Back to School

By Lloyd Graff

It’s back to school week in my neighborhood, which means later meals and parents waiting in our living room.

My wife Risa will be practicing her profession in our home. She is an Educational Therapist, helping kids develop optimal learning skills and self-sufficiency in their educational careers.

Risa has been developing her own skills in this profession for over 40 years, though she looks no older than 40 to me. Because she teaches outside of the school systems she has the freedom to develop her own unique teaching techniques and style.

She likes to play educational board games with her students like Pass the Pigs and Chocolate Fix. With the games she engages even the angriest and most recalcitrant students to think spatially and strategically. A puzzle game called Rush Hour teaches kids to plan ahead, pause to think and explain what they’ve learned.

The games used by Risa also help her students develop learning stamina and persistence. Surviving and developing as a learner is so hard for a lot of kids. Risa used to say that she was in “the make school easier business,” but she no longer uses that phrase. Her life’s work has now evolved into a more holistic approach. There are a myriad of factors in a student’s environment that affect whether he or she will succeed.

Risa Graff giving a presentation on the use of games at Association of Educational Therapists Conference.

She tells parents at the beginning of a new school year that her objectives include the following:

• Developing a positive mindset about one’s capacity for learning.
• Learning to become mentally engaged in all kinds of tasks.
• Developing persistence even when a task is perceived as difficult.
• Finding joy in learning.
• Learning to set personal academic goals and monitor progress.
• Learning the power of pausing to reflect and to plan ahead.
• Learning to monitor thinking and work production while in the process of doing the task.
• Learning a variety of strategies and which to choose for a specific task.
• Gaining a sense of empowerment by beaming more aware of strengths, needs and emerging skills.
• Learning how to transfer a positive mindset and specific executive functioning skills to skill tasks, employment and life skills.

Through the years I’ve seen kids with wicked Learning Disabilities (LD), Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or Attention Deficit Hyper Activity Disorder (ADHD) tame the devil of disorganization and frazzledness to become stars in school, get into the Marine Corps, go to college or occasionally end up with a Doctorate. Not long ago, when I was at a doctor’s appointment at the University of Chicago with a specialist in neuro-ophthalmology, I was shocked to run into a former student of Risa’s who was on rotation at the U of C Medical School.

When Risa first saw him he was on the verge of being kicked out of high school because he was hopelessly disorganized. Underneath his chaos of lost notebooks was a brilliant kid. Risa and “Hal” worked very hard together for a year and half to help him develop the strategies he needed to access his amazing brain and allow him to demonstrate it to his teachers and himself.

Not every kid with learning or behavior problems flourishes like “Hal.” Some kids can’t pull it together and parents can sometimes sabotage the program, but Risa continues to see each new school year as a huge opportunity to make a difference in her students’ lives.

I learn about her students indirectly, through dinner conversation or by observing them concentrating on a jigsaw puzzle in our living room.

For so many kids, school is a torture. Risa makes a difference for a handful of fortunate ones every year.

Question: Are you happy with the education your kids have received?

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8 thoughts on “Back to School

  1. Misterchipster

    Yes, sent all three to private grade and high school. Education is way to important than to let the “government” control what and how “intelligence” is defined. Without active parental control we end up with the mess we have now in our school systems and populous at large. Education is the responsibility of parents, not the country’s government. If children are not taught discernment and restraint at a young age they will never be able to function well in society at large.

    1. rick

      private school for mine as well!
      Ditto Misterchipster
      This current “common core” is making mindless drones regurgitating the garbage they are fed.

      For some strange reason all of the political elites send their children to exclusive private schools that have no obligations to federal requirements.

      “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others…” Animal Farm, by George Orwell.

  2. Sara

    Is there a way to get a list of Educational Therapists in the Chicago suburbs. What Risa does is wonderful. Thank God our society has caring persons like Risa. She teaches a child to function in learning instead of just throwing money at a problem with no follow up. Too much of that is done daily without the human element. That is why so many of our welfare programs fail and are not appreciated by the welfare recipient. Approach with caring is missing.

  3. mike fassbender

    read a remark the other day in a novel:

    “education is ones most powerful weapon . . . with it, one is society’s equal; without it – one is it’s victim” . . . .

  4. ed kays

    My three sons went to public school. They received a good education and got academic scholarships to the University of Missouri. All graduated with honors with BS degrees in Engineering and Masters Degrees in Business. My wife and I were very involved in their education and spent countless hours reading to them when small. You and your children determine the outcome, not where you were educated.

    Ed Kays

  5. D

    I applaud her efforts. And at the same time I am bitter because when I was in school (’60’s-’70’s) ADD and ADHD did not exist. You were simply a ‘problem student’ or a disruptor because you couldn’t keep up and ‘didn’t get it’.
    Now I realize my teachers. near every one of them were lazy and didn’t care to make any extra effort to help me learn easier. I hate them for that. Besides that, I was (am) hands on, and I learn by doing and seeing. Not listening and reading. With a gift of natural mechanical ability. In other words, ‘weird’ back then. Slight disappointments, but no real regrets. I love the machining trade and all it’s ever increasing challenges.
    But, no wonder even now all these years later when I read or hear the words ‘back to school’ it still makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. What a dreadful time of year.

  6. Anthony

    Yes and no. We are in an educational district in the broken state of Illinois. Our schools are very nice but try to pidgeon hole kids in middle school. The oldest two – I had to fight at the district level just to get them in 8th grade high math. They didn’t have the test grades – but neither were particularly great “testers.” I was successful both times – the older is taking Discreet Mathematics at University on his way to an Engineering degree with a minor in math. The younger just scored a 33 on her ACT.

    My heart goes out to these kids your wife helps. I complain about our schools – but really have to keep life in general in perspective. Thanks to your wife and the work she does.


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