Special Report: A Lesson in Learning

Maarja Anderson
July 07, 2016 07:08 AM

On the floor, doing what looks like yoga, is where Paiton Johnson's session begins. She just finished the third grade at Holy Rosary and now twice a week you'll find her at Duluth Core Learning -- starting with strengthening the core and then heading to the table to tackle letters.

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Because Paiton's dyslexia can throw her some curve balls.

"Like Bs and Ds, sometimes letters get mixed up," the nine year old explained.  

She started coming to the center last year, and since then, Paiton has seen improvements that put a big smile on her face.

"I'm doing really good so far. On my report card I have A's and B's!" she said.

A recent milestone she's especially proud of - she can recite the ABC's backwards in around 4 seconds.

It's triumphs like that, that they see every day at Duluth Core.

"It's been really successful. It's been really busy," said director, Carolyn Haney.

So successful in fact, that Haney opened a second location in downtown Duluth this spring, just two years after opening the first in the Chester Park neighborhood.

And with school out for the summer, lessons are ramping up. A quick glance around the center and you'll see it's not your conventional classroom. Students don headphones, speak into microphones, some are stretching on the floor, and at any given time, you will likely hear a metronome in the background.

It's steady, rhythmic beat is a tool used throughout sessions.

"The metronome is an organizing factor. It essentially creates file folders in the brain and then we teach them how to access it and which file to go to. But it gives them a place to link to the beat what they are learning," Haney explained.

The program's quick growth may be because there's not much else like it. Haney, a former public school counselor and teacher, saw a need and took action.

"When someone is struggling at school and they fall in this "no man's land," in this gap, they aren't low enough for Special Ed but they aren't close enough to the bench marks, so they don't get those supports," she said.

With a Master's degree in educational psychology, Haney says that we now know more about the brain, so we're learning more about how we learn.

"It used to be that you are born and your brain is what it is and you deal with it - you accept it. Now we know the brain is plastic and that it can change and grow so we can get past those barriers," said Haney.

At Duluth Core, they don't focus on school subjects - like math or reading. Instead, they develop underlying skills that support sitting in a classroom.

"Some of what we work with has to do with dyslexia, ADHD, memory issues, lots of processing, we get a lot of auditory processing issues," she said.

Help processing sounds is part of what brings 11-year-old Chris Nikcevich to the center three times a week.

"We practice sounds and do exercises to make my core strong," Chris said with a smile.

He works one-on-one with Micah Schwecke, a UMD junior trained as a cognitive skills clinician.

"So for him, with auditory processing issues, it is really, really difficult for him to hear all those sounds and put them together so that's really what we are working on," said Schwecke.

Chris says he really likes coming to Duluth Core because it's quieter than school - making it easier to relax and concentrate.

"There's a lot of talking in my school and I can't really pay attention that much," said Chris.

And focus is something we noticed all around us at the center. Focus -- despite chattering in the background, metronomes keeping beat, and in this particular case, a camera up close and personal.

"There is always something else happening, so we work a lot on attention and focus," said Haney.

It's multi-tasking to the extreme. Sometimes, it may result in mistakes, but at Duluth Core, Haney says they love mistakes. It's all part of learning, because eventually, those mistakes turn into results that have proven to be quite powerful.

"We are seeing more focus, we are seeing more independence, and efficiency in their learning. Grades are jumping and we are seeing them more confident," Haney pointed out.

Those skills are long-lasting and life-changing, making the classroom no longer a place where some kids struggle and fall short, but a place to thrive and flourish.

Though Duluth Core is full of kids this summer, Haney says they welcome students of all ages. Their oldest student has been 75. If you're interested in learning more about what they do at Duluth Core, an informational session is coming up on Tuesday, July 12. You can find more information here


Maarja Anderson

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