Creating Brighter Futures
Amanda Tipkemper and a few high school students on The Children’s Home of Cincinnati campus.
Photography by Wes Battoclette
Each year The Children’s Home of Cincinnati helps nearly 7,000 children overcome social, behavioral and learning challenges. Through the nonprofit’s mission to transform the lives of vulnerable children through individualized treatment and education services that build the skills and confidence to succeed in life, The Children’s Home of Cincinnati expanded its services to include a first of its kind high school for students with autism and related disorders.
“The High School for Students with Autism and Related Disorders began out of a collaboration with Linden Grove School (a private, state-accredited, not-for-profit school that offers an alternative learning program for students primarily diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder in grades K-eighth). The issue was that students were graduating from eighth grade and were going back to public or home school – the place they weren’t successful at in the first place,” says Amanda Tipkemper, high school principal. “The students needed a next step and The Children’s Home of Cincinnati rose to the challenge.”
The High School for Students with Autism and Related Disorders program opened for the 2011-12 school year. The high school meets Ohio’s content standards and offers credits towards a high school diploma. The school building was created to meet the unique sensory needs of students who are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders.
“We are serving a broader population of students than what we first envisioned,” says Tipkemper. “When we first started we had nine studentss at the end of the school year; this year we had 26 students and next year we will have 36 students – we’re experiencing a significant increase. In fact, we’re growing so fast that next year we will have temporary portable classrooms to help with the expansion until we come up with a long-term plan.”
In addition to teaching core high school academic classes, the High School for Students with Autism and Related Disorders also concentrates on teaching social and life skills to help students prepare for adulthood.
“We have the opportunity to focus on the skills that students with autism really need in order to succeed in life. A lot of our students are at grade equivalency and above. Academics isn’t the issue and it never will be,” says Tipkemper. “The issue is life and social skills. What sets us apart is our expertise – the staff here is specialized in working with students with autism, so we have the opportunity to really focus on what is going to support our students.”
The small student-to-teacher ratio allows for individualized attention and instruction. Having the same teachers work with the students year after year allows the instructors to analyze each student’s strengths and weaknesses. “We aren’t working with students on a year-to-year basis, we’re looking at the continuum – what skills did they come to us with and what do we need to work on to get them ready for adulthood,” says Tipkemper.
As underclassmen, students learn social skills such as self-awareness, self-regulation and self-advocacy in order to become independent, functional and active members of the community. As upperclassmen, the students continue to improve their social skills while also learning various life skills that will help them grow into independent adults.
“We have a number of kids that say they know exactly what they are going to do when they get to adulthood, but we reassure them on a regular basis that we are still trying to figure that out and we’re adults,” says Tipkemper with a smile.
Students at the HS participate in a variety of activities, from presentations from the Cincinnati Museum Center, to job readiness activities such as paper and electronic recycling.
The Children’s Home of Cincinnati partners with a number of companies such as Subway, U.S. Bank, eCycling, Got-Autism, Fifth Third Bank, Star One Realtors and the on-campus landscape maintenance department to help teach students life lessons. As partners the companies provide guest speakers, instruction, simulated job tasks and field trips.
“Fifth Third, for example, does something really cool. Each month they give the kids a budget and bills that they need to pay. So the students determine how they are going to prioritize their spending to make sure their bills are paid,” says Tipkemper.
Parents can apply for the Autism Scholarship for their kids to attend the school. To qualify students must have an autism diagnosis and an IEP (individualized education plan). Qualified students can then opt out of public school in exchange for $20,000 towards a private provider, a program through the Ohio Department of Education.
“For parents they are coming into a program where they don’t have to advocate, fight or ask for things because they are just standard – how refreshing is that?” says Tipkemper. “The students develop a sense of confidence that they have never had. I was just going through a student’s report card. He had transitioned from a private school where he had Ds and Fs. Since coming here he has become a straight A student. It’s hard for me to imagine this child not being successful, because he is doing so well in this environment.”
In addition to the high school, The Children’s Home of Cincinnati also offers Ready2Work and Ready Set Work! to help students outside of the school year with job readiness training.
“Our vision is to provide a continuum for families. Whether that’s resources or services, we want families to look at us as a leading provider of support,” says Tipkemper.
When students graduate from The High School for Students with Autism and Related Disorders they are ready to take on the world and its challenges. Whether the student decides to attend college or go into the workforce, they have mastered the skills they need to be successful.
The High School for Students with Autism and Related Disorders is located at 5050 Madison Road, Cincinnati, OH 45227. You can reach them at 513.272.2800 or visit www.thechildrenshomecinti.org/dakotah to view a video of a recent graduate.