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Growing a love of learning

Enrichment Therapy & Learning Center offers kids an alternative
Learning specialist Elizabeth Drewelow guides students Parker, Reese, Caleb, Claudia and Cohen (not pictured) in a science experiment, using lemons to conduct electricity. Located at 1210 Jordan St., Ste. 2A in North Liberty, Enrichment Therapy & Learning Center opened July 2017, and provides local kids a broad range of schooling and therapy options outside a conventional classroom setting. (photo by Cale Stelken)

NORTH LIBERTY– On the morning of Wednesday, April 25, five students huddled around a table, immersed in a science experiment. In the theme of invention, learning specialist Elizabeth Drewelow led the group as they pierced lemons with pennies and nails in attempt to conduct electricity. But this was not your everyday science class.
Located on Jordon Street in North Liberty, Enrichment Therapy & Learning Center, P.C. offers an alternative path to learning for students struggling with academic and communication skill development.
“Our goal is to be a bridge, so that we can help them get from academic frustration to academic success as quickly as possible,” said President Sonia Culver. The office provides an individualized approach to improve each child’s ability to communicate with others and succeed academically. Culver said the individual and small programs have seen great progress. They provide services for very young toddlers all the way through high school. Services include speech and language related services like articulation, fluency, feeding and swallowing and social skills, as well as academic related services like reading (dyslexia), spelling, math (dyscalculia), expressive writing and handwriting skills.
“We’ve had many students go back into the schools, functioning at or above their grade level,” Culver said. “It’s really rewarding to see.”
Enrichment certainly takes some decidedly unusual methods in its creative approach to education. Their LEAP program (Language Enrichment Academic Program) is a half-day or full-day program.
“There’s no grade level,” Culver explained. “So our classroom has student from second grade to sixth grade and we teach them at their abilities, not their age or grade level.”
To ensure better focus and attention, the classroom doesn’t house more than 10 students at a time. Although some adaptation is needed for independent projects, social skills, history, social studies and science are all practiced as a group, regardless of age. Reading and math lessons, however, are taught at each child’s academic level. LEAP’s mission is to meet the child where they are academically and move them to where they should be according their age and grade level.
Enrichment students are able to apply their skills that they are learning with reading, reading comprehension and math to science and social studies units. Many of the students who attend Enrichment are not natural auditory learners (learning through listening). Instead, they learn through watching and hands-on experience. While LEAP aims to help students learn in a variety of ways, it also provides opportunities that can foster a love for learning.
“Science and social studies are not only very hands-on and visually interesting, but the students get to contribute their own ideas of what they want to learn about and explore,” Culver said, citing a student whose love of history has the class studying World War II. Before coming to Enrichment, many of these students had given up on learning out of frustration, Culver explained. “So we are constantly doing activities to help increase their language, whether it be memory skills, comprehension, following directions, increasing their vocabulary and increasing their abilities to read others’ body language, understanding their own emotions.”
Culver also described the benefits of blending students from a variety of ages. “Children learn the best from other children,” she remarked. “They love that interaction, and it creates leadership skills in the older students.” And while there’s currently little age gap at the North Liberty location, Culver cited major strides of confidence in one notably withdrawn, three-year student as he now engages younger classmates at the Urbandale office. “There was no way he was going to be a leader in his previous setting,” she recalled. “He walled up and didn’t want to participate at first. Now he’s one of the older ones, and he is taking on this leadership role. To see him mature into that is so awesome. His parents could not be happier.”
Typically the half-day students receive their core subjects in LEAP and receive their specials like music, art, PE at their regular school. Enrichment welcomes the opportunity to work in collaboration with the private and public schools to ensure a smooth transition. Other students attend LEAP all day. The program is especially designed for children who have been diagnosed with dyslexia, ADD and ADHD and need extra support to reach their peers’ abilities.
Enrichment also provides a group program called eLEAP (early Language Enrichment Academic Program) for preschoolers who struggle with language and communication skills. Early literacy and math skills are also targeted during these sessions.
While the group programs are one resource for second to sixth grade students to reach their potential, and are designed for students who exhibit a mild to moderate delay, Enrichment also provides individual sessions for a larger continuum of delays and impairments. These focus on a variety of skills depending on the child’s age and needs. Articulation, expressive language, feeding and swallowing can be addressed with toddlers and preschool aged kids.
“It’s very fun but very specialized in what each child needs,” Culver remarked. “They think they’re playing, but they’re really learning.” School-aged students attend individual sessions for acquiring speech sounds, language development, reading, math, writing and social skills.
These programs differ from the traditional tutoring resources in that all of the services are provided by a licensed speech-language pathologist (SLP) or teacher, depending on age and need of the child. Culver noted the importance of merging both medical and educational based approaches to the various hurdles children face.
“We want to merge the two, because it’s so important for both sides to be addressed, “ she said. “That is my focus in starting this.” This means that we can address underlying medical related conditions that can also contribute to the student’s academic growth. For instance, if a child has an underlying speech disorder affecting his ability to communicate and understand sounds in our language, that may ultimately affect his ability to read fluently as he gets older. Therefore, the SLP would incorporate, medical-based techniques like prompting certain muscles on the face to form the correct placement to produce the sound, while also teaching the child how that sound differs from other sounds in the way that it feels when making the sound and the letters that represent that sound. “We often use a multi-sensory approach to learning so that the child can better understand what we are teaching them,” stated Culver. “We spend a lot of time with the parents, coaching them on things that they can do, giving them strategies.”
While group programs are designed for children with mild to moderately delay, individual sessions are designed for kids on a wider continuum of delays or impairments such as autism or Down syndrome. Generally, the group session programs are privately paid; however some insurance policies may cover individual sessions depending on the child’s impairment and the client’s specific insurance policy.
Culver, a speech-language pathologist (SLP), knows all too well the frustrations students can face. As a young child, she struggled to maintain the same performance as her fellow classmates, and years later, her daughter would have difficulties reading.
“That’s when I really started diving into what program are working, what program had a research base,” she said.” I just started pulling from all these different program and that’s what has helped us to develop Enrichment.”
Culver also took influence from Parents as Teachers, a Missouri-based program where teachers visit toddler and preschool aged children’s homes as a screening measure to identify delays. “Usually within 20-30 minutes, we can tell whether a full evaluation needs to be done,” Culver said. These screenings are provided by Enrichment to the community free of charge.
Enrichment Therapy and Learning Center began modestly in Culver’s home in Kansas City, Missouri, conducting individual sessions and contracting with local schools to develop similar programs. After moving to Iowa, she found a continued demand for alternative education programs stressed by parents of struggling students so she established this company in July of 2011 in Coralville. Enrichment Therapy and Learning Center recently moved to North Liberty last July.
And to curb what it refers to as the “summer slide,” the office is hosting two sessions in its summer program to keep kids in academic shape. The sessions, one in June and the other in July, are four weeks long, span grades second through sixth and include two-hour reading groups, as well as hands-on programs for mathematics and social skills. “It’s very fun but very specialized in what each child needs,” she remarked.
While the unconventional approach of Enrichment may be a point of skepticism for some parents, Culver is quick to cite examples of academic progress.
“It is not uncommon for us to see two and a half years gain in about five months,” she said, marveling at a forth-grader who was significantly delayed in reading and diagnosed with dyslexia but within four months of attending the LEAP program and receiving individual sessions grew over two years in reading accuracy. Another student gained five years in certain areas of math in one academic year.
“Once he got those concepts, it all started to click,” she said. “It’s pretty incredible. As confidence increases, it creates this snowball effect of progress.”