Kim Arrington, Principal at Joe Stanley Smith Elementary School, utilizes a “whole child” approach to strengthening the neurocognitive capacities of students in her school.
Principal, Kim Arrington, is on a mission to close the poverty gap for the students in her charge at Joe Stanley Smith Elementary School. She is working to give them the tools that they need to succeed both in and out of the classroom. Poverty is challenging enough to general education students, but when you add poverty to a special needs diagnosis, you have to go beneath the surface layer diagnosis or situation and deal with the root cause of the issue(s).
Poverty Can Stunt Short Term and Long Term Success
The stress of poverty can stifle achievement in children, both academically and in terms of motivation. With stress comes high levels of stress hormones. The longer the child lives in an impoverished situation, the greater the chance that he or she misses out on important development of areas of the brain that handle executive function. Without proper development, these children fall behind in the ability to plan, use impulse and emotional control as well as the ability to pay attention.
A cognitive cross-training program that focuses on strengthening the executive functioning skills is a valuable tool for educators to use with students that are dealing with poverty.
A Case for Using Cognitive Cross-Training to Increase Executive Functioning Skills of Children in Poverty
As early as age two, measurable differences emerge between development in children from low and high socio-economic status backgrounds. Conventional strategies are rarely enough to counteract the effects of poverty across the spectrum. For this reason, a medical intervention is needed to stimulate and promote development of the brain systems necessary for executive function. The ACTIVATE™ program can identify cognitive weaknesses as well as encourage, increase dendrite growth in the prefrontal cortex through its structured program of computer and physical brain exercises, and thereby help address, cognitive weaknesses identified during the assessment.
A computer-based cognitive cross-training system best suits this type of situation.
Results Are Measured and Tracked
Scientifically-validated, cognitive cross-training works with consistent use three to five times per week for 20 minutes per session. This neuroscience-based program developed at Yale University with NIH-funded research has generated measurable results in as little as 400 minutes. For best results, the program should be used for 1,600 minutes during the school year.
Dashboards simplify data, making it effortless for a teacher to see how their students are doing in the program. Easy-to-interpret charts and graphs bring the science of neuroplasticity into the classroom to provide differentiated education.
Cognitive Cross Training and the Special Needs Population
ACTIVATE™ has been used successfully in children with ADHD, with cognitive function improving and parent ratings of ADHD symptoms decreasing. ACTIVATE™ is designed to repeatedly stimulate neural networks and promote growth of new dendrites to rewire and improve performance of these networks.
Cognitive cross-training exercises the area of the brain that handles executive function, thereby increasing blood flow to that area by a small degree. This is hopeful for a group of students where planning, sequencing, and self-regulation are common challenges.
This functional change not only impacts their ability to function in an academic setting, but has a significant impact on their ability to socialize with other students. While different tools and aids, such as homework logs, checklists, and student placement in the classroom can make a difference, none of these deal with the underlying core issue within their neurocognitive systems.
Embedded within the program are four tests from the NIH toolbox that take measurements at the beginning, middle and end of the course. The program measurably strengthens the neurocognitive functions of children with learning disorders.
Cognitive neuroscience programs and strategies embedded into the classroom experience can improve the executive function of students at the elementary, middle and high school levels.
Physical exercise makes up the second half of the cognitive cross-train- ing system. Enlisting the aid of an OT is the way that Kim Arrington has chosen to implement the physical component of the program at her school. While not a necessity, students in those schools that do implement the PE program get a more rigorous cognitive training regimen than those that don’t use the PE program.
The physical education curriculum includes “More than 100 different exercises and activities for groups of 20 students or more, in lessons of 20, 30 or 45 minutes in duration. The program includes a variety of team-building games, incorporates social intelligence skills, and emphasizes cooperation over competition. Written for either physical education teachers or general classroom teachers, the curriculum includes a 200-page handbook with floor charts, diagrams, and step-by-step instruction on getting the most out of the program.” This program can be implemented in either a gymnasium or used in a classroom setting.
Cognitive Cross Training and the Multiplier Effect
Changing the behavior of one student can transform the environment of every classroom and social situation that child engages in during the day. For example if you have a child in your class with attention issues or a weakness in response inhibition and strengthen the corresponding area of the brain then that child can react to every situation differently. This new behavior creates a ripple effect among peers in class…even in the lunch room.