Our sign has said Hope Creek Academy at Just Right Academy for quite a while. And our high school program has long been called Hope Creek Academy. Now it’s time for the rest of the school to catch up. In the fall, all of our students will come back to Hope Creek Academy.
Good change happens for a reason, and we’ve thought about this one for a long time. When we started, Just Right Academy was the perfect name. We took kids who were all wrong for other educational institutions and we did our best with all of them. But as time went on, we came to realize that we are not just right for everyone, that we do a better job with some kids than others. We do not do our best work with nonverbal kids. We’ve been successful with many of them, but those kids need and deserve a highly technical program with individual teachers who are trained in and knowledgeable of the child’s specific needs. Then there are kids whose needs and hurt run so deeply that they need more specialized programs. We are trying to get those kids where they need to be earlier rather than later. We are not at our best with kids with severe physical needs, again because they need one-on-one help. Last, we can not safely help violent children as they get older, stronger, and bigger.
So who DO we do our best work with? We do best with kids who can learn in a 1:3 teacher student ratio. They will need and get individual time, and sometimes larger group teaching, but the ability to learn in a small group is important. We do great work with children with learning problems, many kids on the AU spectrum, young behaviorally challenged kids, students with multiple diagnoses, kids with some types of mental illness. We have found that the younger we can get children the better, and we CAN help violent children before they get too big and the behavior too ingrained. In fact, we’ve had several kids able to go back to other private, public, or charter schools because we’ve been able to remediate social, educational, and behavioral problems to the extent that they can be successful. We cheer when that happens!
Our second reason is that we are no longer a special needs school. Yes, all of our kids have some sort of special needs, with diagnosed anxiety the commonality. But as time has gone on, we have developed our academics so that our students are also getting a thoroughly solid education. This looks different at HCA. It may mean a second grader in a fourth grade math group or a 9th grader in a 3rd grade math group. It may mean a single student taking calculus and another getting individualized tutoring in skip counting. It means two full-time Orton-Gillingham reading teachers on staff, working intensively with those who need it. It means a daily word of the day which includes words like pulchritudinous because we have kids who need vocabulary on that level, and it means an elective that works on functional vocabulary. It means electives in science fiction or Pygmalion or Social Thinking. We are an academic school that accommodates those with special needs, NOT a school that has no academic, social, and behavioral expectations for kids because they have special needs. Kids are often shocked to find that they can no longer sit in the back and color or that a tantrum or threat will no longer get them sent home.
We contract with Lighthouse Educational Services to come in and test our high school students from both high school programs each year. We could do this ourselves, but we want the accountability that comes from someone who does not know these kids doing the testing. We make no special preparation except asking students to be on time that day. The testers were initially shocked to find the level of academic achievement some of our students have attained. But even more important, they were complimentary of the progress made by students yearly who were well below grade level when they started.
Those who visit our school are always surprised to find how “normal” our kids look. “I thought you took kids with behavioral issues?” they ask. We have classes filled with them. However, our kids are always the best behaved group on a field trip, and they are appalled at other students’ rudeness. Our kids laugh a lot, have a prom and yearbook and lockers and friends, and play football at recess. Our kids ARE normal, whatever their diagnoses; they get to feel normal here, and they deserve a name that highlights that.
Come visit us at Hope Creek Academy!