For much of her first eight years of school, the classroom was a challenge that seemed almost insurmountable for Alexis Keenan.
Diagnosed with autism at a young age, she formerly attended Continuous Curriculum School in the East Valley School District, but struggled with the classroom setting and large class sizes.
“She had a hard time understanding what was going on in the classes,” said her mother, Anne Keenan, “a hard time understanding what was being asked of her.”
After Alexis Keenan was bullied by a fellow student in seventh grade at Continuous Curriculum School, Anne Keenan decided it was time for a change.
Fearing the bullying would only get worse as she entered high school, Anne Keenan enrolled her in East Valley Parent Partnership, a home-based education program with smaller class sizes and a more personal focus.
“When Alexis came to our school as an eighth-grader she barely spoke and her body language was very much ‘Leave me alone,’ ” said Mary-Hope Lakin, her counselor at EVPP.
But five years later, Keenan is 18, set to graduate, and has become a leader and example of success among her peers. Her growth in that period of time has been remarkable, both socially and academically, according to her counselors and teachers.
“Alexis has grown tremendously,” Lakin said. “She is a great self-advocate and is able to be flexible when things change or don’t go according to plan. She’s become a leader to others in our school.”
Keenan now has a 3.4 GPA, and has developed multiple personal skills crucial to her success in the process.
“EVPP has helped Alexis to gain confidence in herself with communicating and working with others, trust others because they have given time and attention to her, and value herself more – because she knows she can accomplish her goals,” said Anne Keenan.
She believes the program has been a perfect fit for her daughter. With smaller class sizes and a larger number of teachers available, the home-based atmosphere gave Alexis Keenan the support to excel in her classwork as well as pursue new interests.
“Alexis is a quiet person, not too sociable,” she said. “She does well in a smaller, inclusive group.”
Parents in the program work in conjunction with a certificated teacher to teach their children at home, providing curriculum, supporting parents with teaching resources and even offering optional on-site classes. The program’s flexibility and willingness to work with students individually has been a huge asset for Alexis Keenan and other students like her.
“EVPP is just what it says – a partnership,” Lakin said.
The partnership has proved beneficial for Keenan and more than 190 other students in the district who attend the program.
As the program is personalized for every student, they can choose to join whichever on-site classes interest them, with subjects ranging from strictly academic pursuits to more hands-on activities like pottery, sewing, baking and drama.
This year, Keenan took one of her biggest steps and chose to join a drama class, delivering a monologue on stage at the program’s winter drama performance. Her enthusiasm and willingness to perform in front of others gave pause to even her mother.
“I’ve been very surprised at how well she has done with memorizing lines and acting out her parts with others,” said Anne Keenan.
She has also participated in classes on graphic design, baking and barista training, interacting positively with her classmates in new and unique settings. Her baking and barista teacher, Stephanie Lentz, described her as an “ideal employee”: She is consistently on-time, understands what needs to be done, and works productively with others.
After graduation, Keenan looks to carry those skills into the workforce and find work part time in the community in a smaller setting similar to that of EVPP. Her mother desires a place for her “where she can become comfortable with the people around her.”
To Lakin, Keenan’s growth has always been about more than just improving in school. A job after graduation is just the next step in that direction.
“She has always been good at academics,” she said. “But thanks to her time at EVPP, she now has the social skills to allow her to have a full and productive life.”
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter.