by Andrew Blair
Making inroads when it comes to reaching and teaching students with dyslexia requires many different traits, not the least of which is a sense of creativity.
The power of imagination is a gift that Riverside Language Fundamentals and classroom teacher Sarah Johnson Scott doesn’t lack for. Not only is she an excellent instructor, but an incredibly gifted artist.
Her eye for color, shape and character took hold at an early age when she was growing up near New York City.
“I made sense of the world through drawing and doodling as a kid,” Mrs. Scott admits.
Today, her own ability to look at subjects in unique and different ways is celebrated as a part of teaching—and connecting with—Riverside students who have dyslexia. Admittedly, Mrs. Scott uses her uncanny gift of artistry to help unlock concepts for students, especially those who tend to be visual learners.
While memorization and rote has its place, Mrs. Scott has found that using manipulatives, drawing frogs, mermaids—or whatever a child likes—can be a useful and valuable instrument in facilitating a student’s grasp and retention of a broad range of subject matters.
“Anything to make them laugh,” Mrs. Scott says of using her affinity for art in helping a student learn.
And she ardently believes it is important for a student to understand the underlying meaning of a concept rather than just memorizing a formula or syllable pattern. Her ideal endgame to measure a student’s grasp of an idea?
“If you truly know something, you can teach it back,” Mrs. Scott says.
Her approach is not only welcome at Riverside—it is demanded.
“Here, creativity is celebrated and I love that it brings in art and creativity—even in math. I love celebrating what (students) know on a daily basis, rather than only on a worksheet. I wish I would’ve been taught that way—I would’ve been a lot better at math,” Mrs. Scott says with a laugh.
Incredibly colorful and striking acrylic drawings and paintings adorn the walls in her classroom and include pictures of a zebra, giraffe, elephant and ostrich, among other pieces of art. Together, all shapes, sizes and accoutrements complement one another seemingly perfectly, memorably and colorfully. One stands out, though—a lion that incorporates nearly every color imaginable represented in its finished form. The image is indescribably vivid, beyond wonderful and so powerful that it invariably stops onlookers in a gaze for a moment or more.
Mrs. Scott says she finds gaps in her schedule to draw and doodle, but truth be told, one senses that she never really puts the creative paintbrush down. Additionally, Mrs. Scott points out that each painting represents the brilliance she sees in each one of her students, and there is an underlying lesson in each drawing. Indeed, each piece of art is accompanied below it by a ‘you are’ statement—‘you are an explorer,’ ‘you are important,’ ‘you are a friend,’ ‘you are a creator,’ ‘you are brave,’ ‘you are a leader.’ Taken as a whole, it’s evident she has a passion for all things Riverside.
Mrs. Scott beams when talking about the value of tying together lessons with art. She plays word association when explaining the virtues of complementing drawings with learning and individuality. The words and principles spill out quickly.
“Diversity. Unique. Shining as yourself. Understanding yourself and sharing that. Being proud of who you are,” she says, her voice sprouting.
Mrs. Scott, who is in her second year at Riverside, says she enjoys the dynamics of being both an LF instructor, which entails one-on-one instruction, and a classroom teacher, enveloping a larger group setting.
“I love that combination—individualized language remediation and a whole group. It is a nice balance,” says Mrs. Scott, who is a proud ‘double-’Hoo.’ She has an undergraduate degree in psychology and master’s degree in special education from the University of Virginia. “Everyone is so supportive and kind—it is inspiring.”
Prior to arriving at Riverside, she taught in the public school system in Louisa County for two years, then at Triad Academy at Summit School, a school for children with dyslexia in Winston-Salem, N.C.
After teaching for five years at Triad, Mrs. Scott took time to have children and the job of being a full-time mom. The teaching itch never left, though. When Mrs. Scott started looking for ways to re-enter the classroom, she knew that she’d found a perfect fit when she came to interview at Riverside. Her ‘a-ha’ moment came, quite literally, when she walked through the front door and saw the school’s ‘love lives here’ pillow that occupies a bench in the front office and, like her artwork, is unmistakably noticeable.
“I really do love it here,” Mrs. Scott says with a smile. “I knew instantly when I walked through the door that this is home.”
Author Andrew Blair is communications and marketing coordinator at Riverside School.