"We prepare students to engage in the world that is and to help bring about a world that ought to be."

Learning Support

The mission of Friends Seminary’s Learning Support Department is to foster a love of learning. We are committed to providing positive, effective and enriching learning experiences by employing current, research-based approaches that are multi-sensory, interactive and dynamic. By respecting students’ identities, multiple voices and diversity, we nurture self-awareness, self-advocacy and independence. Firmly believing in collaboration, we are dedicated to creating a synergistic community where we work together as a team, partnering with students, families, classroom teachers, psychologists, administrators and outside support specialists. Our goal is to support our students in becoming confident, joyful, lifelong learners who are curious about the world.

Lower School

At the beginning, middle and end of each school year, all learning specialists along with classroom teachers assess each child’s strengths and challenges in the core areas of reading, math and writing. Formal and informal assessments are used to gather information and evidence on what each student knows and understands. Assessments are a systematic approach on the measurement of a student’s learning and progress. They help guide curriculum, strategies and academic support. Assessments can be used as a rationale and explanation for pedagogical choices in the classroom and for additional outside support.

The Lower School Learning Specialists act as an advocate for identified students who benefit from extra support. This role entails being a liaison between the homeroom teachers, the administration, the psychologist, specialists and outside providers. Each learning specialist is responsible for specific grades, as determined by the administration. The learning specialist then becomes an integral member of that grade level team and familiarizes themselves with the students and curriculum. Learning Specialists in kindergarten through fourth grade provide small group instruction and join literacy classes once a week in the larger classroom.

The learning specialists at Friends Seminary follow a research-based, integrative, student-centered approach to teaching literacy. Working consistently as a team with administrators, specialists, fellow learning specialists, homeroom teachers, psychologists, families and outside support specialists provides an in-depth look at students’ learning styles and approaches to learning. Learning Specialists meet students where they are while keeping in mind the specific learning goals for each grade level. Understanding that students’ learning profiles vary, a tailored, eclectic approach that combines direct instruction along with experiential learning is used while always keeping in mind that learning is a process.

The mathematics specialists are responsible for supporting effective K–4 mathematics instruction and student learning. Specific roles and responsibilities vary according to the needs of each teacher and their students. At the classroom level, specialists teach mathematics to students in each grade level and work with particular groups of students to provide remediation or enrichment support services. At the school level, specialists work with K-4 teachers, learning specialists and administrators on the development of curriculum, assessment and parent outreach. Specialists work with teachers in a professional development capacity to help strengthen their understanding of mathematics content or to help them develop more effective instruction or assessments. At the department level, specialists work with colleagues to streamline and improve the overall K-4 mathematics curriculum and assessment process. 

Additionally, the Guidance team, including the division head, assistant division head, psychologist, learning and math specialists meets weekly to discuss any student in need of intervention and support. Classroom teachers may also be included, and a classroom observation and portfolio of the student’s work aid in the decision-making process.

Middle School & Upper School

Middle School learning specialists teach a skills class which fosters growth in study skills, time management and note taking, to all students in Grades 5 and 6. They also support teachers in the classrooms and provide small group instruction which is based on assessments, the recommendation of the prior year’s academic team—including division head, psychologists, teachers and specialists, or at the recommendation of an evaluation. The academic team continues to monitor students’ strengths and challenges as they progress and makes recommendations for continued small group instruction, additional outside support and effective strategies to be employed in the classroom.

Academic Workshop is offered for small group support to those students with a language waiver and led by a learning specialist and math teacher; it is available to students in Grades 5-7 who need scaffolding with math, organizational skills, reading and writing. In Grades 8-12, small skills classes and/or drop-in sessions are offered by the Upper School learning specialist for students who need additional help with executive functioning, i.e. planning, organization, time management, study skills, self-monitoring, and advocacy. Middle School and Upper School learning specialists work closely with teachers, administrators and psychologists to utilize a team-based approach to supporting students. 

Rates of progress and the effectiveness of intervention are assessed on an ongoing basis. When outside tutors are utilized in Middle and Upper School, families are encouraged to have tutors contact learning specialists, teachers and advisors in order to monitor content collaboration and student progress. Sometimes, if there is more than one issue at play, or if it is unclear what may be hindering a student’s success, achievement or ability, a comprehensive neuropsychological evaluation may be recommended which can help elucidate the student’s needs and target necessary support.

All students in Grades 7-12 may also utilize the support services of the Academic Center, which provides more subject-specific help or enrichment as well as peer tutoring.


Ruthie Shaw
Learning Support Department Chair
(212) 979-5035

Salvi Barker
Lower School Learning Specialist
(212) 979-5035

Hilary Berliner
Lower School Math Specialist
(212) 979-5035

Megan Fenstermaker
Middle and Upper School Learning Specialist, Grades 8-12
(212) 979-5035

Jennifer Gandasegui
Middle School Learning Specialist
(212) 979-5035

Melissa Soto
Lower and Middle School Learning Specialist

Monica Witt
Lower School Math Specialist 
(212) 979-5035 ext. 4412
Friends Seminary actively promotes diversity, equity, inclusion, and anti-racism in all its programs and operations, including admissions, financial aid, hiring, and all facets of the educational experience. To form a community which strives to reflect the world’s diversity, we do not discriminate on the basis of race or color, religion, nationality, ethnicity, economic background, physical ability, sex, gender identity or expression, or sexual orientation. Friends Seminary is an equal opportunity employer.

222 East 16th Street
New York, NY 10003
P: 212-979-5030
F: 212.979.5034
Friends Seminary — the oldest continuously operated, coeducational school in NYC — serves college-bound day students in Kindergarten-Grade 12.