SOUTH BRONX — Educators behind a charter school for autistic students in East Harlem hope to open up another branch in the South Bronx in time for the 2017-18 school year.
The NYC Autism Charter School is currently located at 433 E. 100th St. in Manhattan, but Executive Director Julie Fisher said they would like to develop a presence in other boroughs as well.
Organizers decided to target the South Bronx for their next branch based on the amount of families on the school's wait list that are from the borough, Fisher said.
"The South Bronx was identified as an area that was sort of a needy area. I’ve heard that from folks in the autism community," she said. "When you look at our wait list and see the percentage of families that are applying from The Bronx, it’s significant.”
The school, which works with students from age five to age 21, has already turned in its application for another branch and anticipates hearing back in March or April. The new spot is planned for either School District 7 or School District 9, which encompass several South Bronx neighborhoods including Mott Haven, Melrose, Concourse and Highbridge.
Fisher said she felt good about the school's chances for approval, noting that they offer a very specialized service and work with a very specific group of children.
"Not only are we serving 100 percent special education kids, we’re serving a very specific subset of those kids," she said, "and, truthfully, some of the kids that tend to be the hardest to serve."
Moira Cray, director of transition and community outreach at the school, spoke about it at a recent Bronx Community Board 4 meeting, where she stressed that officials prioritized enrolling local children and would continue this practice in The Bronx.
“We give preference to children in our local community," she said, "and we’ll do the same if we’re fortunate enough to be able to open in the South Bronx.”
NYC Autism Charter offers its students extremely small class sizes, with an average of four students per classroom and one-on-one instruction in five out of its eight classrooms, according to Fisher.
The school teaches classes in standard academic subjects as well as in subjects such as life skills, personal safety and self care to help prepare students for independent lives once they reach adulthood.
"We actually did a renovation project here where we converted one of our bathrooms into a teaching bathroom," Fisher said, "so we actually go into the bathroom and teach kids how to brush teeth."
Other class topics can include how to tolerate a haircut, how to have a conversation and how to play catch, according to Cray.
“We believe that school is really about learning how to do well after school,” she said.
Students take piano lessons as well, culminating with a holiday recital that gives parents a chance to see their kids perform, something Fisher said they typically do not get to do very often.
"If you have a child with autism, the drudgery of going to your kids play or soccer practice or whatever, they don’t have that opportunity," Fisher said. "What becomes mundane for most families is something our families would die to do."
Mildred Arjona, whose five-year-old son attends the NYC Autism Charter School, said the school had been extremely beneficial for her child and that opening a second branch in The Bronx was a great idea.
"I think it’s going to be helpful for a lot of children," she said, "and a lot of families, too."