No dismissal time for students who face unique challenges

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There are tons of great charter schools in New York and Connecticut going above and beyond for their students. This means staving off the summer slide, either with an extended year or a robust program to keep their students engaged in these summer months. The NYC Autism Charter School is the only charter in the state serving exclusively children with autism. Learn more about how their incredible year-round program is helping students and families.

For the New York Center for Autism Charter School, there is no summer vacation when it comes to making sure its students get all of the instruction they need.

“We serve students on the moderate to severe end of the autism spectrum. With that comes the need for a summer session. Without instruction year-round, these kids would regress,” said Executive Director Julie Fisher.

First opened in 2005, the NYC Autism Charter School is one of the more unique charters in New York State – the only charter devoted to exclusively serving children with autism. With an enrollment of only 32 students, the ungraded school – meaning no grade levels – has students from ages 5 to 21. The Harlem charter has a 12-month program, which has proved crucial in helping its students develop.

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“It is critical for our population,” Fisher said. “We have kids that really require many opportunities to learn sometimes basic skills, and many opportunities to maintain those skills. The thought of being off for a long time is just not realistic.”

Since the school is serving some of the highest-needs students, its academic program relies on family engagement, small class sizes and consistent instruction to make sure the children receive a high quality education and individualized attention. Working through the summer and constantly lending support to families is something the school welcomes in making sure all of their students succeed. In addition to traditional coursework, the school focuses on taking steps to prepare students for life beyond the classroom.

“Autism doesn’t stop at 2:45 when we dismiss. Parents have the biggest challenge on their hands each day. Most parents are very eager for any help and support they can get when they see how involved we are and how many tools we give them,” Fisher said.

A dedicated staff puts families first to make sure each student can reach the best outcome. They work with parents to find where students have their strengths and areas that need the most support. To make sure the students are making gains, big or small, the staff will even do home visits to lend support and check on progress. The school holds monthly meetings with families and provides parent training.

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Fisher describes students who can have a host of challenges, from only eating one food to having a fear of getting a haircut. The staff works with students to get past these issues. The school also teaches kids life skills, like how to use a debit card and shop, how to use a fitness facility, and even sets students up with work internships.

When it comes to summer classes, they shake things up a little bit, sending the students on more field trips. These trips go beyond academic instruction, giving kids a chance to practice skills like ordering their own food for lunch or maintaining proper behavior in a movie theater.

Fisher said, “We do so much life skills instruction behind our walls, but life happens out in the real world and these are opportunities.”

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This sort of year-round work has been so successful that the school has a waitlist of 100 students. Since demand is coming from all over the city, NYC Autism is branching out into the Bronx next year with a second school.

“We wanted to have sites in other boroughs so kids can have schools closer to their local community. The Bronx is our first foray into that since we have a high number of applicants there and the community is underserved in many ways,” Fisher explained.

She continued: “Thirty-two students are a drop in the bucket compared to the thousands on the autism spectrum in the New York City school system. Every moment we have with students is a chance for them to learn something. We can’t waste that, and we’re excited to bring this opportunity to more children.”

Joe was the Deputy Communications Director for New York for the Northeast Charter Schools Network.
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The NYC Autism Charter School is working overtime to help children who need it most!
No dismissal time for students who face unique challenges
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