So many of my clients ask for suggestions on alternative schooling options for their child with special needs. It can be very time consuming and often not very productive for parents to do Internet searches to find out what’s out there. So, as I have the opportunity to check some of these places out, I’ll send out little blurbs to give you my take on the look and feel of some alternate placements, as well as Internet links so you can dig a little deeper and get more information for your specific situation.
Julie Billiart School is a Catholic alternative school for students with disabilities in grades K-8 (although 40% of the students who are enrolled are not Catholic). It accepts both the Jon Peterson and Autism Scholarships, and 100% of its students are there on scholarship. Tuition for the 2016-17 school year is $24,500 and they do offer need-based financial aid for the portion of tuition that is not covered by the scholarship. School districts either provide transportation (depending upon the distance) or the family drives their student. Julie Billiart is geared toward mild to moderate intensity students and would not be appropriate for students with severe behavioral needs.
Recently, I had a tour of Julie Billiart. It’s located in a serene, residential area, just behind Hawken School. The building itself is an architectural beauty. It’s an old mansion, set back from the street and well-landscaped, that has a double winding staircase, fireplaces, wooden pillars, and decorative high ceilings. Lannie Davis is the school president. She is very kind, approachable, forward-thinking, and genuinely dedicated to helping these kids and their families. Ms. Davis walked me through the building and explained all of the wonderful features they have to offer at Julie Billiart, including small student/teacher ratios; in-house therapies, such as speech, OT and even art therapy; a behavior therapist on staff(!), a large gym (which is also where the students eat lunch), ActivBoards in every class room, Wi-Fi, a Google Chromebook for every student to use and, most importantly, a staff dedicated to positive reinforcement and individualized instruction. Many are on the autism spectrum (mild to moderate), while others have various disabilities including dyslexia, ADHD, and anxiety. I observed some type of sensory equipment in most every room: balls, trampolines, swings, weighted vests/blankets, muted lights. The environment is very much academic and looks like a traditional school with student work lining the halls and name plates on the desks. Students are grouped by grade level, and are sometimes split into two groups according to ability for that particular subject, providing a tailored learning experience. The feel is very warm—you can see that the kids enjoy being there. The president collected half a dozen hugs along the way from students who approached her to say hello or share a success story with her! And, while I was there, the students had a visit from two very well-trained therapy dogs to read with them. How fun! At Julie Billiart, the students are among others that are like them—this is something a lot of my clients desire. A public school district is required to educate a child in his least restrictive environment, with the push being toward inclusion with typical peers. Yet my clients often tell me that they just want their child to be surrounded by kids who are like them, so they can feel more comfortable/accepted/”normal” and where parents hope they will develop solid friendships.
Last year, the school began a summer program, which is geared toward social skills, but also includes academics. Each of the four weeks places a focus on a particular social skill (i.e. when and what type of jokes are appropriate) and then each Friday they go into the community to practice that skill. Field trips have included swimming and even an Indians game. Some students access the summer program as their ESY where their own district does not offer a program to meet their needs. The camp is full this summer with 45 students, but may be something to keep in mind for the future.
It’s important to note that Julie Billiart only accepts a student it feels it can meet that student’s specific needs. This can be disappointing to parents, but is truly a good feature because it enables this school to be a GREAT school serving a certain population of students, rather than a school that accepts all disabled students yet cannot meet each child’s needs. Not surprisingly, there is currently a waiting list for Julie Billiart. Recognizing that the demand surpasses their physical capacity in Lyndhurst, Julie Billiart is looking to establish a second location in the Akron area sometime in 2017! What an amazing environment for kids to learn and grow in a way that is tailored to them.
Click here for more information about Julie Billiart.