By Jay Cohen, M.Ed. A student’s ability to learn is often impacted by anxiety disorders. Although these kids might easily maintain average and above academic abilities, the stress related issues in the lives of these students sometimes point to their refusal to attend school in a traditional setting. The Transitions Academy, in Cherry Hill, NJ, offers a tolerance structured environment, created to foster a student’s ability to cope with the anxieties that are fueled by the stresses in the lives of these kids. Designed to address the needs of 5th to 12th graders, the program offers a “safe” haven for students to be when the symptoms of anxiety are unusually high.
The teachers here at the Transitions Academy engage their students in a variety of activities which are specifically created to make the school curriculum less stressful for students with anxiety disorders. Our teachers provide some time at the start of each school day for their students to acclimate or adjust to their daily routine. By providing a few minutes to discuss the events of the world or the previous day’s events in the lives of each student, we find that our students are more easily able to transition into the school day with less anxiety issues to impact their routine.
At both the middle and high school levels, teachers focus on relaxation techniques which we incorporate throughout the school curriculum. We concentrate on teaching our students how to be “mindful,” including methods of breathing and relaxation which are combined with a once-a-week class in yoga. It is important to note that parents receive communication via our school newsletter so that they may reinforce the relaxation techniques learned at school within each student’s own home.
Teachers at the Transitions Academy find that small group activities throughout the day enable students to cope with their assignments in a less stressful way. We constantly strive to decrease situations which are stress inducing through the constructing of student activities that offer ways to be successful without having to orally present the project in class. An example of this assignment restructuring is the creative use of original posters within each assigned lesson.
Finally, our teachers are discreet in the ways they treat and discuss anxiety symptoms with each student. Students are never singled out while in class, eliminating any personal humiliation that might be thrust upon the student. Instead, our kids are always offered the opportunity to discuss their anxiety privately with either a teacher or a trained and licensed in-house school social worker.
Alternative options for handling stress-related situations are always discussed, with the goal of resolving each incident often achieved. We aim to teach the students to always think positively about themselves, something that stress often presents a roadblock to accomplishing.
Each of our students usually shows a marked improvement in their outlooks on life and education from the time they enter our program. We are proud of the positive results which we produce.