Standing in the lobby of Summit Academy at the Oak Hill Renaissance Center in Youngstown, I listen to the hustle and bustle of the classrooms.
The noise sounds exactly the same as every other school I have entered -- teachers talking, children chattering, the usual rustling of paper.
Yet, Summit Academy is very different from other schools. The 117 children who attend Summit have all been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
ADD and ADHD can present serious learning difficulties for children -- and the adults trying to teach them.
The structure and curriculum of Summit Academy has been designed specifically for children with ADD and ADHD.
Kathleen Mioni, school director, introduces herself to me, then defers our interview for a moment.
"I have a class leaving on their first field trip of the year," she informs me. "I want to wish them a good trip."
As she enters the classroom, the children immediately stand and exclaim "skee" in unison.
Mrs. Mioni bows to them in response.
As she greets the class and encourages them to have a good trip, I barely hear her words. I am still back at "skee."
"Teaching respect is a thread through our entire teaching process," Kathy explains. "When I enter a room, out of respect for me the children stop what they are doing, stand up and say 'skee.'"
"Skee" is from a martial arts term meaning respect.
Out of respect for the children, Mrs. Mioni bows in response.
"Ma'am" and "Sir" are also terms of respect each pupil at Summit has been taught to use.
When a child is asked a question, Mrs. Mioni and her staff will not accept "Yeah" as an answer.
"I do a lunch count each morning," Kathy said, chuckling. "If they do not say 'Yes, Ma'am,' they don't get counted for a lunch."
While respect is threaded throughout the classroom, in the hallways it's "Pockets or hook-up."
How techniques help
All children tend to poke and prod one another. Children with ADD/ADHD tend to poke and prod more.
To combat this problem, the staff members at Summit have the children put their hands in their pockets when going out into the hall or "hook up" their hands.
A hook-up is a method the children learn as a brain gym exercise. They fold their hands or systematically drum their fingers together as a way to monitor their attention.
"We teach them methods to monitor themselves. Some are gross motor skills. Some are more subtle," Kathy said. "When a child feels himself fading in class, he can hook up or do a breathing exercise to regain focus."
The classroom curriculum is designed to keep the children's focus.
"Our teachers' instruction time is no more than 10 minutes," Kathy shares. "That is followed up by an activity the students will be involved in."
There is always an emphasis on organizational skills.
"Organization is a huge problem with attention deficit," Kathy explains.
While the curriculum, respect and organization are areas of specific concern at Summit Academy, there is another area to which each teacher pays special attention.
"We have children who used to hide in the closet because they did not want to go to school," Kathy shares. "We have 8-year-olds who feel like they can't do school."
Summit's programs center around building self-esteem.
"It is not 'Are you smart?'" Kathy said. "It is 'How are you smart?'"
Each child learns differently. Summit focuses on reaching each child in his or her best learning capacity.
"This is a clean slate for you," Kathy has told her pupils with learning scars. "This is a brand new book. You are the writer."
Judging by the smiles, the hook-ups and the "skees," Summit is going to have some best sellers.