MOSCOW, Idaho – Merilee and Faris Paxton knew their son, Henry, who was diagnosed with autism, needed a different type of education curriculum than what Moscow offered, but they did not know where to turn.
“We knew Henry needed more than we were able to give him, and we kind of figured we’re not the only family like that,” Merilee said. “Special needs families can be isolated sometimes, but we knew there were other families struggling.”
Faris said Merilee’s father also knew of another child on the autism spectrum, so the three adults, among others, came up with the notion to start a school for young children with developmental delays and other disabilities.
The Jubilee School, started in September, now has nearly one year on the books.
The school, which operates at The CROSSing church in Moscow, started with two students, including Henry, and now has six, Merilee, who serves as the school board president, said.
She said five of the six students are on the autism spectrum.
Merilee said she and the other board members have used Victory Academy in Sherwood, Oregon, as a guideline to operating Jubilee.
Victory Academy is Oregon’s only year-round private school that serves children affected by autism, according to its website.
Merilee said Jubilee, which is roughly targeted for 5- to 8-year-olds, goes year-round as well.
“It’s really important for our kids to not lose their skills,” she said.
She said the school has four faculty members – one lead teacher, two teacher’s aides and one board-certified behavior analyst.
Chris Aberle, a board member and parent of a child who attends Jubilee, said the teacher-student ratio hovers around one-to-one or one-to-two.
“The one-on-one aspect is really important,” Aberle said. “The kids sometimes have challenges that just take a lot of attention to understand and a lot of experimentation to overcome.”
Faris said a child on the autism spectrum requires exponentially more repetitions to learn a skill or behavior than a child not on the spectrum.
Aberle said Jubilee targets building life skills in its students with the ultimate goal of independence. He admitted, however, not every student will achieve complete independence.
“Our goal is for all of our kids to reach their God-given potential,” Merilee said. “We don’t know what that looks like.”
She said it might mean attending college for one child or something different for another.
“We really want to be the place that says, `Your child can do way above and beyond what you think possible,’ “ Faris said.
Merilee said the school also focuses on Christian-based learning but that it accepts students of any religious background.
She said the students have done well in the school’s infancy.
“It went really well for how little we knew about starting a school,” Merilee said.
She said she has already observed Henry, who does not speak verbally but uses a device to communicate, benefit from the new school.
Merilee said her son used to essentially ignore his siblings, but he now acknowledges them and hugs them and his parents.
“For a child who just wanted to kind of be off in their own world most of the time, we’re still kind of blown away, Merilee said. “He just wants to hang out with us, and it’s really mind blowing. I definitely credit that to Jubilee.”
Faris said a mother of a 5-year-old boy enrolled in the school told him her son started saying his ABC’s for the first time.
Aberle also sees positive changes in his son.
“He’s actually getting into the zone where we can picture some sort of, just kind of typical future for him, which has been kind of mind blowing to us,” said Aberle, who added that his son is not on the autism spectrum, but a “late starter.”
Faris said Jubilee’s application process evaluates any student to see if he or she is a good fit for the school. The school’s board-certified behavioral analyst helps the board understand who is a good fit for Jubilee, he said.
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