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School Opening For Students with Range of Special Needs

By Emily Frost | December 18, 2013 5:34pm
 The new school will draw children with a range of special needs. 
Manhattan Star Academy
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UPPER WEST SIDE — A new elementary school for special-education students is opening this spring and accepting children with a wide range of challenges and needs. 

Manhattan Star Academy is opening on the third floor of the new $50 million Lincoln Square Synagogue, which leased the space to the new school for 12 years.

The school is an outgrowth of the New York League for Early Learning's network of eight citywide preschools that serve developmentally challenged children from 3 to 5 years old. The League and new school are part of YAI, a network of agencies serving disabled people.  

Rae Eisdorfer, the school's assistant director, said parents were clamoring for a continuation of the special education their children were receiving at the New York League's preschools. Unlike other schools, MSA is not looking to fill a niche, but rather to help a wide range of kids, she noted. 

Students can be speech and language delayed, on the autism spectrum or have other developmental disabilities, Eisdorfer said.

"It's refreshing for parents to hear, 'We'll take your child,'" said Kerry Ackerman, who coordinates admissions and educational services at the school.

Jonathan Mir, whose 7-year-old son will be attending the school and went to a New York League preschool, said that while there are a lot of autism-specific schools in the city, "there are not as many for general special needs." 

Because of the new school's broad approach, he noted, a variety of specialists are available for his son.

"If you have a child that has a combination of speech delays, expressive language delays, fine motor, gross motor, cognitive delays... [and] if you have a team of teachers who work closely together… a student can make astounding progress," he said. 

Currently, NYL has 10 elementary school kids in two classes at its Gramercy Park location. The new Lincoln Square space allows the school to accommodate up to 55 kids, and if the school wishes, it can expand to the second floor of the synagogue in the future, Eisdorfer said.

Parents have already expressed support for the expansion if it means creating a middle and high school for their kids, she added.

Tuition costs $55,000 a year, with services like speech and occupational therapy coming at an additional cost, Eisdorfer explained. If those services are outlined in the child's Individualized Education Plan (IEP) created by the DOE, the department generally pays for them, but not for any additional services, Eisdorfer said.

All of the students currently attending the Gramercy Park elementary school are receiving some level of reimbursement for their tuition from the Department of Education, she explained. The DOE is mandated to pay for alternative schooling if a parent can prove that the DOE's resources are insufficient to meet their child's needs. 

The new 9,000-square-foot school, which began as a raw space without interior walls or other features, is receiving a $2 million update and is designed by David Kriegel of the architecture firm Gran Kriegel, Eisdorfer said.

The hallways and classrooms will feature calming colors with lots of blue and green tones, as well as an occupational-therapy gym, two speech rooms, five classrooms, offices and lots of nooks for individualized attention, she explained.

For Mir, the support of YAI, which has been operating since 1957, means his son isn't walking into a "start-up" environment. 

"The school itself may be new, but you’re getting all of the benefits of a longstanding organization," he said, noting that includes the school getting advice about the best technology to use, training on cutting-edge techniques and teaching methods, and the ability to recruit experienced staff. 

And the location couldn't be better, parents and school officials said.

"We wanted a very family-friendly neighborhood where the kids could integrate with other kids," Ackerman said.

The plethora of nearby local schools presents opportunities for shared art programs, outings and other collaborations between mainstream students and those at MSA, she added. 

"I could see a shared kickball game happening," Ackerman said.

The name is inspired by the sense the staff wants kids to have that "every child is a superstar," Eisdorfer said. And the word "academy" is already creating a sense of pride in parents, she added. 

The school is accepting applications and will open this spring, as soon as construction is completed, Eisdorfer said.