New school for autistic now registering students
Inside a church, wedged off of Causeway Boulevard between Tampa and Brandon, a new school for low-functioning autistic youngsters is taking shape. And registration is now open for students that will attend in the fall.
The Bridge Learning Community – School for Autism, will offer therapists and a curriculum especially designed for each student, based on their specific needs.
Special Education teacher Laurie Spiegel and her father Bill Beers, who have previously owned the Dyslexia Academy in Brandon and Interactive Education Academy in Valrico, have teamed up for this new endeavor.
“Not a lot of schools even accept low-functioning autistic students,” Spiegel said. And a lot of parents in the greater Brandon area are driving to South Tampa or Waters Avenue to enroll their children. We think this is really a great area for this type of school,’’ she said.
Spiegel and Beers plan to start small and stay small until they get the program up and running at full speed. Initially, the school will enroll 12-15 students.
‘We know that kids make good progress when you get them in an education program early,” Spiegel said. The Bridge will take children as young as 5 and get them into a specialized education plan.
Therapists with ENGAGE Behavioral Health will work with the school to provide students with any special services they need.
“We are very excited about working with them and building an effective program for students on the autism spectrum,” said Stephanie Toelken, director of school based systems and social skills for ENGAGE.
ENGAGE therapists will collaborate with Bridge Learning Community to enable each child to perform to the best of their abilities, Toelken said.
“We plan to do this by collaborating with all caregivers, not only in the school environment but in the home, as well,” Toelken said.
One of the most important parts of this program will be parent participation, Beers said. Most parents with autistic children are well educated on their child’s diagnosis and needs, he said. They will be expected to participate in the therapy put in place at The Bridge, so their children will have consistency at home and at school, he said.
The Bridge will start with two classrooms and a sensory area with a trampoline, tunnels and other equipment, placed in a low-light area, Spiegel said.
Some students will have aides with them throughout the school day.
The Bridge will accept the McKay Scholarship for Students with Disabilities for tuition, Beers said. Florida's School Choice programs offer the McKay Scholarship to children with diagnosed learning disabilities documented through an Individual Education Plan, or IEP. Some 24,000 students with special needs have been placed in private schools in Florida using this program, according to the Florida Department of Education.
It gives parents an option when they don’t believe their special-needs children are getting the necessary services in public schools.