Shagrin Falls resident John Manning struggled to find a place where his 4-year-old daughter, Mia, could get the specialized care and education she needed every day.
“She is non-ambulatory, classified as speech impaired, and has more than 25 medical problems listed in her medical history, including epilepsy and more,” he said. “She is primarily tube-fed.”
So when Manning came across LeafBridge alternative education program for cerebral palsy patients in Greater Cleveland, he was thrilled. This is a Brooklyn Heights-based educational center that provides educational and therapeutic services customized to the needs of students with multiple disabilities.
For Mia, who is functionally blind, that means a dimly lit room, with physical, occupational, speech, and other therapies, along with instructions from staff trained for her visual impairment. Manning said she had a “noticeable difference” when she came home from school.
“There are some details and information that I get from my daughter’s teachers and therapists that I never notice or pay attention to because I am not an expert or expert in the field,” Manning said. Added.
Mia is one of LeafBridge’s 14 students who take students from preschool to age 22. Students with multiple disabilities often face challenges when it comes to learning and growing in more traditional classrooms that typically lack specialized program resources and individual attention. As LeafBridge can provide.
Beth Lucas, president and CEO of United Cerebral Palsy of Greater Cleveland, which operates LeafBridge, said the educational program is part of a wider program, also called LeafBridge, which provides children with outpatient and intensive care. says it is something. ‘ is required.
“The idea behind this program is that students can make connections with other students with disabilities in a safe space that also offers treatment programs,” Lucas said. “So physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy.”
The combination of therapy and education looks different for each student. For example, her 15-year-old student at LeafBridge, his James, sits next to an aide in a darkened classroom with soothing music. trajectory. “Meanwhile, in another room full of fall-themed activities, 8-year-old Cyrus rolls in the hay after correctly recognizing that ‘H’ is the first letter of the word, but he It took 2 seconds.
Outreach coordinator Carrie Brown noted that LeafBridge has a ton of what it calls “adaptive technology,” from James’ communication devices to an upright walker, to help students walk, talk and move around.
LeafBridge is not the only educational option for students with disabilities in Cuyahoga County. Parma City School District has his ACES Academy focused on students with autism. The Cleveland Clinic has a Lerner School for Autism. Julie Billiart Schools is a Catholic kindergarten through her eighth grade school in northeastern Ohio that provides professional education to students with disabilities.
However, many of these programs focus specifically on students with autism. LeafBridge program associate her director, Amanda Stohrer, says her program is also unique in that it’s slightly broader in scope.
“We are not the only program, but one of the only that caters to the very specific needs of children with complex disabilities,” Stoller said.
Parent John Manning said even well-funded school districts like his in Chagrin Falls struggle to accommodate students with multiple disabilities.
“They have a pretty good special needs program, but it can’t meet my daughter’s needs,” he explained.
Nate Stevenson, an associate professor of special education at Kent State University, said the law on educating students with disabilities requires that students be placed in the least restrictive environment possible. The least restrictive environments are typically traditional school environments with no student support, but educational centers like LeafBridge are in more restrictive environments.
He said there are costs and benefits to getting children involved in alternative education programs like LeafBridge.
““We’re really happy to be able to provide these children with focused support in this exclusive environment,” Stevenson said. do not want to spend their time in an exclusive environment.”
According to a mid-2022 report from the Ohio Disability Education Coalition, research shows that students with disabilities studying alongside non-disabled students benefit both groups.
“…included students had better reading and math skills, had higher attendance, were less likely to have behavioral problems, and completed secondary school than non-inclusive students. likely to,” the report said.
According to Stevenson, the decision to enroll a child with a disability in a vocational school like LeafBridge is an easy one to make, with parents and school staff (members of the student’s individualized education program team) weighing the pros and cons. not.
If a student decides they should go to a special school, the school district may pay for it, which in the case of LeafBridge could be as high as $90,000 per student, says Beth Lucas, a cerebral palsy patient in Greater Cleveland. says Mr.
Lucas says some students will be able to return to the traditional school environment from the program after they have the tools they need to succeed. But not everyone can. LeafBridge also provides school districts with some assistance, such as sharing adaptive equipment and therapeutic services, to better accommodate students with disabilities attending public schools.
Lucas recognizes that Leafbridge students should be given more opportunities to socialize with their peers outside the program, but that has been difficult lately.
“The pandemic has set people with disabilities back because many of the people we serve are medically very vulnerable,” Lucas said.
Lucas’ organization recently received a $5 million grant to expand its services. Ultimately, we aim to build a new headquarters with easy access and dedicated indoor and outdoor spaces. This may give LeafBridge students more opportunities to meet students in more traditional classrooms.
Additionally, this expansion could mean more space for more learners, but the program currently has about five openings for new students.
Greater Cleveland cerebral palsy, Coming-of-Age Day Program It helps adults with disabilities learn job skills and integrate better into the community.