MANATEE COUNTY — East County resident Trudy Johnson took a seat at a picnic table, glanced at the classroom where her grandson was busy studying and smiled.
“There’s a family feeling here,” she said of Ave Maria Preparatory School, which recently moved from Sarasota to the East County.
Her grandson, Josiah, had been in inclusion classes and others at public and charter schools in the East County, and although they were good schools, none seemed to be a good fit for the youth, who has learning disabilities.
When Johnson began checking into Ave Maria, teacher Paul Lipinksi told her: “We love them first and then we teach them.”
“To me, that said it all,” Johnson said.
Her grandson, now 13, is just one example of students at the school who were not doing so well in more traditional educational settings, but are seeing dramatic results at Ave Maria, a school dedicated to children with learning disabilities.
“He’s less anxious (now),” Johnson said of Josiah. “He’s developed better coping skills. I have found teachers that are very compassionate. They give kids a chance to prove they can learn and they are of value.”
The more than 50 students at Ave Maria suffer from learning disabilities such as autism, attention deficit disorder and emotional disorders and come from a variety of home situations.
“Our kids mostly have fallen through the cracks,” said Sister Gilchrist Cottrill, the school’s founder and program director. “They come from good schools where they had programs with disabilities, but somehow there wasn’t a program that was just for them. Our program has become very individualized. We actually create programs around each student.”
The school uses a program that allows students to progress at different grade levels in each subject rather than forcing them to learn on pace with a group.
“We follow the public school curriculum, we just implement it differently,” she said.
Generally, new students make about two years progress in reading and one-and-one-half years progress in math each year until they are caught up, Cottrill said.
Teachers at the school also use time to their advantage by conducting more traditional classroom activities in the mornings when students have high energy levels and shifting to more hands-on activities such as arts, drama, music and role playing in the afternoon when they are tired.
“That creates what you call brain elasticity,” Cottrill said. “The right side of the brain starts taking over parts that aren’t working right. It’s the same principle as (rehabilitating) stroke victims.”
The school also offers a career transition program through its own efforts and a partnership with Community Haven for Adults and Children with Disabilities. Students learn about jobs in culinary arts, technology, the environment and industry.
Ave Maria moved to its new campus at 6289 Verna Road in Myakka City in August.
Contact Pam Eubanks at firstname.lastname@example.org.
AVE MARIA PREPARATORY SCHOOL
ADDRESS: 6289 Verna Road, Myakka City
WEB SITE: www.amuprep.org
Qualifying families have until Jan. 3 to enroll for the second semester at Ave Maria if they wish to take advantage of the McKay Scholarship, which allows students with disabilities to take 75% of their tax dollars to another educational facility.
Tuition is $12,000 annually, but the school will work with parents in that regard, the school’s Program Director Sister Gilchrist Cottrill said.
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