Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Parkside School

I recently had a chance to visit the Parkside School, which enrolls 84 students with language based learning differences in its townhouse setting on New York City's Upper West Side.

Parkside is an ungraded program for students from five to ten years of age. With a staff of 80 teachers, speech and occupational therapists, and social workers, Parkside has a broader view of what constitutes a language based learning problem than many other schools. As Leslie Thorne, one of its founders and presently its Educational Director, noted, "There is no such thing as just a language problem".

That philosophy is reflected in the extensive use of symbols and symbolic play to help students understand tasks, schedules, and expectations. As Ms. Thorne explained, the children need to have language skills to advance socially and to get ready to learn. In addition to programs developed by the Parkside staff, the students use such proven methods as "Handwriting without Tears" and "Stern
Math", as well as other math and reading programs.

The Parkside program is ungraded; students are placed with others of similar ability, with consideration for their age. Parkside is on the New York State "Approved" List, which means that students can be sent there by their home districts without cost to their families. It also accepts students privately enrolled by their parents.

When asked to describe what disabilities Parkside students might face, Ms. Thorne indicated that they would include: "speech, language, primary communication difficulties, students who have a hard time thinking flexibly or who have difficulty regulating their bodies." She also indicated that Parkside would enroll students with "high functioning autism".

As we visited classes ranging from the youngest students to those who will be leaving Parkside this spring, we saw significant growth and progress from class to class. Parkside students move on to both mainstream and specialized schools when they leave this strong and supportive program.

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