Focuses on 'transition years' of middle and high school
12.23.2009 – TULSA, OK - Efforts to broaden awareness of autism have begun to take hold nationwide. One woman decided the time was right to launch a school in Tulsa dedicated to the education of children with high-functioning autism and Asperger's syndrome. Autistic children, even those who do well mainstreamed into public elementary schools, often struggle during the difficult transition to teen and young adult.
"Social issues, difficult for normal teens to navigate, can become completely overwhelming to the teen with autism," Andrea Kersey, school founder, said. Kersey knows from experience; her teen son, diagnosed with high-functioning autism, needs the type of education Kersey plans to bring to Tulsa.
Heartland Academy plans to open during the summer of 2010 at a midtown location. The school board includes local experts and involved citizens and has adopted the mission of providing an optimal educational and social environment for their students.
Dr. Richard Irwin of Tulsa Developmental Pediatrics and Center for Family Psychology is a board member for the school. "The public needs to be informed about the broad spectrum of ASDs and that not every autistic individual is non-verbal, rocking in the corner, and entirely engulfed in his/her own world. Many have great potential for significantly contributing to society if provided the appropriate education, which is the primary reason for the Academy," Irwin said.
Heartland plans to serve students from 6th grade through 12th grade and will be a private year-round school. "Continuity is a key component of success, and these kids need the immersion into their educational and life skills curriculum in order to achieve to their potential," Kersey said. In addition, close involvement within the community will also be a key component of the school.
Students will be paired with mentors, class sizes will be kept small and the curriculum and schedule will be tailored to each individual student's needs. Teachers will recieve ongoing training to help students learn academically and socially. "My son, Ryan, works hard to be social. It's difficult for him, but with practice it's a skill he is trying to master. All our students will have the opportunities they need to practice their social and life skills in meaningful ways," Kersey said.
The academy is seeking funding from a variety of local and national sources with the goal of creating a school and learning environment that will duplicate facilities that currently exist in different areas of the nation. "It's a first for Tulsa, for the state of Oklahoma, and it's desperately needed," Kersey said.
Heartland Academy Board Members:
Andrea M. Kersey - Founder, Heartland Academy
Stephen Matthews - Head of School
Richard Irwin, MD, Developmental Pediatrician
Lara Mattox, PH.D., Clinical Psychologist
Judy McCarter, OTRL
Gary L Jones, PH.D., Counseling Psychologist
Tony Gehres, Attny
Oliver S. Howard, Attny
Andrew Revelis, MD
Heather Revelis, MD
Rodney D. Kaufmann, CPA