BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - The emerge center at the Innovation Park in Baton Rouge is getting ready to build the first ever tuition-free school for autistic children in Louisiana.
The Emerge School for Autism will soon be a reality and a vital resource for local families. The charter application was approved at the school board's monthly meeting on May 18, 2017.
The new entity will be the first tuition-free school for children with autism in the state of Louisiana. At full capacity, the school will be able to accommodate up to 140 children through age 11.
The school's vision is to transform the lives of children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) diagnosis through an innovative school model that focuses on communication, social and behavioral goals, closing learning gaps, and preparing students for successful lives.
Construction is anticipated to begin in the spring or summer of 2018 with the space being created as an addition to the already existing Emerge Center at LSU Innovation Park located off of Nicholson Dr. For its first year, The Emerge School will begin with two Kindergarten classes held in classrooms at the Emerge Center.
"Emerge has a 57 year history in the Greater Baton Rouge area serving children with autism and communication challenges," said Melissa Juneau, Executive Director of The Emerge Center, formerly Baton Rouge Speech and Hearing Foundation. "During this time, we have become a leader in this region offering a unique early intervention model for children diagnosed with ASD. The Emerge School for Autism is a natural next step to serve this growing need. We are very excited to have the opportunity to work with East Baton Rouge School System in making this a reality."
The school's curriculum is grounded in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) and Universal Design for Learning (UDL). Fundamentally, the school will provide special education instruction using ABA, speech, and occupational therapy to children to prepare them for future education settings with a functional communication system, improved independence, self-help skills, and essential learner readiness skills.
"Our unique curriculum will allow these children to meet their maximum potential, both academically and therapeutically. Access to education that meets their special needs will finally be available, and we are eager to open our doors to the many families in the area waiting for this opportunity," said Leigh Bozard, Principal of The Emerge School for Autism.
Robert Pettit, President of The Emerge Center Board of Directors, speaks to the great need for a school of this kind.
"Not long after The Emerge Center opened, we began the strategic planning process for next steps. The Baton Rouge Area Foundations study of ASD resources available in the capital region only magnified the gap in services we already knew existed – access to services for older children," Pettit said. "We are thrilled that The Emerge School will now be a reality, and that we are able to play a part in helping to close that gap."
Jean-Paul Perrault, former President of The Emerge Center Board of Directors, has transitioned to become President of the board for the school. After the charter was approved, Perrault said, "From The Emerge Center to The Emerge School, we can now provide services for children with ASD from 18 months of age through 11 years old. The approval of this charter means so much to us. We will be able to positively impact so many lives."
The Emerge Center is funding the project themselves, but they are looking for donations.
Anyone interested in donating should call them at (225) 343-4232.