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Helping students succeed

DEBORAH STEWART

DEBORAH STEWART

By Deborah Stewart

Before I started SoloQuest, I was instrumental in starting a public alternative school in Marin County. In the 1990s, when my sons were attending public school here in Sonoma, I worked in Marin as a principal and helped many students and families access the educational options offered. The district in which I worked was truly committed to providing alternatives for students.

Most of our students at the Marin school made progress and went out into the world prepared for all the options life has to offer. It was great. There’s nothing like feeling the joy of success as your students take the next step into the adult world.

But at the same time, I was haunted by bright students who didn’t succeed. There were students who seemed to have all the potential to be a big success at school, but instead struggled. It turns out that addressing the individual learning needs of students truly helps by accommodating them, but there is more to the picture.

These students weren’t lazy. They were hard working, conscientious and well behaved. Was it most of the students? No. But it was more than just a few. After a while, I realized it was a significant number.

All my education and background said that school should be working for everyone. My experience taught me otherwise. Despite all our efforts, there were students “falling through the cracks.” Bright students were failing despite giving all their effort. As I searched for answers, I realized no one else in “the system” seemed to have a solution.

For me, the biggest heartbreak was watching bright students not reach their potential and sometimes just drop out of school. School should be a place where every student can learn successfully, given the time and support needed. Yet, I was watching the pain and frustration overtake bright students, and they were giving up on being successful at school.

Traditional school just isn’t the right “fit” for all students.

There are many reasons that traditional school doesn’t seem to work for all. Some just need more time; despite their high IQs, they process information more slowly. For others, they have situations in life that keep them from being able to attend during the regular school calendar.

And then, there are bright students who are simply missing some of the essential skills that good learners have. These are things like auditory processing, specific kinds of memory (there are actually at least six different kinds of memory), visual processing, attention and executive function.

After 20 years as a teacher, administrator and principal, I resigned from my job as a principal in Marin to work at SoloQuest, dedicating myself full time to providing an alternative secondary educational option and academic support to students in all schools.

The “just didn’t fit” students are all different, but what they have in common is an inability to thrive in a large classroom-based system. SoloQuest’s mission is to focus on the individual learning needs of each student. And the “solo” in the name describes how many parents feel – like they’re all alone trying to figure out how to help their kids be successful in a structure that doesn’t work for them.

The foundation of SoloQuest’s approach is to be flexible, whether it’s with the student’s schedule of courses or the academic or cognitive tutoring support provided.

That was 16 years ago. Today, SoloQuest, a WASC accredited school, continues to provide even more programs, options and possibilities for students. I’m often amazed when I look at all we can do for students and families. I would never have believed all this was possible.

Is SoloQuest for everyone?

Certainly not. Traditional school works for the majority of students. Although, these days some do both – attend the traditional school for all their courses, take one or two courses with us, or come to us to build better and faster learning skills. It can truly be the best of both worlds.

Over the past 16 years, I have worked with an incredibly committed staff to offer a place for students who don’t fit the traditional mold or who struggle in a typical school environment.

One size does not fit all. Some students and families need educational options in order for students to succeed and reach their potential.

I loved being a principal in the Marin school district, but even more I love helping Sonoma students succeed because SoloQuest was the “right fit” for their learning needs.

SoloQuest offers many free services, including a weekly homework tip; a parent support group and a monthly information meeting that focuses on the topic, “Why bright students struggle in school.”

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Deborah Stewart is founder and owner of SoloQuest School & Learning Center located at 414 W. Napa St.