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.



Empathy in action….

Posted by Sandra Clifton on Jan 13, 2014 in Emotional Literacy

When I share with others that I’m a certified coach in Social & Emotional Literacy, people often ask, “Can you teach empathy?”  It’s a great question, and I believe that the answer is YES.  Absolutely.  And there is even more research out there every day to help us in this effort.  But often (as I’ve said many times before–) “less is more.”  What do I mean by that?  Well, this past Friday I was lucky enough to attend a webinar sponsored by ICF that featured Dr. Helen Riess, Director of Empathy and Relational Science at the University of Massachusetts.  She shared about “The Power of Empathy,” and one of her most poignant points was that taking care of yourself is one of the MOST important things you can do to help feeling attuned to others.

Dr. Riess offered some circumstances that make empathy more of a struggle for most of us, and I think it’s extremely helpful to see this list:

…when we’re in a rush,

…when we lose our curiosity about a person,

…when we don’t know what to say,

…when we are not fully informed about a person’s specific situation,

…when someone feels helpless,

…when a person criticizes or tries to manipulate us,

…and especially when we’re exhausted and/or burned out.

Dr. Riess emphasized that “...it’s impossible to be empathetic on an empty tank.”  I think we’re often our own biggest critic, so it’s crucial to extend that oxygen mask to ourselves first, in the journey of feeling the shoes of another.  In fact, I would urge each of us to be mindful of taking consistent steps of self-care to prevent an emotional or physical energy crisis in the first place.

In the meantime, here’s some encouragement to take out time each day to savor the small things…and by doing so, you just might be able to offer exactly what the person next to you needs the most~


Complete the pose ~

Posted by Sandra Clifton on Jan 7, 2014 in Academic Coaching, Health & Wholeness

As we end this past year and begin a new one, my thoughts always go towards establishing closure.  When I taught high school English, it was very important to provide students with the opportunity to reflect and “distill” new information, but I was rarely afforded that opportunity in the fast-paced intensity of changing classes and academic achievement.  However, I later learned that psychologists call establishing this safe space for growth as “creating a container.”

Now I honor the need to reflect on the week by attending a yoga class each Friday morning, where my teacher often repeats the phrase, “Complete the pose.“  I love that idea, because often in our mega-moment society, we are doing several things at once—something we all know has been heralded as the skill of “multi-tasking.”  Unfortunately, even as I type this blog (case in point…) I am on hold with an airline in order to try and trouble-shoot about flight arrangements (egads) for a summer seminar.  But the attempt to do many things at once usually means that we get little completed at all.  It’s why I think that old turtle actually beat the jack-rabbit:  he kept plugging along, doing just one thing:  staying on course until the race was won.

As we look back at 2014, it won’t be about counting all the many things that will ultimately matter…What will bring joy is realizing that each small task of completion shaped into a year of well-spent investment.  May we savor each small step…and realize that slow and steady is taking each of us in the right direction forward~!


In Memory…of Ned Vizzini~

Posted by Sandra Clifton on Dec 27, 2013 in Emotional Literacy

It is with great sadness that I lift a candle this season in memory of Ned Vizzini…an author and playwright who met with me at the Clifton Corner to discuss his passion for reaching teens and supporting their journey of individuality.  I’d like to reprint a letter from one of our mutual students here today:

 A Love Letter to Ned Vizzini
by Gracie Rittenberg, a Corner Kid~

Yeesh. This is a hard one to get through.

Ned Vizzini was a young writer from Park Slope, Brooklyn. My neighborhood. I bought his first book when I was ten years old, and I thought it was pretty much the best. It was so funny, and his descriptions of ambling up and down Seventh Avenue were things I could see in my head. I thought that that’s what being a teenager would be like—drinking beer that tasted bad, not feeling much from smoking weed, and just goofing around with nerdy friends. That’s what it ended up being like.
At some point in my life, I started to write. I realized that writing got everything I needed out of me. And then one day in the tenth grade, I wandered into a teen writing workshop, hosted by the one and only Ned Vizzini. That was a great freaking day.
He told me he loved my story. He told me my writing sounded like Ernest Hemingway. He told me I was funny. And he still gave me constructive criticism, and helped light the path forward.
I went to that writing workshop every month for the next year and a half. At some point, Ned announced that he was moving to L.A. I wasn’t going to see him anymore. He would come back once in a while, but he was moving on with his life.
We wrote him a card. We did our best for the last workshop. We applauded him, and insisted that he had changed our lives. It was a good way to leave it.
I saw him a couple of more times over the years. He came back and hosted the workshop, and I got the courage to tell him that I was in a playwriting class, and he had influenced me so much to who I was today. He said that I was a great writer and he was really happy to hear that I took my life in that direction. He told me to give him a hug, and I hugged him as tightly as I possibly could. That was the last time I saw him.
I would see him on Facebook, talking about his wife and kid. He looked happy. I was happy to see all the new projects he was doing. I would read his livejournal once in a while. And his nice comments to me were always a boost.
I write this not as someone who was close to him, but as someone who read his books and felt close to him. Someone who learned so much from him and thought about his advice every time she wrote a paper. I write this as someone whose heart filled with love and appreciation every time she thought about him, and I know I am not alone in that feeling.
Ned, I have missed you for a long time, and I will continue to miss you. I will keep living, like you told me in your book. And I love you.


The Stephen Gaynor School~

Posted by Sandra Clifton on Dec 19, 2013 in School Snapshots: Tours & Open Houses

On a snowy Tuesday morning this week, I had the pleasure of touring the Stephen Gaynor School with Ann Miller, Co-Director of the Lower School, and Ann Mergler, an advocate for students with special needs. With over fifty years of experience combined, these two women are so insightful and knowledgeable in the field of education that being with them for the morning was like a seminar in itself!

Celebrating its fiftieth anniversary this year, Stephen Gaynor is a truly unique place.  It’s located at 148 West 90th Street in a lovely building with windows in every classroom.  Having just read an article about the importance of natural light for establishing balance and encouraging learning, I was especially glad to see that the architects had designed this space to support these daily rhythms.  Stephen Gaynor is a school that is created around the idea of educating the whole child, and that theme is woven throughout the facility:  “The Stephen Gaynor School is an independent, nonprofit elementary and middle school for bright students with learning differences. Our school comprises nearly 300 students ages 3 to 14 with a range of learning challenges, from Attention Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) to speech, language, and motor delays. In a comfortable, nurturing environment and with an unparalleled level of personal attention from our experienced staff, Gaynor School students break down barriers to learning, build self-esteem, and bridge the gap between their intellect and performance” (“About Our School“).

Ann showed us examples of how the classes are organized throughout each grade level with a color-code, how assignments are designed for multi-sensory learning, and how each student is encouraged to achieve their maximum potential:  “With an average class size of just 11 students and two expert educators, our teachers get to know each child individually and design a curriculum ideally suited to each student’s needs. Challenged to perform at their best while advancing at their own pace, Gaynor students are joyful learners. Our full-time occupational therapists and speech-language pathologists work with students as needed.”  I have visited many many schools, and I have to confirm that the kids here at Gaynor are truly happy—one young man showed us his notes from a class that had just ended, and not only were they detailed, but it was obvious that he was engaged in the lesson and excited about the material.  Downstairs, another group of elementary students gave “commercials” to advertise the benefits of moving to different colonies, and their peers at individual tables provided constructive feedback about the persuasiveness of these presentations.  Lessons here are interdisciplinary, hands-on, and research-based.

I was especially impressed with the attention to Social & Emotional Learning here at Stephen Gaynor.  The school is focused on promoting four core qualities:  respect, honesty, courage, and creativity.  I visited with the art teacher about how the staff is weaving these themes into their daily curriculum as she took red, orange, and pink parachute cords that the students had braided to illustrate the colorful letters of RESPECT, a poster that will be hung on the bridge from the lower to the middle school.

There are many aspects of a school culture that I notice, from the way individuals are greeted, to the energy in the hallways.  Stephen Gaynor is a community of connectedness where ANY child would be lucky to learn—and we can all take notes about the innovative and supportive lessons that the talented faculty is creating to support individual differences and authentic mastery!




Affirmations in Education ~

Posted by Sandra Clifton on Dec 10, 2013 in Academic Coaching, Student Success

Have you ever heard of a “growth” vs “fixed” mindset?  A “fixed mindset” means that we approach learning situations with the belief that our cognitive abilities are ‘set in stone,’ so to speak—that IQ is a number that won’t change.  A “growth mindset,” on the other hand, is defined as a perspective that promotes the belief that our brains are ever-open to expanding and improving.  You can learn more about these orientations to education here.  In the meantime, I believe that both teachers and parents can make use of these supportive statements for neuroplasticity and our intellectual potential:

Nine Affirmations for Teaching & Coaching A Growth Mindset

1. I can use technology to make both my own and my students’ learning richer.

2. I can risk trying new learning activities.

3. I can bring my and my students’ passions into learning activities.

4. I can make one small change at a time in my learning environment.

5. I can let go of my need to control all variables.

6. I can find ways to change even under adversity.

7. I value my relationships with my students (even over content).

8. I can network and connect with others for resources, assistance, and support.

9. I can make a difference in students’ lives.

Establishing A Growth Mindset As A Teacher: 9 Statements Of Affirmation; image attribution Education 3.0: Altering Round Peg in Round Hole Education from Jackie Gerstein

I’m adding #10:  There is only One Me who can show up to offer the unique gifts of hope and help to the children who I love.

This picture is provided by a wonderful website:


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