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Arrowsmith program focuses on strengthening students’ cognitive abilities

Students practice computer exercises at Eaton Arrowsmith Academy. The schools first opened in Canada but this fall, a new location will open in Redmond. - Courtesy of Eaton Arrowsmith Academy
Students practice computer exercises at Eaton Arrowsmith Academy. The schools first opened in Canada but this fall, a new location will open in Redmond.
— image credit: Courtesy of Eaton Arrowsmith Academy

When he was 3 years old, Heather Fay took her son Aidan to see occupational therapists.

He had issues with his short- and long-term memory, leading him to struggle with memorization. Fay said the teachers at Louisa May Alcott Elementary School spent a lot of time trying to help Aidan — something she greatly appreciated — but Aidan needed more and so he struggled.

By the time he completed second grade, Fay — who lives in the Salish Springs neighborhood off of State Route 202 in unincorporated King County between Redmond and Sammamish — said her son was exhausted from it all and she knew if they kept going, he would begin to hate school.

STRENGTHENING WEAKNESSES

So Fay and other parents in similar situations worked to raise money to bring an Arrowsmith program to Heritage Christian Academy in Bothell. The program focuses on strengthening students’ cognitive abilities, rather than teaching them how to work around their issues like other techniques would.

“They’re working at their level to stimulate and strengthen the cognitive dysfunctions they have,” said Sandra Heusel, communications director for the Eaton Educational Group.

Heusel likened the technique to someone with one weak arm and one strong arm, tying their strong arm behind their back and focusing on strengthening the weaker arm.

The students do a variety of exercises that are either auditory, on the computer or at a desk with a pen and paper.

Aidan was enrolled in the program this past school year as a third grader and already Fay said she has seen a difference. Her son’s math and reading skills have greatly improved: He could now do mental math, memorize phone numbers and recite the alphabet. Fay said with the latter, she has been trying to teach Aidan since he was very little and he has finally mastered the skill at age 9.

COMING TO REDMOND

And while Heritage is not too far from Redmond, Fay admitted it was not an easy commute as she also has to do the school run to Alcott just outside Redmond.

But starting this fall, Fay won’t have to drive as far to get Aidan the help he needs. This is because there will be an Eaton Arrowsmith Academy (EAA) and Eaton Cognitive Improvement Centre (ECIC) opening at 17946 N.E. 65th St. in Redmond.

Heusel said in addition to Heritage, there are Arrowsmith programs at Gateway Christian Schools in the Kitsap Peninsula, but the EAA and ECIC opening in Redmond will be their first standalone location in the state. She added that the Redmond location will also be a research school as they will look at the physical and functional changes the brain goes through while an individual is in the program. This research is free to participate in and is funded by a grant from Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s family.

Heusel said Nadella’s daughter has been attending an Arrowsmith school in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada and will be attending the Redmond location this fall.

Heusel said the goal of the research is to be able to have Arrowsmith exercises available in the public school system at no cost.

EAA offers full-time, half-day and after-school program options. Heusel said their students are usually with them for three to four years.

The Arrowsmith program was founded by Barbara Arrowsmith Young in 1978, with the first school opening in 1980 in Toronto. The program made its way west with the first Eaton Arrowsmith School established in Vancouver in 2005 by Howard Eaton.

EAA serves students in the K-12 age range and Heusel said the ECIC serves post-high school adults. She added for both EAA and ECIC, individuals do not need to be diagnosed with a disorder to enroll.

COMING A LONG WAY

While Fay’s son is still in the Arrowsmith program — with the goal to return to the traditional classroom — Alison Murray’s daughter has graduated out of it.

Growing up, the young girl struggled with reading and was below her grade level. Murray said they tried working with the Orton Gillingham program as well as the public school system to help with her daughter’s issues but they were not helpful. So when her then-business partner told her about EAA — which had just opened its first location in Vancouver, B.C. — Murray decided to give it a try because it sounded like “a cure” for her daughter’s issues.

Murray’s daughter initially enrolled in the EAA after-school program in fourth grade, moving up to full time during her fifth through seventh grade years. It was during the latter that she began noticing big differences in her daughter.

“I noticed improvements immediately,” Murray said.

She said before this, her daughter struggled with reading out loud but after that first year, it was as if she’d never had this problem.

“It was just bizarre,” Murray said.

She added that her daughter also became a voracious reader, often hiding in her closet to read late at night. Murray added that her daughter was able to read the four books of the “Twilight” series in one week.

Murray’s daughter graduated from high school this year from an International Baccalaureate school and even made it on the honor roll. In addition, she is headed to McGill University in Montreal — the equivalent of a Canadian Ivy League school — having made it in through early acceptance.

For Murray, to see her daughter accomplish what she has after her early struggles has been “nothing short of a miracle.”

“She was able to change her brain,” she said.

Both Murray and Fay are grateful to have found EAA, which has helped their children both academically as well as socially, and encourage parents whose children may have learning disorders to look into it. Fay said the Arrowsmith environment teaches students not to feel inferior just because they struggle with some things.

“They’re just beautiful individuals and they deserve a chance,” Fay said.

EAA and ECIC will be holding two informational meetings next month. The first one, for parents, will be Aug. 20. The second meeting, for professionals will be Aug. 21. Both meetings will be from 6:30-8 p.m. at the Old Redmond Schoolhouse Community Center at 16600 N.E. 80th St., in room 104. To RSVP, contact reception@eatonarrowsmithschool.com.

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