Q&A with The Emerge School, Louisiana’s First School Dedicated to Children with Autism

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Teacher and student from The Emerge School for Autism charter school in Louisiana

There’s a new charter school on the block as the Emerge School for Autism, a school dedicated to helping children with autism reach the best of their educational abilities, opened its doors in August.

The school tailors its curriculum, as well as its educational philosophy, to each child’s individual needs.

To learn more about the school, I spoke with principal Leigh Bozard, who co-authored the charter application for the school.

Emerge School for Autism plans to educate about 150 children ages 5 to 11 in Baton Rouge by 2026. How many students are currently enrolled in the school? What plans are there for growth?

We currently have 20 kindergarteners enrolled in our school. Next year, we will take a new group of kindergarteners, growing one grade at a time.

The Emerge School of Autism Principal Leigh Bozard

How does the Emerge School educate children with autism and individuals with communication challenges?

The Emerge Center, a nonprofit program that provides therapeutic programming for individuals with communication, behavior, and developmental difficulties, has a long history of working with children with communication challenges and autism. The Emerge School has the unique opportunity to partner with the Center, utilizing the expertise of the speech language pathologists, occupational therapists and board-certified behavior analysts. Each of these therapists contribute to the overall plan for each child’s individual growth.

The Emerge School was previously a private school which charged about $11,000 tuition per year. As the school transitions to a public charter school, how will Emerge reach students within the East Baton Rouge Parish community?

The Center has a long history of working with children in the community. Prior to the rebranding in 2014, they were known as Baton Rouge Speech and Hearing Foundation, which was founded in 1960. Since the charter was approved in May of 2018, we have sent out several press releases about the opening of the tuition-free school. We had almost 80 applicants for 20 spots last year.

Your school focuses on a model that teaches students independence through innovative and family-centered therapies. How is this model implemented every day in the classroom?

Emerge has always used a multidisciplinary approach to educate children and we continue this approach with the new school. Each child has a team of therapists, teachers, and assistant teachers who collaborate with each other and with families. As students prepare to transition, the team works on fading the supports to enable success in a more traditional school environment.

Hands-on play with teacher and student at The Emerge School for Autism charter school in Louisiana

As Louisiana’s first public charter school for autism, what precedent do you hope to set?

We would like to see that every child with autism has access to an educational environment where they can succeed.

What are some common misconceptions that surround children with the Autism Spectrum Disorder?

One common misconception is that all children with autism need special education to be successful in an academic setting. Not all children with autism qualify for special education. Some children with autism do not need an individualized education program to succeed in school. Determination for special education in Louisiana is based on criteria in Louisiana’s Bulletin 1508.

What is the goal for your students?

The goal of students in our school is to empower them with the skills needed to relentlessly pursue their maximum potential, allowing access to future inclusive environments.

The Emerge School’s vision is simple, “a world where all individuals are able to maximize their potential.” This is a vision the school’s staff work towards day in and day out for every one of their students so that no child to gets left behind.

Beginning in the fall of 2019, the school will enroll kindergarteners who are located within the East Baton Rouge Parish School District.

 

Kelsey Nelson is the manager of campaigns and publications at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

 

Read more about how charter schools are meeting the needs of students with special needs.

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