AcademicsDec 23, 2021
— updated Dec 23, 2021
Leonhardt Academic Skills Center now fee-free
For Chris Ouellette, the Director of the Leonhardt Academic Skills Center, it’s all about inclusivity.
Mr. Ouellette believes all students can benefit from services the ASC provides, so he also believes those services should be available to all students, regardless of the ability to pay for them.
Now they are. Beginning this year, and thanks to Melissa Leonhardt ’76, the ASC is fee-free!
“This is something I have wanted to do since I got here,” says Mr. Ouellette, who joined the School in 2018. “Miss Hall’s is deeply committed to building a diverse, equity- minded, and inclusive learning environment, and we feel strongly that an inclusive learning environment includes supporting learners of all abilities, so let’s open the ASC to all students, and take the fees out of the equation.”
One of the School’s signature programs, the ASC provides academic and related support to students while promoting lifelong learning. That support includes one-on-one, group, and grade-level work on everything from executive function skills to subject-specific course work, and study skills. The ASC also supports classroom teachers in their work with students.
Until this year, for anything beyond occasional drop-in help, families paid for the service, based upon the needs of the student.
“The majority of boarding schools have a goal of inclusivity, but they also have academic support programs that are almost always an extra cost — as much as $12,000, plus costs for evaluations,” Mr. Ouellette points out. “Our program was not exorbitant, but it was still an extra cost a family might not be able to afford. So, the question became, how do we support students who might not have access to evaluations or academic support?”
The answer was a fee-free model.
“This is a program that can benefit everybody, because everybody can benefit from thinking about who they are as learners, how they learn, and what works for them.”
Director of the Leonhardt Academic Skills Center
The shift began to form last spring, after conversations with Allison Isbell, who ran the academic support program at LREI — The Little Red School House & Elisabeth Irwin High School — and is now the high school’s co-Principal. The thinking was the LREI model could be used as a reference for MHS.
With the shift, comes dispelling the notion that the ASC is only for struggling students or those with learning differences, such as dyslexia.
“This is a program that can benefit everybody, because everybody can benefit from thinking about who they areas learners, how they learn, and what works for them,” Mr. Ouellette notes. “Let’s embrace the mindset of, ‘Great learners seek outside assistance; great learners ask questions, and, ultimately, great learners come to the ASC.’”
It is still early in the year, but so far, the approach has worked, and the new model has been well received.
Because the majority of the ASC work is no longer with students who have paid for weekly sessions, Mr. Ouellette and Learning Specialist Wendy Forgie have more freedom in how they work with students. A student may only need a fifteen-minute check-in, rather than a 45-minute, weekly session.
“There will always be students who benefit from continuous, one-on-one support, and there are students who benefit from less frequent check-ins,” Mr. Ouellette says. “This model allows us to support learners individually, which is important when MHS offers students a personalized education.”
Ultimately, the ASC’s mission is about providing students with the skills to be successful no matter the setting.
“I want students to walk away from their experience here knowing themselves as learners, knowing what works well for them and what tends to be a speed bump to their success, and knowing how to access support that can lead to success in a non-Miss Hall’s environment,” Mr. Ouellette adds, “whether that is college or employment.” •