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The Learning Specialist at Your Child’s School

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The Learning Specialist at Your Child’s School

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Most public schools have specialists and special education teachers but how does having a Learning Specialist benefit an independent school community that does not specifically serve students with special needs? 

Who is a Learning Specialist and what do they do? 

A Learning Specialist is an academic leader at a school. They have usually been a classroom teacher for several years and have a deep interest in how children learn. A master’s degree and specialized training are required. A Learning Specialist may be trained to give published assessments to children and have more specific knowledge of how children learn than a typical classroom teacher. Schools use Learning Specialists in a variety of ways.  

At Fay, our Learning Specialist works with children, parents, teachers, administrators, tutors, and therapists. All Fay students in Kindergarten and First Grade are screened in Math and Early Reading to give us baseline data to follow students’ progress and identify students who may benefit from additional small group practice. The Learning Specialist also coordinates school-wide testing and vets tutors, so we refer parents to tutors who best meet their children’s exact needs. 

How can a Learning Specialist Help if I suspect my child has a learning issue?  

If you suspect your child has a learning need and would benefit from academic support, the first point of contact is your child’s teacher. Once a conversation has been initiated, the Learning Specialist will coordinate classroom observations to provide suggestions and strategies that can be implemented in the classroom. Depending on student needs and group dynamics, your child might participate in a small group to reinforce skills, build confidence, and track progress. Early intervention is essential, and sometimes, sufficient. If our team (Principal, Learning Specialist, Teacher, and Parents) feels progress is not sufficient and/or it is appropriate to initiate an evaluation, we will refer you to our trusted contacts. Parent perspective and support are valued and essential. 

How does having a Learning Specialist benefit my child if my child doesn’t have academic challenges? 

The Learning Specialist influences the overall curriculum of the school and has a firm understanding of educational research. He or she meets with teachers to write and evaluate the existing curriculum. On In-service days, the Learning Specialist leads professional development sessions for teachers. He or she is the point of contact for parents for schoolwide testing such as the CTP-5 in Upper Elementary and ISEE in Fifth Grade. He or she can help parents read and interpret testing as well as think through specific data points. 

During certain learning units, the Learning Specialist may be an extra hand in the classroom to help enrich lessons. This year, at Fay, each grade-level teaching team will plan a Project-Based Learning unit alongside our Learning Specialist. They will collaborate to build a project that integrates subjects, gives students voice and choice, and has a real-world impact. The Learning Specialist will be present during project milestones to support students as they progress through the project and assist with differentiation. 

Fay's Learning Specialist

Who is Fay’s current Learning Specialist? 

Alex Cammarota taught First and Third Grade at Fay before becoming our Learning Specialist. Prior to living in Houston, she taught in Nashville for three years. Alex earned a bachelor's degree from Vanderbilt University, as well as a master's degree in Special Populations from the University of Houston this past May. She believes all children are capable of academic growth and personal development when school is engaging, collaborative, and appropriately challenging. Alex is energized and enthusiastic about Fay’s future and loves to dream up the endless possibilities for individualization, student agency, and experiential education. She is grateful for the opportunity to support and learn with our incredible students and teachers, and she looks forward to advancing Fay’s mission and vision!  

About the authors: Alex Cammarota (Learning Specialist) and Melissa Sherman (Principal) have only worked together for two years, but in addition to their love of learning at The Fay School they share an alma mater- Vanderbilt University! Alex and Melissa lived in Nashville at the same time for seven years. Little did they know, they were teaching/learning across the street from one another for most of that time, both frequenting Peabody classrooms, Jeni’s ice cream, and even having a student in common!