“Ready Readers & Resilient Writers~!”

Posted by Sandra Clifton on Mar 10, 2015 in Academic Coaching, Learning Differences

As March brings (much needed) signs of spring, I wanted to let you know of options for summer support at the Corner!  There are three “bridge programs” in development:  one for rising 5th graders going into middle school; another for rising 9th graders starting high school; and a third for rising seniors who are facing The Common App Personal Statement, supplemental essays, and college choices!

Because I have a cozy space, classes are small and can be tailored for families to fit their children’s specific learning needs and school curriculum–so please take a look at the first program, “Ready Readers & Resilient Writers,” and let me know if you’re interested in creating some wonderful opportunities for learning at the Corner this summer!

Ready Readers & Resilient Writers~!
Summer Support at the Clifton Corner
for Rising 5th Graders

Students who could “benefit from a boost” before beginning middle school are encouraged to apply for Summer Enrichment at the Clifton Corner.  Small-group instruction will be offered to help rising 5th graders develop better reading, writing, and critical thinking strategies through a curriculum of individualized attention and creative activities.  Participants are supported in a nurturing environment to build tools for stronger self-esteem, perseverance, and academic confidence for a smooth and successful transition to middle school.


Ready Readers—will shift from ‘learning to read’ to reading to learn.  Students will identify core components of literature to better understand theme, characterization, plot development, setting, figurative language, point of view, and an author’s artistic/social agenda.  The technique of “FIREWORKS” will be incorporated to support active reading techniques, improve working memory, and boost risk-taking through participating in dynamic small-group discussions.


Resilient Writers—will be guided through the process of writing:  evidence-based techniques in a workshop setting—to explore composition through modeling and independent practice of “perfect paragraphs” and extended essays.  Students will learn to active prior knowledge, develop brainstorming strategies, incorporate graphic organizers, identify revision techniques, and gain additional reinforcement for effective editing skills and grammar proficiency.
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Space is limited, and families are encouraged to contact Sandra immediately for more information concerning tuition costs and specific dates, which will be tailored to meet the eclectic summer schedules of actual enrollees.  Students can participate in either the AM –or– PM instruction, and are encouraged to enroll in both classes—which will be held for two weeks in July, and possibly again in August.

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Clifton Corner is a safe space in Brooklyn Heights created to provide individualized interventions of academic coaching and SEL support for 2nd-12th graders.  Sandra is the only ICF-accredited Professional Coach in Brooklyn certified in Emotional Literacy by Yale University, and has just completed both a post-graduate certificate in Educational Therapy from the University of California-Riverside, along with AET Board Supervision, to become an ET/P (Educational Therapist/Professional).  She is also a Professional Member of IECA+ with over 26 years of experience in education, and is licensed through New York State in Special Education and English Education. 


The science of healing spaces–and school should be one of them!

Posted by Sandra Clifton on Feb 16, 2015 in Emotional Literacy, Health & Wholeness, The Science of Happiness

I just finished reading the brilliant book, Healing Spaces:  The Science of Place and Well-Being, by Esther M. Sternberg, M.D., and it was truly time well-spent.  Sternberg expertly documents how sound, smell, nature, and beauty have been largely ignored in our clinical settings, but are absolutely integral to hope, healing, and health—not just for those of us who fall ill, but for the progression of society as a whole.  When reporting about the first collaboration of scientists and architects in 2002 at Woods Hole, MA, which ultimately led to the development of the Academy of Neuroscience for Architecture, she writes, “The question…was not so much whether windows and nature views could heal, but how the healing mechanism operated” (2009, pg. 6).  Good stuff.  I devoured this book in record time because—as an HSP [Highly Sensitive Person] who is aesthetically wired from head to toe—I needed it.

So do my kids.  When I was a teacher, some of my students intuitively understood that I couldn’t handle the eerie-buzzing of florescent lights, the blaring bells, and the incessant clicking of pens.  We laughed about how I needed to start each class with a “silent sustained reading” of their favorite novel so that I could “gather my senses.”  They also enjoyed how I created a visually pleasing room with all kinds of posters, artwork, and sayings—and orchestrated the chairs for better “classroom connections.”  (I didn’t know back then it was called “chi” and a cornerstone of feng shui.)  But my kids recognized it was important that the place where we spent so much time together lifted not just our intellect but our emotions—and they felt those results in their power to learn, to remember, and to grow.

That’s why Sternberg’s book needs to be translated from personal journeys of medical healing to the most important environment our students encounter each day:  school.  I’m convinced that if we are able to apply these aesthetic tenets of science to the American educational environment, we’ll reap incredible rewards.  It’s one of the reasons that I created the cozy Clifton Corner.  I have a theory that just stepping into my sweet study space creates the neuroscience of health and hope—and now I have the theory of “evidence-based design” to help fuel my conviction.  Check out Sternberg’s book, or her interview on NPR, and join me in the effort to include artistic angles into building beautiful brains.

 healing spaces


“The Science of Happiness,” Week One

Posted by Sandra Clifton on Sep 10, 2014 in The Science of Happiness

Well, it was free, so I signed up to audit an online course created by the University of California at Berkeley.  ((It’s the first MOOC to teach positive psychology—learn more about this exciting experiment.))  My first homework assignment—ungraded of course, because any evaluated effort would NOT make me happy!—is to spend 10 minutes thinking of “three good things.”

Here are mine today:

*Good Thing #1:  Watching the sweetest girl in the world sing the song from Frozen, “Let It Go.”  Her energy and love are absolutely inspiring:  watch it here!

*Good Thing #2:  I got to leave the office and catch a Pilates class at the gym tonight with my favorite instructor—whoo-hooo!  (Most evenings I am in sessions until after 8pm, so this was a wonderful thing for sure!)

*Good Thing #3:  I treated myself to framing a certificate from the seminar that I attended in Italy about helping clients heal from psychological trauma, and hung it in my office.  Not only is this a beautiful memento, but now I feel the presence of my professor, encouraging me to keep going on…

Okay, that was a really nice ten minutes.  Now you try.  :)

Here’s to happiness–yours and mine.

happy faces


Take a Hike ~ !

Posted by Sandra Clifton on Jun 26, 2014 in Academic Coaching, Health & Wholeness

Want a great tip for instigating efficiency, getting unstuck, or just helping ideas to flow again?  Get up and get GOING:  one of the best strategies for helping kids (and ourselves) to unlock our brains is to move our bods…!

Recently, I read this quote from a text on ADHD:  “When I get bogged down on a project,” reflects Susan, an OT in California, “I go walking and am able to get the whole concept.  Then I can move forward.”  Brilliant, right?

The next time you or someone in your family gets frustrated, smile and say, “Oh, go take a hike!”  They just might thank you. ;)  And if you need support to get in the flow this summer, don’t hesitate to reach out—in the meantime, see ya on the trails!


Down to the wire: college choices ~

Posted by Sandra Clifton on Apr 30, 2014 in Academic Coaching, College

As we head down to the wire for college decisions due on May 1st, I met with a senior client and his mother today…It was an intense discussion and a rewarding one.  The family walked in with a “great problem”—four choices—and they left with clarity about the one that’s the best fit for their son.  This is why I do my work:  to help support the journey of owning who we are and claiming our authenticity.

When it comes right down to it, after all the charts and graphs are drawn with pro’s and con’s, what matters most is actually in our gut.  What I admire so greatly, especially about this particular student, is that he really did his homework—so that after months of visits and interviews, he could release all the rankings and reports and trust what felt best in the end—which is really just the beginning….

I do my research too.  In the last month, I’ve attended two really great meetings on college admissions, and I’d like to share a potpourri of perspectives that I gained through one of them.  I promise to offer more tid-bits from Cooper Union soon.  In the meantime…

The NYSACAC Regional Forum—held at the Lincoln Center Campus of Fordham University:

* One important insight I learned from a former college counselor at Cooper Union is that, although CUNY doesn’t require essays, YOU SHOULD STILL SEND THEM!

* If your essay gives a “voice” that really speaks to someone on the admissions team, there is often a rule that each person “gets just one.”  This means that every member on the committee gets to have one student admitted, with no questions asked.  You might be That One if you take the chance to really speak your truth in that essay…

* Often, admissions teams have individuals with a “niche” population—for example, Fordham has a special person who reads applications of homeschooled students.

* Colleges are looking for students who are able to translate how their institution’s values have been pursued by the applicant during high school.  Students need to “connect the dots” as to how they have invested their time in academics and extra-curriculars that directly relate to the college’s programs.

* One of my colleagues who used to work at Columbia University did a study there about students who declared majors on their applications vs. their majors at graduation, and unless the student was a computer science major or engineer, there was absolutely NO correlation:  0%.

* If you are an athlete, be careful of NON-approved NCAA high school courses, as they may jeopardize your eligibility to play.  You can learn more at www.eligibilitycenter.org.

I hope this information provides some insight for your college journey.  And if you need someone to help you sort through the great options once they come trickling in….you can always find clarity with me at the Corner.


Some important stats & other thoughts–about the college process…

Posted by Sandra Clifton on Mar 17, 2014 in Academic Coaching, College

I just got off the phone with one of the mothers of my three senior clients, who I’ll call “Amy.”  I’ve been working with Amy since she was in 8th grade, and we’ve now received three amazing college acceptances to some truly wonderful liberal arts schools.  I couldn’t be more happy, as all of my encouragement that the VOICE on her college essay is what would be the loudest has come true…. despite struggles with standardized testing, high school disappointments, and other bobbles along the way…One admission rep even made a note about how touched she was by Amy’s personal essay on the meaning of family.  What’s even more interesting is that, although my client was accepted to her “dream college,” the personalized attention from another institution has given her pause…and she may actually change her mind to attend the school that is truly “seeing” what Amy has to offer and recognizing her unique gifts.  THIS is what it’s all about at the Clifton Corner, but that’s a blog for another day…For now, I want to pass along some important stats and facts that may help to inform you better about the college process.  They are originally compiled and provided by college guru and author, Ana Homayoun, Founder and Director of Green Ivy Educational Consulting:

College Admissions by Numbers
31% of colleges offering Early Action (EA)
65% Percent of EA applicants admitted
84% Percent of college freshmen who think they will graduate in four years
38% Actual percentage of students who graduate from college in four years
80% Percent of valedictorians rejected by Harvard every year
69% Percent of applicants with a perfect SAT score of 2400 rejected by Stanford
Facts and Figures     
“More colleges are offering Early Decision (ED) and Early Action (EA) and more students are utilizing these options.  ED can give an advantage at highly selective colleges and some of those schools fill up to 40% of their freshman class with ED. Personally, I like the Early Action option for students who are solid candidates and have appropriate grades and test scores – apply early and hear early, with no commitment to attend. While I believe Early Decision is an option that can enhance the odds of admission at highly selective schools, it must be considered very carefully.
Many high schools are dropping the class ranking from a student’s profile, and admissions counselors are placing a greater emphasis on a student’s curriculum, activities, and demonstrated interest (how badly do you want to go to the school?).
In 1982, 74% college freshmen went to their first choice school. In 2012, 59% went to their first choice school. In 2012, 13% could not afford to go to their first choice school. 76% believe current economics had an effect on where they matriculated. I believe there need to be multiple “first choice” schools and students should include financial “likely” schools in the mix as well.
84% of college freshmen believe they will graduate from college in four years. National statistics show only 38% do. Despite being worried about financing for college, many end up paying for a fifth year, especially when going to larger public colleges and universities. In other words, look past the tuition price and factor in time to graduate, as well as merit scholarships at private schools. For example, in California, the typical time to degree for entering freshmen at the California State Universityis 5.6 years. Typical time to degree for entering freshmen at the University of California school is 4.2 years. This needs to be factored into the cost of the college.
There are 19,000 seats in the entire Ivy League’s freshman class – all 8 of them combined (and there are 25,000 high schools in the US – do the math!). Harvard rejects 80% of the valedictorians who apply each year (and 94% of everyone else). 
69% of the Stanford applicants who scored a perfect 2400 on the SAT were rejected. When a college has an admit rate of less than 30% (and Stanford’s is about 7%), then it is tough even for the applicant who is valedictorian or who aces the SAT. We always work with students to create a college list and apply broadly with dream, target, and likely colleges.
Approximately 2.94 million students graduate from 25,000 high schools each year. This means each college applicant is competing against 25,000 valedictorians, 25,000 salutatorians, 25,000 editors-in-chief, and 25,000 student body presidents. If they are wise, they are applying to some of the most competitive colleges, some less competitive, and one of their own state university.
Acceptance rates for four-year institutions declined slightly during the past decade, from a national average of 69.6 percent in 2002 to 63.8 percent in 2011. So, don’t despair – there are colleges for everyone who desires to go to college.” 
I couldn’t agree more…But just remember that at the Corner, it’s not about the score–I’m here to help your son or daughter SOAR.  And I’ve got all kinds of examples of how that happens through individualized attention and intuitive educational support.  Don’t wait until my calendar is full this summer:  contact me this spring to schedule some sessions for that amazing essay that will get Y*O*U*R young person in the door~!


You Can Too.

Posted by Sandra Clifton on Mar 5, 2014 in Academic Coaching, Emotional Literacy, Health & Wholeness, Student Success

I grew up in a world where adults were involved in my life—a lot.  Almost too much.  Of course, I was both a preacher’s kid and a teacher’s daughter, and everyone had a voice about how I lived my life.  In fact, I actually got lost in everyone else’s opinions.  But I heard a program on NPR the other day about how kids feel like the only thing that adults ask them these days is, “How’s school?”  Oh, how droll.  We can do better than that.  And we should.

Here are some lovely guidelines about how to connect with kids in a deeper, more genuine way—provided by The Search Institute:

Adults can . . .

  • Listen to young people.
  • Notice young people’s contributions and gifts.
  • Ask young people for their advice.
  • Include young people in decisions.
  • Give young people meaningful roles.
  • Help young people make their dreams come true.
  • Find out young people’s opinions.
  • Celebrate young people’s accomplishments.
  • Take seriously young people’s fears and worries.
  • Learn the reasons for young people’s feelings.
  • See young people as important contributors to your community in the present and in the future.
  • Learn about music, books, and activities that are important to young people.


Would you like support to connect with your kid?  I’d love to explore how that can happen.  Don’t hesitate to reach out.


Getting over…the Gap~

Posted by Sandra Clifton on Feb 17, 2014 in Academic Coaching

When I visited London, the “Tube” (or subway) offers a warning that announces, “MIND THE GAP.”  There is a space midst the platform landing and the moving train.  It’s the open area between our current place of solid footing and the vehicle that will take us to the next destination.  However, we need to be mindful of falling into the little crevice that opens between now and where we are going…

On this holiday, it’s nice to take a moment and view this open space…Hopefully, you and your family are on holiday from school and work, and recharging your batteries.  It’s important to take time away to “reboot” our energy, especially during these recent winter months of wicked weather.  What I would like to offer as perspective today is that the gap is a place to honor the unknown.  It’s also (however small—) a reminder of taking a leap.  We might have a set plan or definite destination, but before those train doors open, we still stand on the precipice of a journey:  what sometimes seems mundane (our daily school or work commute) can involve an interaction or opportunity that was never presented to us before.  We might encounter an event that was not at all expected….but it’s all a part of the adventure.

What happens, however, is that—especially when working on a challenging assignment—my students view that “final destination” in their heads but when they approach it on paper or look at the open computer screen, they can’t seem to create the magic that they see in their minds.  It’s like watching a movie in your head that no one else can see in a regular movie theater.  This is highly frustrating for my clients, and it causes a lot of doubt.  In fact, some of my students stand on the platform and won’t take that little leap.  They “mind the gap” so much that they won’t take the first step and hop on that train.  The subway spins by and as the doors of opportunity open each time, they look and wish—but cannot move forward…

That’s why I stand as a bridge in this mysterious and sometimes dark place.  I hold out my hand to students, with one foot in the train and one foot on the platform.  I push open the doors and say, “You can do this.  I am here.  Jump!”  Sometimes they can only travel to the next stop.  Sometimes we’re able to switch lines and travel to a whole new territory.  And eventually, my clients are able to navigate the journey alone and experience a sense of autonomy. It just takes practice.  And persistence.  And a willingness to see that “getting there” is really a never-ending process.

So here’s a video today that talks about the gap.  See what you think

I love the unknown. It’s so full of potential.

And so is your journey.



What is…an educational therapist?

Posted by Sandra Clifton on Feb 8, 2014 in Learning Differences

As mentioned in my last post, I missed the goal of blogging each week due to starting a very intense certification program in educational therapy at the University of California-Riverside’s online course extension.  My ultimate goal is to become a Board Certified Educational Therapist, and then I promised my mom that I’ll stop the “additional credential” process, and just settle into maintaining my certifications as a licensed teacher in English/Language Arts & Special Education; as a Professional Certified Coach; and eventually as a BCET.

So, what exactly is an educational therapist?

The Association of Educational Therapists defines this profession as “the clinical practice of providing intensive, individualized compensatory and remedial intervention.  Intervention approaches take into account the social, emotional, and neuro-biological factors that impact an individual’s learning….with various types of learning disabilities and other learning challenges, such as dyslexia; ADD; language processing problems; poor motivation; low academic self-esteem; poor social, organizational, and study skills; and performance anxiety.”

The beautiful thing about this profession is that there are many different ways to reach children, and we each have our own unique style of supporting students, which is one reason why it is so in alignment with who I am and how I serve my Corner Community.  I help both students and their parents to demystify learning challenges and decode school expectations, through a strengths-based approach I’ve developed from years of experience as a former teacher and intense training as a professional certified coach.

For me, entering into a partnership with a client family means that I am 110% committed to the possibility and potential of the unique individual who is their daughter or son.  Through tools I’ve gained from working with hundreds of students, I encourage each distinctively different soul to open up to who they are—and who they can become—in the process of…

* providing therapeutic listening;

* instigating creative problem solving;

* encouraging intellectual, social, & artistic curiosity;

* and helping my kids to develop courage to dive into the adventure of authenticity.

Quite simply:  I empower individuals to face the emotional landscape that impacts their ability to learn.  It is an amazing journey….and each day in the UCR Extension program, I am gaining new angles of insight into this craft…

One of my favorite quotes (thus far) echos my approach exactly:

“…the work of an educational therapist requires that she regards the practice, especially the scrutiny of individual case studies, as puzzles to be solved.  The puzzle is a work-in-progress, always in motion, and never ‘perfect.’ “

-Maxine Ficksman & Jane Utley Adelizzi

 Here’s to embracing the process of unfolding and discovering~


A Historical Trajectory of Educational Therapy~

Posted by Sandra Clifton on Jan 27, 2014 in Learning Differences

One of the goals I set last fall was to post a blog each week, but I missed my deadline here last Monday—and Tuesday, and each day…One of the reasons is because I’ve just enrolled in a new online program through the University of California-Riverside Extension to earn official certification in Educational Therapy.  While this professional path grew organically as a result of my ‘past life’ as a high school English teacher and certified life coach in Emotional Literacy, a dedicated and highly esteemed organization called the Association of Educational Therapists has been organizing and guiding the efforts of individuals in this field for the last 35 years—and the roots of educational therapy began over one hundred years ago…

Because I am doing so much writing for the first course I’m taking, Principles of Educational Therapy, I wanted to share a few posts from my classwork online.  Later this week, I’ll devote a post to defining educational therapy in more depth.  This post will offer a panoramic view of the development of this profession:

A Historical Trajectory of Educational Therapy ~

1800’s—Edward Segin organized the first “educational system for mentally retarded children” (45); “The evolutionary roots of educational therapy developed….in Europe, as professionals relied upon their clinical observations and treatment of exceptional children” (Ficksman & Adelizzi 61).

1920’s—August Aichorn in Belgium developed the term “heilpedagogie” to mean “helping teacher”; Anna Freud, Alfred Adler contributed to the “roots” of therapeutic education to provide interventions and “maximize the individual’s emotional and intellectual potential” (46).

1925Wayward Youth was published by Aichorn, which examined antisocial behavior of young people.

1935—Anna Gillingham wrote Remedial Training for Children with Specific Learning Disability in Reading, Spelling, and Penmanship (52).

1940’s—Marianne Frostig in Los Angeles started to provide direct services to students with learning disabilities, paralleling development in this field in Europe (45); Katrina de Hirsch immigrated from Vienna to America and worked with Samuel T. Orton.

1950’s—Barbara Biber created the developmental-interaction theory at Bank Street College; Mary Kunst was “among the first in the Midwest to use the term educational therapy to describe her work as a tutor of children with learning impairments” (54).

1951—The Marianne Frostig Center was established in the Los Angeles area to provide training for educational therapy (47).

1953—Carl Fenichel began to question existing models for working with youth and became Director of the League School for Seriously Disturbed Children in Brooklyn, NY (47).

1960’s—Katrina de Hirsch practiced and published as an educational therapist in New York City; “therapeutic  teachers” were trained at Manhattanville Community Centers in an experimental housing project (48); W.W. Lewis challenged the assumption of the medical model that “emotional disturbance reflects an underlying pathology within a child” (48); Deborah Zimmerman created The National Institute for Learning Development (NILD) Educational Therapy program (54-55).

1964—The Gateway School & Stephen Gaynor School were established in NYC (52).

1966—Fenichel suggested that the problems of youth in school might be”…more closely related to serious learning disorders and language handicaps than to repression of traumatic childhood memories or unresolved intrapsychic confilicts” (47).

1968—Ruth Mallison wrote Education as Therapy (47).

1970’s—Dorothy Ungerleider started what became AET, through chartering a study group in her living room, which eventually spearheaded The Educational Therapist Journal (Dann & 57).

1973Irene Caspari established the Forum for the Advancement of Educational Therapy (FAET) in the UK (55).

1977—Katrina de Hirsch published her “seminal article” on the definition of the educational therapist (46).

1979—Dorothy Ungerleider became the founding President of AET, which “defines an educational therapist as a professional who combines both educational and therapeutic approaches for evaluation, remediation, case management, and communication/advocacy on behalf of individuals of all ages with learning disabilities or learning problems.”

1980’s—The AET began to provide training for educational therapists (56) through professional development workshops/seminars and then in university programs.

1982—Betty Osman wrote No One to Play With:  The Social Side of Learning Disabilities (49).

1985The Code of Ethics and Standards for the Professional Practice of Educational Therapy was adopted and approved by the AET Executive Committee in February, adapted from the Council of Exceptional Children’s Code of Ethics and Standards.

1992—the UCR Extension program began providing the curriculum of educational therapy (56) for students.

1995—Dorothy Ungerleider published The History of Educational Therapy Reconsidered, which chronicled the various forms of “therapeutic education” (46).

2000—Phyllis Maslow and Dorothy Ungerleider studied the efficacy of educational therapy as a profession (Dann).

2007—the National Joint Committee on Learning Disabilities recognized AET as an organization leading the way to serve students with academic and learning challenges (Dann & 60).

2008—Nancy Ratey wrote The Disorganized Mind and began efforts to educate Harvard University about the needs of students with learning disabilities (53).

2013—AET celebrated its 35th Annual Conference in California, “Stress:  Understanding Its Impact on Learning.”

Personal Perspective—from my background

Because I am weaving together experience as a teacher along with my work as a Program Coach & Master Trainer of Emotional Literacy at Yale University, I can see that Educational Therapy juxtaposes many eclectic domains to serve children who have special needs, emotional obstacles, and learning differences.  For example, I have recently seen an intersection of yoga therapy and mindfulness, along with art therapy, dance therapy, and sound therapy as tools for the educational therapist.  These different modalities and professional fields help to inform and enrich our work with students so that a multi-sensory approach to learning can come to life in our private practices.  I believe that educational therapy is one of the most exciting and innovative professions, because of its rich history and real potential to shape the future of young people’s lives—and perhaps even to revolutionize education in America.  The courage and conviction of pioneers from the past have carved a foundation for us to expand upon with research, case studies, and continued commitment.  I cannot imagine how much my life would have been improved by an educational therapist when I was in school, and I look forward to offering the kind of sensitive support for students that I needed when I was struggling to “make sense” of the puzzle pieces that are both essential and integral to real learning and authentic growth.


Ficksman, Maxine and Adelizzi, Jane Utley.  The Clinical Practice of Educational Therapy:  A Teaching Model.  New York:  Routledge, 2010.


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