The push to mainstream students with disabilities into the general education population in the U.S.’s public school system has led to several innovative programs. One of them is the learning center.
Although operated differently throughout the United States, it is generally set up as a classroom or lab in which students with learning disabilities can receive academic support. Some schools have designated an hour in the day for the students in order for them to take part in this program. Others simply keep it open throughout the school day for students to go to when they need extra time to complete an assignment, take a test, or get assistance from the teachers or instructional assistants coordinating it.
In many cases, it is a service offered to resource students (RSP) – students with learning disabilities who have been mainstreamed or placed in general education setting for the majority of the day. However, most districts have opened offer it to special day students (SDC) – those who may spend less than a half of their day in a regular education classroom – and to general education students who are seeking help on a particular subject.
Also included in some centers are programs and technology for the physically disabled. This may included print enlargement for those with visual impairments; note-taking support for physically immobile (a teacher from the center may go to a class to take notes for the student); or closed-caption media for the hearing impaired.
As mentioned, the learning centers are often placed in a classroom setting. Their configuration can range from having “stations” (where there’s books or programs associated with an academic subject are found), group seating, computer labs, libraries or “cubical” desks and setting. However, some districts and schools have utilized a separate building or room within the school’s library. In other cases, the “center” might be a computer lab or office.
Often, the well-equipped learning center will have nearly every tool of accommodations for the student’s use. This may include audio-books and headset; copiers or computer programs for enlarging the text of an assignment; note-taking support devices; calculators and manipulative for math; charts for all subjects; and additional help from the teacher or instructional assistant.
Besides assistance, learning center teachers may teach subjects such as study skills or basic reading or writing. Many use the first 10-15 minutes of class time to teach these skills and have them do school work form other classes for the remainder of the hour. Also, it is not uncommon for the teachers at the center to have notebook or note-taking checks to ensure the students are organized and participating in the general education classroom.
Learning centers are utilized at every level of education. While elementary schools offer them as part of a “pull-out” system (student is pulled out for a half-hour to an hour each day to learn the basics), secondary schools will either offer it as an elective course or as a service. Usually, middle schools and high schools will offer it as a credit/no-credit course. They will either be graded on assignments given by the learning center teacher, the work they do from other classes, or both.
Most learning centers are designed to have one teacher and instructional assistant in the classroom. However, in other programs, RSP teachers with specialties in certain academic areas are paired up and placed in a team-teaching situation. For instance, one teacher may have specialty in English while the other is an expert in math. Also, these RSP teachers will most likely have instructional aides. As result, a learning center can be covered by four adults.
Based on the school or district’s policy, learning center will differ greatly. Still, its flexibility has become a desire, if not essential, part of educational process for special education students.