I have seen students whose lives have been transformed because finally they, their teachers, and their families understand how they learn best and understand what the right, specific support looks like. Educational testing can make an enormous difference, and every student at Park should have access to this should they need it.
In this year when we celebrate Park’s past, present, and future, you would be hard-pressed to find anyone with deeper connections to the School than Alice Perera Lucey ’77. Her Park journey began at age four in 1966, and Alice remains deeply invested in Park’s future as an early supporter of the Fund for Educational Testing. Alice spoke with Shannon O’Leary, Park’s Director of Leadership & Capital Giving, about the power and permanence of giving to endowment and her hopes for Park.
SHANNON: One of the primary goals of The SPARK Campaign is to foster a deeper sense of belonging for all at Park. Alice, what does belonging mean to you?
ALICE: A true sense of belonging has to do with really being known, in the fullest sense. When a child is struggling, and teachers aren’t sure why, that child does not feel known. This is one of the reasons I am so passionate about the Fund for Educational Testing. An educational evaluation can unlock so much information, information that helps the child feel known and, ultimately, helps the child to feel that they belong.
You are very close to this work. Could you give an overview of educational testing and how it is used for those who may be less familiar with the concept?
First, every single one of us has a learning style – a way that we take in information, make meaning of information, process information, and express information verbally and through writing. One of the great joys of being a teacher is discovering, for each student in your class, what that learning style is. In some cases, however, it is not entirely clear how a child is taking in or making meaning of information. In the classroom, when a student’s learning profile isn’t fully understood, this can manifest as struggle.
I believe all children want to do well and that they do the best they can. When a child is struggling, it usually does not mean that they are not working hard enough. Instead it means that something is getting in their way – some sort of barrier to learning. An educational evaluation can help the teachers, the child, and their parents fully understand what that barrier is and how to work around it, to best support the child.
The beauty of an educational test, like a neuropsychological evaluation, is that it helps to unlock precisely where a child is having trouble and, just as important, identify what strengths that child has that can then be drawn upon. The more you understand about a child’s learning profile, the better you can support that child as a teacher, and the more confident the child is going to feel. So often when kids can’t easily do the work of school, they say to themselves I’m not smart, I can’t do this, and some well-meaning people might say just try harder, of course you can do this, when in fact the child is trying as hard as they can. An educational evaluation gives the parents, teachers, and child the information to better understand where the challenge lies – is it a processing issue? a fine motor issue? is it about working memory? is it auditory? While teachers, especially Park teachers, are extraordinary in teaching and figuring out kids, sometimes the nuance of exactly what’s happening requires an outside expert.
How have you seen testing evolve in your time as an educator?
There is just so much more information now about how brains develop and how children learn. I distinctly remember the first time I went to Children’s Hospital for a meeting with an evaluator. I’d been teaching for quite a while, and it just wasn’t as common then for people to really look at what was getting in the way if a child had a learning issue.
Now, we also see evaluations pinpoint certain recommendations. Let’s say it is found that a child processes slowly, and they could benefit from extended time. In a standardized testing situation, having that accommodation for extra time might make the difference between the child doing an ok job and doing a great job because they actually have enough time to finish the test. That, in turn, might make the difference in a student being able to gain admission to a next school. That’s a huge thing. Having a clear understanding of a child’s learning profile helps set students up for success in secondary school.
The demystification step, where the evaluation is explained to the child, is very important, especially for older ones. It helps them to understand what their strengths and weaknesses are – and there are always strengths! Once teachers and students know what those strengths are, those strengths can be used as ladders and scaffolds to help the child learn in the best way.
Alice, I know you have been a passionate advocate for greater access to testing. With this $500,000 endowed fund, Park will be able to fund up to five evaluations per year for students whose families otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford testing.
This has been a long time coming, and in terms of access for all students, this is hugely important. I hate to say this, but there were multiple times when I was Division Head, when I would sit in meetings with colleagues, and we wanted to recommend a student to be evaluated, and we just knew that it was not going to be possible. Baseline, these tests are about $5,000. That’s a prohibitive amount.
I have seen students whose academic lives have been transformed thanks to educational testing. I have seen students whose lives have been transformed because finally they, their teachers, and their families understand how they learn best and understand what the right, specific support looks like. Educational testing can make an enormous difference, and every student at Park should have access to this should they need it.
One of the great benefits of Park partnering with families to pursue testing is that we can work with evaluators with whom we have established relationships, evaluators who know the independent school world and understand our school culture and expectations. An evaluator who works closely with Park and recommends a language waiver, knows exactly what that means at Park. The evaluator is also often a partner for parents. As a parent, it feels really difficult to see your child struggling. The evaluation process gives the parents someone who can be a great resource to them and can help them fully understand their child’s learning profile.
As a SPARK Campaign Captain, you are an ambassador for the campaign among the faculty and staff community. Why were you excited to join the campaign team?
I usually hate asking people for money. But, in this case, I was never going to say no to being involved. Supporting this fund is something I believe in passionately, and I know my colleagues do, too.
As teachers, we are giving every day. We are making a difference, I hope, in our students’ lives. I think what’s really important in this campaign, and specifically in the idea of an endowed fund, is that by contributing you are making a lasting impact. Budgets change. Things happen – recessions, COVID, for example – and a budget can be impacted. When you give to an endowed fund, you are cementing something for the future. It’s not a one-time deal; it’s a legacy. When you give to endowment, you are ensuring something for future generations. And isn’t that what we all want to do?
The fact that this is part of the campaign says a lot about The Park School. What’s the heart of a school? Children and how they learn. And if we are not making sure that is equitable, we are not paying attention to the right thing.
When you give to an endowed fund, you are cementing something for the future. It’s not a one-time deal; it’s a legacy. When you give to endowment, you are ensuring something for future generations. And isn’t that what we all want to do?
What is your greatest hope for Park’s future?
At Park, students experience the joy of learning, as well as curiosity, creativity, independence, and finding their own voice. I don’t think that has changed since I was first a student here in the 1960s. These things probably manifest themselves in different ways now, but they are so central to the mission of the School, and I hope that never changes.