School may be out, but the work continues for many charter schools throughout New York and Connecticut! These schools are putting in overtime to beat the summer slide, offering an extended school year and/or programs aimed at keeping students engaged as the temperatures rise. Here’s how NYC Autism Charter School is keeping busy this summer as they prepare for big changes in the fall!
A student enjoys a recent trip to the Museum of Natural History!
The New York City Autism Charter School is no stranger to putting in work over the summer months. But this year, big changes are on the horizon as students and staff prepare for the opening of a second location in the Bronx set to open in early September!
Since opening in 2005, NYC Autism Charter School in Harlem has remained the only charter school in the state of New York designed to exclusively serve young people on the autism spectrum -- defying the pesky myth that charters don’t serve students with special needs. This school does that and does it incredibly well. The school’s peak enrollment is limited to 32 students who range in age from 5 to 21, and these students are able to learn in an ungraded environment with no traditional grade levels. And by incorporating family engagement, small class sizes and individualized attention, NYC Autism Charter School does whatever it takes to make sure its students succeed both in and outside the classroom.
Julie Fisher, Executive Director of the NYC Autism Charter School, has a saying that autism “doesn’t end at 2:45 p.m.” when the school bell rings. As such, supporting students and families well into the summer months is critical for their ongoing learning and success.
"Even the two-and-a-half or three weeks that kids are off at the end of August can be an incredibly stressful time for parents," Fisher says. "Often, our kids don’t have the skills that allow parents to really take vacations or trips, because there are so many things that can make that challenging."
For this reason, Fisher says the school uses the summer months to plan activities that will help its students learn some of these essential life skills. Students are often treated to trips in the community, such as a museum or the zoo, but it’s a chance for them to practice important skills such as interacting socially with others, ordering their own food, following rules and sitting for extended periods of time.
Two students + a teacher tend to the school's newly constructed Peace Garden!
"We’re always wanting to make it fun, but we’re also seeing new learning opportunities that come with those outings," Fisher explains, adding that the goal is to ensure that life outside of school is as positive as possible for students.
After more than a decade of meeting the needs of this unique population at their Harlem location, Fisher is excited about their expansion into the Bronx and about the prospect of enhancing the lives of even more young people.
Much of the school’s focus this summer has been on intensive staff training, as well as onboarding and preparing new hires for the opening of the Bronx location.
Fisher says seasoned staff members have played a crucial role in getting the new team ready for the expansion. “A lot of the top tier staff in the Bronx have been here in East Harlem for quite some time, so I’m feeling really hopeful about being able to carry over those special aspects of our culture and how we do things,” she says.
Much of the Bronx team is spending its summer at the Harlem location. There, staffers are not only learning the principles of applied behavior analysis and engaging in web-based theoretical training, they’re also getting real-life experience by being in the classrooms and working directly with the students both on campus and during outings as a school.
"Hearing (these principles) and then seeing them in practice can make it all more meaningful," Fisher explained.
Another change coming to both locations will be the addition of a head of school at each campus. Fisher says both individuals who were selected to be heads of school began with NYC Autism Charter School as entry level instructors in 2007 and have worked their way up the ranks in a variety of roles.
A pizza outing is a chance for students to practice essential skills like ordering for themselves and socializing with others!
And even with all of the changes on the horizon, Fisher says the team at NYC Autism Charter School is remaining focused on the success of the students and the ongoing support for families even as the summer months continue.
"With all children, you could say every moment is a precious moment -- with our kids, that is particularly evident, because we see that without instruction and maintenance of skills, there can be regression," Fisher says. That’s why this school will continue its important role of supporting young people with autism all 12 months of the year, and now, in not one but two locations.
"I see the work we’re doing over the summer as absolutely critical for students to retain everything they’ve gotten throughout the year,” she says.
To get more of our Overtime series, be sure to check us out on Instagram at @necharters!