ADHD coaches help students tackle academic goals.


by Jean Enersen

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Posted on March 27, 2012 at 6:00 AM

Updated Tuesday, Mar 27 at 12:35 PM

Middle school is all about keeping track of schedules, and getting assignments in on time. It can be complicated.

"I have eight teachers," said 7th grade student Marcus Wesley.

When his mother asked, "Have you started writing your story?" Marcus could only tell her, "No, but I have all my outline and stuff." The story was pivotal to his grade.

Keeping a handle on all his upcoming assignments is hard for Marcus. He was recently diagnosed with ADHD.

"I'm a little more hyper than other kids. So they give me the medicine to calm me down," he explained.

But medicine is only part of the answer said his mother. Alone, it won't assure his success in school.

"I personally think every student deserves a coach," said ADHD coach Naomi Zemont.

Since last September, Zemont has been Marcus Wesley's ADHD coach.

"Last time around, you really wanted to make up this work in humanities," she reminded Marcus.

Zemont helps the 7th grader develop a plan to achieve his goals. He sets the goals himself, and decides the actions it will take to complete them. In doing so, Marcus is learning to break tasks into parts he can manage.

"Your action plan, what things do you need to do to get this story written?" Zemont asks.

His parents signed Marcus up for coaching because their son, an intelligent student, was lagging behind his own potential. His mother recalled what she's heard from his teachers.

"He's never disrespectful. He's always positive. He's willing to help. He has the capability, but he comes to class with nothing but a smile, meaning he didn't bring his supplies. He lost his binder," said Chandra Velasquez, Marcus' mother.

But how effective is coaching for kids with ADHD?

"Coaching has always been looked at as a second level type of intervention, because people did not have any scientific evidence that it did any good," said Neil Peterson.

Peterson, founded a non-profit called the edge Foundation that trains ADHD coaches. In response to a lack of good research, his foundation funded a study on ADHD coaching for college students at ten campuses across the country. Wayne State University researchers completed the study in 2010.The findings were promising said Peterson.

"Kids with ADHD who get a coach have four times as much ability to self regulate as kids who don't have that," Peterson said.

But at around 400 dollars a month, coaching is out of reach for many families.

"What I want to do is bring this service to every kid who has ADHD and executive functioning challenges," he said.

With the help of donors, the edge Foundation started a pilot program free to students at two local schools. Marcus' school, Giaudrone Middle School in Tacoma is one of them. The other, Highline Big Picture School, is in Burien. 

"Meeting your goals, you give yourself a 10." Naomi Zemont went over Marcus' self assessment sheet as they neared the end of his half hour coaching session.

"Coaching helps me 'cause she would, like, try to push me a little bit, so I could keep going instead of giving up," he explained.

Marcus also has check-ins by phone with an assistant coach to help him stay on track with his goals until he sits down again with Zemont.

"You have a good week ok? Thank you, you bet," Marcus said as he headed out the door to put his plan in motion.
Neil Peterson started the edge Foundation after two of his children benefitted from ADHD coaching. He's currently raising funds in hopes of bringing coaches to more area schools.