What Started As A Dream

From The Newark Star Ledger

From the day they first learned their children  had autism,  a small group of parents set out on a life-changing crusade to find the best educational opportunities for their children. Along the way, they would meet other parents like themselves — regular people who were frustrated with offerings in public schools and unwilling to take a number on a waiting list at one of the few private, special education schools catering to severely autistic children.

Their solution would be to start their own school.

In an extensive 4-part front-page series,   The Star-Ledger tells the story of Garden Academy…. from an initial  conversation around a kitchen table when it all seemed little more than a dream, to the day six years later when Garden Academy received official state approval.

Part I:  A Place Of Their Own

“Garden Academy is a story of struggle on two fronts. Starting from nothing, parents and teachers set out to create a specialized place that offered autistic children the hope of someday joining mainstream society. All the while they navigated a tortuous state approval process that kept the fate of the school hanging in the balance for three years.”  Read More…d New Beginnings

Part II:  Dark Clouds & New Beginnings

“The little boy in a striped shirt and bangs puts pencil to paper and starts to scrawl his name… A … l …e …x … His teacher stands behind him and occasionally adjusts his grip. As Alex Duddy shows progress, she reaches into a small plastic pill box for a bit of pretzel to reward him.  Every few minutes, she pulls out a clipboard and jots a plus or minus sign onto a grid of data.  This is the first week of school at Garden Academy, an extraordinary venture in special education that opens in a temporary home of improvised classrooms and makeshift space.  Read More…

Part III:  A Grand Opening

“On this sunny April morning in 2007, Senate President Richard Codey — once again serving as governor after Jon Corzine’s SUV accident — has joined about 50 people for a ribbon-cutting in his hometown of West Orange. The occasion is the opening of a private, special education school for children with autism called the Garden Academy. Read more…

Part IV:  Another Move Brings Hope

“It has been six years since a group of parents first began planning the Garden Academy over cookies at a kitchen table. The school is now on its third location since opening in 2006, having moved to the former Immaculate Heart of Mary School on Parker Avenue in Maplewood over the winter.

There are spacious classrooms, a combined gym and auditorium, and wide hallways.

The space feels like home.

Then, on May 6, the letter from the state arrives.

After years of twists and turns, the letter is concise and straightforward. The school has won provisional approval as a private school for the disabled, with final approval conditional on it maintaining a daily enrollment of at least 24 students for two years.

The Garden Academy has finally been certified by New Jersey — the only private special education school to win clearance since the state tightened rules on out-of-district placements in 2004.”  Read more…