Content Standards serve as curriculum guidelines in each of these subject areas.
The Literacy program, based on National Reading Program research, is built around six essential components:
- phonemic awareness, phonics and decoding
- fluency-word recognition and spelling
- vocabulary and morphology
- grammar and usage
- writing and spelling
At CAS, we use programs supported by research with published outcome data. Our literacy programs include Fundations, Wilson Language (Gr.1-4) and Language!, Sopris West (Gr. 5-8).
Instructional Coaching Model
“A good coach is an excellent teacher and is kind-hearted, respectful, patient, compassionate and honest. A good coach has high expectations and provides affirmative and honest feedback that helps people to realize those expectations. A good coach can see something special in you that you didn’t know was there and help you to make that something special become a living part of you.” (Instructional coaching, 2007)
The overarching role of the coach is to build teacher capacity to implement effective instructional practices to improve student learning and performance
- Instructional coaches will collaborate with teachers to help choose and implement research based interventions to help students learn more effectively
- By collaboratively planning instruction, sharing information, modeling in the classroom, observing teachers give lessons, and providing constructive feedback, instructional coaches not only increase effective lesson implementation, but they can also increase the likelihood that teachers will implement an instructional practice with fidelity.
- Help unleash the power of teachers' own genuine leadership qualities. (Teacher Leadership 2006)
Much research has been conducted regarding the usefulness of faculty collaboration to achieve improvements in both staff development and improved student outcomes. It is increasingly recognized that if schools are to achieve better results with their students, it must be a collective endeavor rather than a collection of individual efforts. CAS has had a teaming/collaboration model in place for a number of years and recently we have increased the intensity of faculty collaboration and focus more deeply on improving student outcomes by using Instructional Coaches.
- Developing leadership within the school without making teachers administrators and allowing exceptional teachers to spend time in classrooms to providing direct services to our students when necessary.
- Build faculty ownership of the need for continuous improvement in curriculum, teaching practices, and professional development
- Rewarding exceptional teaching
- Growing teacher training expertise within the school and increased student outcomes
CAS instruction in Mathematics is rigorously systematic and each lesson connects to previous learning. Class instruction includes multi-sensory, hands-on activities, and use of manipulatives as appropriate. Skills and procedures are introduced slowly and practiced repeatedly until students are adept. The major goals for math instruction are developing basic skills, critical thinking, reasoning and problem-solving techniques.
The lower school faculty uses the Scott-Foresman Math series (which is aligned with the California Content Standards) as the core component of their curriculum, supplemented by strategies from Making Math Real. The middle school faculty uses the AGS Series (Basic Skills, Pre-Algebra and Algebra) and Accelerated Math, supplemented by Making Math Real strategies.
Science is an area offering great potential for many students with language-based learning differences because of their capacity for divergent and creative thinking. Investigation and inquiry come naturally to many of our students.
Science content is selected from the life, earth and physical sciences. In grades 5-8 lab experiences make up approximately half of class sessions and the major focus is to understand scientific processes rather than remembering facts. Students explore, observe, test, communicate, measure, infer, predict, generalize, formulate questions and hypothesize.
The CAS History/Social Studies curriculum helps students develop a growing understanding of the impact the past has on the present and future. Students have opportunities to become familiar with research techniques, the use of evidence and historical interpretation, and the analysis of other viewpoints.
Our History/Social Studies program integrates literature, science, drama and art. Grades 5-8 use the History Alive! (aligned with the California Content Standards) program, which helps students with diverse learning styles study history through hands-on activities. Grades 1-4 use the Houghton Mifflin Social Studies series each year focusing on a specific aspect of the Social Studies curriculum aligned with the California Content Standards.
Technology & Communication
Technology and Communication are embedded throughout the curriculum at CAS. Because of their learning differences, proficiency with technology helps to ‘level the playing field’ for our students. Students also learn to use technology as an important communication tool.
At CAS, students use three forms of technology to help build their unique learning styles and their communication skills.
- Assistive tools help students work around language challenges, leveling the playing field and enabling them to become lifelong learners.
- Instructional tools provide support to teachers in delivering instruction and help students understand concepts and practice skills.
- Invention tools unleash the superior visual, three-dimensional and creative abilities abundant in our student population.
In addition to these technology tools, students also build their communication skills in many other ways such as, increasing their self advocacy abilities, presenting reports and projects, leadership in student council, and participating in school-wide assemblies, talent shows and drama productions.
Our library supports the reading, research and learning styles of students with language-based learning differences. Through a close collaboration between the librarian and classroom teachers, the library works to integrate classroom curriculum and specific library skills.
Students learn library skills, select books, and learn about how to do research. The library is open during lunch recess for leisure reading or listening to books on tape, and provides Internet access. There is also a substantial collection of large print books, books on tape, periodicals, videos and CDs.
Recommended reading lists are available to the CAS community. The library is also a resource library for parents and teachers, specializing in information about students with learning differences.
Learning Skills & Strategies
Students at CAS develop specific learning strategies to help them access the curriculum. These strategies include:
- Organization & Planning
- Using Textbooks and Resources
- Thinking Skills
We realize the importance of these strategies for our students, and continue to improve this area of our program. Presently, in our Middle School, students are focusing on a specific strategy each quarter.
Gifts & Talents
An important aspect of our program is to provide opportunities for students to explore their strengths and build upon them. We believe that all of our students possess unique talents and strengths. Many of our students are divergent thinkers with great creativity and imagination; others are curious and inquisitive and enjoy the investigative process. We help our students identify their strengths and then support them in using their strengths to gain greater access to the curriculum and experience success in life.
All students participate in a visual arts program. We provide a creative environment which helps students understand basic art principles and practices while exploring art history, applications and processes. This encourages self-discovery, self-expression and empowerment.
All students in first through eighth grades attend art class regularly. The art curriculum covers basic principles of design and art elements. They discuss and experiment with creativity, communication and art critiquing and also integrate art into other classroom subjects as appropriate. Students also draw, paint, make ceramics, prints and paper, and sculpt using mixed media and other crafts.
At CAS, our music program broadens students' musical horizons. We build their rhythmic skills, melody recognition, note recognition, reading chord charts, strumming techniques, and world music perspective. We include instrument construction, music history, instrumentation, vocal range and ability, memorization, performance techniques, and original composition work. The CAS music program builds a sense of accomplishment and pride. It also develops new synapses, which benefit all other learning environments including mathematics and language development. Our students have opportunities for self expression during music recess where students have a choice of which song to sing.
Within the last few years, CAS has expanded the music program to include a school choir/glee club. This program develops two to three part harmonization, sight reading Solfege lines, builds community, breath control, and dance performance.
Each year the Charles Armstrong School Theater (CAST) presents an ambitious drama production. The Middle School, aided by the Lower School, performs at the Bayside Theater in San Mateo. Past productions include Annie Get Your Gun, Oliver, Bye Bye Birdie, The Wiz, Grease, Annie and The Wiz, as well as an original work, Legasea.
Movement (Grades 1-3)
The CAS movement program focuses on enhancing cognitive and motor skills including sequencing, spatial awareness, rhythm and dance. This develops body awareness and space consciousness, and builds competence and confidence in the students' ability to perform a variety of motor skills. These activities enhance children's positive self-esteem while they improve their social and cooperative skills.
Physical education and sports (Grades 4-8)
Students develop motor and loco-motor skills while learning to play sports and games. Sportsmanship and game concepts are emphasized as well as physical skills. Activities include flag football, volleyball, basketball, street hockey, fencing, archery, soccer, gymnastics, and various group games.
For those who enjoy competition, students are invited to join after-school athletic sports teams, such as street hockey, girls' volleyball, basketball, wrestling, soccer, tennis and bowling.
Student Community Service
Supporting the community is an important part of the Charles Armstrong School Program. We encourage all students to become outward-focused through our Community Service Learning program. Our program activities vary and has included activities such as:
- Expanding our Recycling Program
- Supporting the Center for Independence of the Disabled
- Regular trash pick-up
- Updating the landscaping
- Updating climbing structure
- Status reports to city of Belmont
- Expanding our Buddies program
- Continuing our Annual Food Drive
- Adopting four Senior Citizens facilities in Belmont
- Visits to several different facilities for assisted living, including
- Carlmont Garden Nursing Center
- Belmont Vista Convalescent Hospital
- Sunrise Assisted Living of Belmont
- Ralston Village
Career Path Education
Our parents have coordinated a series of speakers for our students. These speakers are successful people who also deal with dyslexia or other learning differences. Through the speakers talking about their careers and experiences, our students learn that there are many different career paths, and even with their learning difference they can be successful in life. They also learn that sometimes their learning difference is the thing that makes them successful.
Past speakers have included:
- Andrew Dornenburg, Celebrity Chef
- Ann Bancroft, Explorer
- Alumni panel, composed of high school and college students
- A panel of local business leaders, not the famous CEOs
- Chris Peakcock, Sucessful Businessman
- David Bois, Supreme Court Attorney
- Gavin Newsom
- Hugh Carpenter, Celebrity Chef
- John Chambers (CEO Cisco)
- Norbu Tenzing (past student’s grandfather who climbed Mt. Everest)
- Oliver Chin, Cartoonist
- Paul Orfalea, Founder of Kinkos
- Richard Branson, Founder Virgin Group
- Scott Erye, MLB
Our counselors work closely with the teachers to develop positive classroom management strategies and with students to develop leadership and social skills, and self-esteem. The department works with the athletic, drama, music, outdoor education and student council programs to develop the skills necessary for students' social and emotional development. This method allows the department to reach into all aspects of the CAS program and helps create and sustain a kind, respectful, safe and fun atmosphere for our students.
This popular program facilitates students’ learning about themselves, the environment and the interconnectedness of all life. When children experience the natural world in an interesting and fun way, they are more able to make informed choices about the environment as adults.
Each year, CAS students in grades five through eight participate in outdoor adventures such as kayaking, white-water rafting, a ropes course, river and coastal ecology studies, marine science, geology and geography studies, whale-watching, native cultures study and American history tours. We visit exciting natural areas such as Tamales Bay, the American River, the Marin Headlands, Yosemite National Park and Monterey Bay.
Developing resiliency in our students is one of the most important areas of our program when preparing students to transition. This area of our program includes:
We recognize the value of resiliency for our students, and strive to have a strong program to develop these traits in our students.
Student Mentor Program
The Student Mentor Program offers younger students the opportunity to develop a relationship with one or more older students who can become friends, role models and advocates. The emphasis is on the experience between the two students and the development of their relationship over time. The goal is to develop self-esteem, competence, trust and potential among all participants. This relationship can impact the mentor and the mentee by fostering personal connectedness, leadership, guidance and skill enhancement.
Students from the middle school are carefully placed with students in the elementary school, using the criteria of similar learning styles, personalities, and shared interests. Specific goals are developed throughout the year for each student to ensure that the program is meaningful for all those participating.
CAS offers additional programs and services for students and their families, including:
- An after-school learning lab including homework support
- Speech and language therapy
- Before and after school daycare
- Summer school and Camp Armstrong (day camp)
- CAS Parent Education program
- Transition workshops
- Referral service for tutoring and other clinical services