By: Ben Levinson
If you ask Ms. Stephanie Dennis, the Upper School’s first Learning Specialist, what her priorities are, she will tell you that she is a mother first. This could prove useful in a position centered around advocacy and communication.
Ms. Dennis, who has spent 25 years in education, will spend her days at Gilman consulting differently- learning students (ADHD, dyslexia, dysgraphia, etc.) on how they can better perform in the classroom. This could mean looking closely at an upcoming assignment, working on organization strategies, or pinpointing what exactly is problematic in the classroom for the student at hand.
With a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Maryland, a M.Ed. degree from Coppin State University, and a potential doctoral degree from Northeastern University, Ms. Dennis prides herself on her accessibility. She says, “I’m a parent first, and I know when parents are up at night and their kids are struggling and they want to talk to some- body...it’s nothing for me to email a parent back at 11 at night and just say ‘Hey, I got your email, why don’t you come in tomorrow morning, and if you can’t come in, call me, so we can work this out’”.
In her first year at Gilman, Ms. Dennis says that she will be “triaging” in terms of what issues to tackle first. High on her list are helping ninth graders adjust to high school and helping upperclassmen find colleges that offer the type of learning support they need. She has also been in close collaboration with the Admissions process, so she is intensely aware of who will need what kind of help when the school year starts.
Although Gilman will be the first educational single-sex environment she has worked in,she grew up with two brothers and has two sons, so she says that she is, “not cautious or intimidated by the single sex environment.” She is, however, concerned that the ego and competitiveness found in teenage boys often stops them from asking for the help they need, and she urges boys who struggle in the classroom to seek out a trusted advisor, coach, or teacher to talk to. As for her role in the school outside ofher given position, she says that she will be starting small and will not be advising any extracurriculars or coaching any sports. She may, however, nd commonality with students in her love of exercise chocolate, or house music. Accessibility, commonality, and relatability seem to be the words to describe this valuable addition to Gilman’s resources.