St Mark's Arrowsmith Programme
St Mark's School has been offering the Arrowsmith Programme since 2016 with exciting results. Students have demonstrated growth not only in the Arrowsmith Programme but also across classroom academic subjects. Students report feeling more confident and settled at school and take on new challenges with success.
Alessio was in and out of hospital quite a bit when he was young. As a result, both Alessio and our family were really looking forward to settling in a regular school routine when he turned 5.
But after a few weeks at the new school it became evident that Alessio was not learning at all like the other children. He was happy to see other kids but every day he was getting more and more behind, and more frustrated. His behavior dramatically deteriorated, he stopped sleeping at night. We did not know what to do. The school did not know what to do. Alessio often was punished at school for misbehaving. Things got worse. That’s when a friend told me about neuroplasticity. It seemed intuitively right that if the body can re-train, the brain maybe also could.
We immediately looked into the Arrowsmith programme, the best one in the world in this field, and reached out to families that had experienced it. The feedback was positive. We could see the potential for our son.
The issue was that there was no programme where we lived. I talked to his school about opening a class there, but the policies of how they got their funding made it impossible.
We started contacting other schools, we considered moving, we kept talking to other parents and families – and then we found St Mark’s. The school was willing to consider adding an Arrowsmith class.
The day the school agreed to open the programme our lives started to change, we knew there was hope for Alessio.
The first Arrowsmith assessments confirmed that there was much to do, but it also mapped a way forward. We shared with Alessio that the new learning would be designed for him and he could learn at his pace. He understood he was changing school. His brother agreed to move school and be with him for the first year before moving to college.
As much as we were excited about the possibilities of Arrowsmith, in the beginning our main concern was getting Alessio settled in. After so much trouble in a regular school we did not know what to expect and were a bit afraid of what the school would think of taking him in.
He could not write or read any words, he could not even draw, he did not know his own last name, his sentences were all jumbled up, he could only remember one instruction at a time. He could not stay still, or quiet, for more than a few seconds. He would say and do the most inappropriate things, or at time without notice retreat in his world and talk to himself out loud.
But at the new school, and with his own programme to follow he was happy.
His smiles were back, the rage was less and less there, he was full of love and life again.
It was an immense relief to see the school and the staff were open to learning about Alessio just as we were. The school invested time and resources to train all staff, and integrate the Arrowsmith programme within the school life. Both the staff and the other children were accepting and caring.
In a few months Alessio started to relax, learning was not a nightmare anymore. He could be himself and not get punished or marginated. He could finally work at his pace.
As he was getting better at school, Alessio started to do new things also outside school.
One Sunday afternoon I found him playing lego. This would have been normal for another child his age but for him it was the first time. Alessio had received a lego box for building a plane as a present for his birthday by another child who did not know he had never been able to play even with the big blocks. He has stashed it away and never played with lego. That Sunday afternoon instead Alessio looked for the box, took all the pieces out and started following the visual instructions on his own. I was speechless. I kept casually tipping toeing back and forth to not disturb him but checking on progress… in less than half an hour he had completed his very first lego plane, from a box that was for kids one year older than him. He was so proud.
The picture of that lego plane is on our family wall of memories.
That was the beginning of a series of small breakthroughs both at school and at home. The most important change was that he realised he could actually learn things. Up to this point it all had just been a haze of chaos, but now he could see his brain in action and could see it worked. Alessio realised this before we did, as we were busy with work and juggling things like all parents do…while he was becoming more secure of himself. One day out of the blue towards the end of the first Arrowsmith year Alessio came to us and asked us if we could teach him some words from our own country. We played it cool but it was such a shock! Alessio knew that he could learn another language, our family language, and he wanted to – even though he had not yet mastered Year 1 English! Next he came to show us the English words he could read.
My husband was in tears when Alessio read ‘Dad’ for the first time.
Seeing Alessio now I cannot believe he is less than two years into Arrowsmith. He is a different child. He speaks fluently, he can draw, his passion for books knows no bounds, he is polite, he has friends, he performs in the school’s plays, he does his Arrowsmith homework by himself, he can recognise so many words! And he is doing some math, when before Arrowsmith he did not know 1 from 2!
Arrowsmith has made a huge difference for Alessio and for our family, it has given us a future to look forward to. It is the best choice we have ever made.