- Associated Press - Saturday, August 22, 2015

NORWALK, Conn. (AP) - When the distractions inherent in a large public school classroom aren’t conducive to learning for students with diagnoses such as ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), Specific Learning Disabilities (LD/SLD) or a host of communications disorders or disabilities, The High Road School can provide an alternative.

The Connecticut State Certified Special Education school, with a class size of no more than 10 students, receives students in grades K-12 whom have been referred by the public schools as candidates that would not only benefit from the highly-structured environment that The High Road offers, but also may enable many of these students to return to the less restrictive educational setting of a public school classroom after a period of time.

“This is a second opportunity for kids,” said The High Road director Janet Andrews. “We have two elementary classrooms, two middle school classrooms, and two high school classrooms and students. This is a highly structured academic environment for students who are with us from between eight months to five years.”

According to the High Road website: “The High Road School of Norwalk is an education program serving the instructional and behavioral needs in a supportive and structured environment. The program is designed to focus on personalized academic and behavior goals so that students can return to a less restrictive educational setting.”

“If you look at ADHD for example, it is not a disorder of not paying attention, but instead of paying attention to everything and it’s hard for them to hone in,” said The High Road assistant director Kelsey Ritzel. “The students work individually in cubbies with walls on the sides to eliminate those distractions.”

Students are referred to High Road by public schools following a Planning and Placement Team (PPT) meeting, and if found to be a candidate, the public school districts pay the High Road tuition based on district per pupil allocation.

“After the PPT, there is an intake process in which we interview the student and their family,” Andrews said. “It’s important that the family is on board with the structure of the program.”

Upon entering High Road through a metal detector, students are directed to leave their cellphones, MP3 players, and back packs at the door to minimize outside distractions.

“The program is based on teaching how to function in the real world,” Andrews said. “School is their job.”

Students rotate every 20 minutes between modules, and are given three five-minute breaks daily.

“In the real world, we don’t get more than five minutes to take a break,” Andrews said.

In another “real world” lesson, High Road uses a token economy. Students earn tokens for positive behaviors such as staying on task, remaining in assigned areas, following directions, using appropriate language and being respectful.

Student behavior is tracked on a point sheet.

“Each student has a color-coded point sheet in which we monitor their behavior across five main behaviors. As they move to the next level they earn rewards,” Andrews said. “In addition to those main goals, each student is given a personal goal for such things as remembering to raise their hand in class.”

For High Road assistant teacher Ernest Turnier, former owner of Cafe Turnier in Norwalk, the program was the perfect venue to put his psychology studies to good use.

“I’ve always been a people person and loved kids,” Turnier said. “I loved the mission they have here to help students.”

High Road’s interdisciplinary staff consists of an education director, admissions directors, certified special education teachers, teaching assistants, social workers, psychologists and speech-language pathologists. A psychiatrist and occupational therapist is available as needed.

“The goal for many students is to either have them transition back to school or graduate,” said Andrews. “We had three high school students graduate and each received a diploma from their respective public schools.”

The process of transition is customized to each student, Andrews said.

“The school meets the instructional and behavior needs of students with exceptionalities including but not limited to: ED, LD/SLD, ASD, TBI, ADHD, communication disorders and multiple disabilites,” according to High Road website.

Program goals include: Providing students with academic and social skills for success in school, community, and family; to prepare students to return to a less restrictive setting, get students ready for State of Connecticut testing programs, to give students consistent and structured tutorials, and to expose them to cultural and recreational experiences.

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Information from: The Hour, https://www.thehour.com

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