Learning about Learning Lab

Dana Hall offers students many opportunities to get the resources they need to succeed. One of these resources, introduced six years ago, is Learning Lab. According to Ms. Kim Stewart, one of the two Upper School learning specialists, “Learning Lab is a small space for students to get help from learning specialists. Specialists help with self-advocacy skills, filling out a planner for the week, organization, time management, and content.”

Different from Math, Science and Writing Lab, Learning Lab is “basically a study hall except for that you have a teacher next to you who happens to have a lot of knowledge and strategies about school and studying and academics,” according to the other Upper School learning specialist, Ms. Jillian DeBusk.

A Learning Lab block, which students have built into their schedule (usually replacing a typical study hall), starts with students writing down what they will be working on and indicating if they want help on their work. Students work on their own while either Ms. Stewart or Ms. DeBusk individually help those who have asked. Once each student who wishes to meet with a learning specialist has done so, there is typically a larger group check-in with the students. How much time the learning specialist spends with a student depends on how much help the student needs. 

“Because there aren’t a lot of dyslexic people in the school, being able to have Learning Lab with people who have similar experiences as me is super helpful,” said Cait Klosek ’24. While most students in Learning Lab identify as neurodiverse, having a learning disability is not a requirement to be in the class. However, any student who uses accommodations (i.e. extra time, small venue, computer) is automatically scheduled into Learning Lab. 

Ms. DeBusk said, “I think sometimes there is a belief here at Dana Hall that people in Learning Lab either because they can’t do their work or they don’t have the intelligence to do good work.” She hopes the Dana Hall community will understand that “being neurodivergent doesn’t mean that you are not intelligent or capable; it means that you need something that maybe someone else doesn’t need.” Learning Lab helps create an equitable learning environment for Dana’s neurodiverse students. 

Every year the Upper School Learning Specialists meet with the Middle School Learning Specialist, Ms. Megan Anderson, to place rising ninth graders they agree would benefit from Learning Lab. Students coming from other schools may be recommended to be in Learning Lab if they have had educational testing done. Even if a student is not initially enrolled in Learning Lab, students may be added throughout the year if the learning specialists, class deans, teachers, or advisors think it’s appropriate. 

Each year one learning specialist is assigned to work with the ninth-grade class and continues working with the same group of students throughout high school. Ms. Stewart said, “One thing that makes Learning Lab so helpful is how individualized it is, so every student can get the help they specifically need. Another thing that makes Learning Lab special is that the specialists stay with their students throughout the years, so they get to know each other well.”

Other than working with their two respective grades of Learning Lab students, the learning specialists are responsible for running the neurodiversity affinity group, assisting in setting up neuropsychological educational testing for students, organizing test accommodations, and being an advocate for Dana Hall’s neurodiverse community. 

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