Four schools were recommended to me by my Behavioral Psychologist so that is where I am starting, they are: Katherine Thomas School, Hannah Moore School, Kennedy Kreiger Institute and Ivymount School. My criteria were high functioning Autism programs, diploma bound, and middle school placement (although I will share any knowledge I gain from lower and upper grades as well). The school I visited today was:
Katherine Thomas School
part of The Treatment and Learning Centers (TLC) which offer Outpatient Services, Family Hearing Center, Testing & Tutoring Services, Lower, Middle & High School, Summer Programs and The Early Learning Center
9975 Medical Center Drive
Upon entering the school I was asked to fill out a small form and then went to a music classroom for drinks and snacks. There was a small group of Moms and we were given the school brochure, application paperwork and pamphlets outlining the many services the school offers as well as a sample schedule for each grade in which we were interested. I was the only entering Middle School parent, there was one High School parent and the rest were Kindergarden-First parents. The Admissions person and a Speech Pathologist gave us an overview of the school and answered our questions. Lastly we were divided up by grade and given a tour of the school. Thats all the overview stuff... here's is the "meat" of the tour...
- Katherine Thomas is a school for ADHD, High Functioning Autism and related diagnosis. They do not accept Emotional Disorder (ED) students.
- They utilize the Common Core Curriculum.
- There are 8-10 students per class, each class has an instructor and and aide but it is not uncommon to also have an SLP, OT, Reading Specialist or school counselor in the class as well.
- They offer pull out services for Speech, OT and PT (see special note below regarding fees)
- Language Arts is broken into two sections, the basics of reading and comprehension and each is taught at the child's level, not grade level. Extra time can be allocated with the reading specialist during their "elective" block if necessary. Technology is a big part of the LA programs especially for kids with writing difficulties or dyslexia.
- They are utilizing Everyday Math for their math program and are also starting to implement Touch Math as well. Additional math can be allocated in the "elective" block if needed.
- The school currently utilizes computer and laptop technologies and is working on an iPad initiative to give all students access to iPad technology and applications.
- This is a PBIS based program (positive behavior incentive system), there is no restraint and no seclusion room on site. They teach self advocacy individually as well as pragmatic whole class instruction on Social Skills. Students are encouraged to take breaks, utilize sensory equipment located throughout the class and halls and Brain/Body exercises and seated Yoga are implemented within the class setting.
- The school offers all the regular specials classes (gym, music, art) as well as electives.
In my tour I was able to actually walk into the Middle School class rooms which I was not expecting. Once in there I saw kids learning and learning well. The students looked comfortable and focused, they answered questions when called upon and raised their hands as well. They were not bothered by additional people in the room. I witnessed small group instruction as well as whole class instruction. All in all it looked like a very nice school. (The "but" comes later....)
Kindergarden-5th classes are the same small class size but in the younger grades the classroom model is not one of group instruction. The school utilizes Greenspan's Floortime model with Sensory Integration with the youngest of the students. The classroom is developmental level and curriculum based, and is an active and play centered learning environment. After first grade the students transition towards group activities and classroom style learning with Third grade and on being a more traditional classroom.
Middle School classes are traditional classroom in structure with additional supports in place. Students change classes and have lockers in the hallway similar to a typical school. Instruction is still individualized and there is "elective" blocks within their schedule.
High School classes are traditional classroom in structure with additional supports. Again, students change classes and have lockers. In 11th grade, students participate in an internship program for 2 hours each day.
The last bit of information is the cost/fees/etc (these never fail to shock me, even though I research it).
- Application fee is $125 (non-refundable).
- Preschool Tuition is $15,756.62
- Lower/Middle School (K-8) is $24,951.41
- High School (9-12) is $29,568.44
- There is a $1500 (non-refundable) deposit upon completion of the admissions process to secure your placement. This is applied toward your tuition.
- There is an annual Activity Fee of $1,200
Lastly there Related Fees. Speech, OT, PT and Counseling are billed separately. These are Fee for Service and may be reimbursable with Medical Insurance. The school accepts and can direct bill Cigna insurance. Hours are allocated on the IEP (for School Funded Students) or DPG (Diagnostic Prescriptive Goals for private pay students). There is an addendum in the paperwork that states that, "Students who do not require any related services are likely to need a less restrictive school setting than KTS.". The billing rates for these services are:
- SLP $103/hour
- OT $111/hour
- PT $111/hour
- Counseling $107/hour
- 1:1 Aide $24.24/hour
Although I can see my son being successful in this program, I left the school with an unease that has yet to leave me. I am unsure exactly why this is...
It could be the cost because, lets face it, it's staggering. But really, the only way my son could attend would be if he was school funded so that can't be it.
It could be the location. The school is outside our county, about 35 miles away on one of the busiest Interstates in the entire country (I-270 towards Washington DC) which I would have to drive twice daily to take him and pick him up from school.
It could be because time is a constant and because of the start times for both my sons' schools it might be physically impossible for me to drive them both. My youngest is not eligible for bussing because he is an out of district transfer. If my oldest is sent to this school, the county would be responsible for bussing but I'm not sure I WANT him on a bus, that long, in heavy traffic. Sure, fine, I accept it, I'm overprotective, I know that.
It could be that the admissions person told me in confidence that they have never been able to place a Frederick County Public School student in their program. Both times they have tried, the county sent them applications for kids with Emotional Disorder (ED) of which the school expressly prohibits.
It could be that residual anger that I feel for the fact that our public school system is failing these high functioning kids so completely. I KNOW my son isn't the only kid who needs a better learning environment in the county. I KNOW my county does not have an Autism program for kids on grade level. I KNOW they want all kids in inclusion.
It could be that with visiting this school, I have now removed one more option that doesn't look to be a likely solution. There are only a finite number of options for kids like mine and I hate to cross off even one. Not even one.
In conclusion, Katherine Thomas School is doing a lot of things right. It looks like a good program and a good school for High Functioning kids. I think my child and children like him would benefit from a school like this. I'm not sure it is the school for us, but we would be lucky to have an opportunity like this.