Autism students welcomed at new high school

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A new school in the Valley will welcome students with autism this fall.

Potential Development is the first of its kind in the area serving high school aged students and one of only three in the state. The school will focus on the special needs of children diagnosed with autism, providing a choice for those students entering 9th grade and beyond.

“This age, 14 to 22, the education options for that age group were very minimal,” said Executive Director Paul Garchar.

He said only 56 percent of students with autism spectrum disorder graduate from high school.

Parents agree there are many early intervention programs for children with autism in the Valley, but there is a drop in services and choices after 8th grade. Lisa Robinson’s 12-year-old son James attends the K-8 program at Potential Development and is looking at the next step in his education.

“We want James to have continuity and learn life skills, and this place is perfect,” said Robinson.

Life skills will be the main focus at the new high school. Space inside the 30,000 square foot building at 2405  Market St. in Youngstown will be renovated with day-to-day living in mind.

“One of the beautiful things we’ve done is create a life skills center that will give the ability to train these students to live in an apartment environment, so when they transition out of school they have a place to at least understand how to live on their own,” said Mike Fagan, Olslavsky Jaminet Architects.

The school will feature eight classrooms equipped with SMART boards and iPads, a model apartment, fine arts learning center, science lab, and space for occupational and speech therapy. About 20 students are enrolled for the first year of the program, but the school and building can accommodate 100.

“The small classroom size is something we’ll be able to offer, a more nurturing environment,” said Garchar. “But we will still push the student on academics, so we’ll reach their full potential.”

Potential Development is looking to raise $550, 000 to operate the new school.

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