Let’s Not Go Back to Normal 

I’m one of those people who actually enjoy change. Before I joined the Arrowsmith Program, I tried a few careers: river rafting guide, ice climbing instructor, dogsledding guide, community youth worker. And then I settled into the Peterborough Arrowsmith campus for 9 years, which also coincided with big personal changes like marriage and children. But when an opportunity to really shake things up came my way, I uprooted my family and moved them across the world to join the Confident Brains team in Phuket, Thailand. Six months later, I became the head of that team, and 1 year after that COVID-19 changed everything. 

When you’re not initiating it, change is much less appealing. We’ve all had to make huge alterations to our routines, plans, and expectations over the past few months. This level of uncertainty and anxiety about our own health, the health of our loved ones, our jobs, and the future of…well… everything is emotionally and physically taxing, to say the least. There is also the guilt of being one of the lucky ones who doesn’t have to be on the frontlines, who has a home to shelter in, insurance, food, and good health in general. 

It’s been three months since we took a big leap into online learning. And for the most part, it’s working. Really working. We’re hearing from parents and students that learning at home suits many of them better, that Arrowsmith is uniquely set-up to function in a virtual environment. And in a time when many special needs students in a traditional education system are really struggling without the scaffolding of learning support, accommodations, and technology, expanding the accessibility of Arrowsmith so that students can join from anywhere in the world is a powerful change. It took a pandemic for us to make this shift. But, as many wise people have pointed out, this great global pause can be an opportunity, a chance to take stock, evaluate our priorities, and decide what we want to add back into our lives. Now that many regions are starting to cautiously open up, and we give in to the urge to “return to normal”, let’s pause for a moment longer. Maybe there are parts of normal we want to leave behind?

For many of our students, pre-Arrowsmith normal meant coping with dyslexia, or feeling slow and frustrated and not knowing why, or zoning out in class because you just couldn’t process what was happening around you. We know that it doesn’t have to be this way. The Arrowsmith Program’s ability to strengthen cognitive weaknesses can make a dramatic difference for so many people. But it means refusing to accept that this “normal” is all that’s possible. It means taking a risk to leave “normal” behind and make this investment in yourself or for your child. 

It also means being able to access the program. Last night, I had a conversation with the parents of two boys. Both parents are successful doctors and they can’t afford Arrowsmith. The cost of relocating to attend a program elsewhere is prohibitive for most of the planet, even for people who can afford it and want it. We know there is great value in all of our programs but we are aware of how much more of a difference we could make if Arrowsmith were even more accessible. 

By quickly shifting to online learning models, Arrowsmith has done more evolving in the last few months than we have in the last decade. So when we think about moving forward, I want us to go even further. Can we find ways to keep improving and iterating so that it can be accessible and affordable to even more students? Can we get it into the general school curriculum? Develop it as a phone or tablet app that maintains the important instructor connection? How do we make cognitive training even more effective? 

Let’s keep evolving and adapting. Let’s leave some of these old, “normal” expectations of what is possible behind. We owe it to our students and their families. They were amazing before the pandemic complicated life.  They have already been through and sacrificed so much to grab hold of this opportunity to change their lives for the better. Now, they are truly making the most of a situation that is difficult for everyone. They are demonstrating the resilience and adaptability that likely brought them to Arrowsmith in the first place. Let’s build on that and bring Arrowsmith to even more people.