After its first year in business, one Delmar woman is pleased to see the fruits of her labor pay off for young children.
Her efforts began last September with six students enrolled at the Spotted Zebra Learning Center in Colonie. The integrated school offers an array of educational programs for children ages 3 to 5, with or without disabilities.
In March, the school reached full capacity with 36 students. As children end their first year, or choose to continue on through the summer, parents are praising the center, and its founder and Executive Director Sheri Townsend.
She has had an extraordinary explosion in vocabulary. Her speech was delayed at an early age, now she doesn’t stop speaking, said Wendy Ko-walczyk of her daughter’s progress at the school.
Kowalczyk enrolled her 5-year-old daughter, Emma, at the Spotted Zebra last year. Ear infections at an early age impaired Emma’s ability to develop her speech. After searching of the area for pre-schools, Emma landed at the Spotted Zebra. It was an act of karma, said Kowalczyk.
Twice a day, five days a week, Emma gets hands-on assistance with her speech from certified teachers and educational therapy professionals. It’s that hands-on special education program that Kowalczyk was looking for and couldn’t find anywhere else in the region.
Dozens of parents have come to the Spotted Zebra for that reason, said Townsend.
`It’s a full day pre-school, day care and has the capacity to serve to kids with special needs,` she said.
It also serves the hectic schedules of working parents. The center provides therapy and education to children with a number of disabilities from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
From attention deficit disorder to autism of all levels, Townsend’s endeavor was to integrate all children in one early learning program to give them an edge as they move into their respective public school districts.
That’s what Townsend sought for her son Alexander. It was her inspiration for starting the Spotted Zebra Learning Center.
Alexander, 4, is autistic. Since his case is mild, Alexander’s condition isn’t noticeable as he carries on conversations with fellow students and teachers. He addresses them politely, looks them in the eyes and shakes hands. They are things he was unable to do before many children became his classmates, said Townsend.
He shares his success stories with a number of children enrolled at the school.
`The best way for a child that is dealing with autism to learn is to increase (their) relationships with role models,` said Townsend. `We worked to create a atmosphere that promotes relationships.`
Julian Kintz, 4, was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity syndrome. Julian’s mother, Anna, followed her son’s speech therapist to the Spotted Zebra, who was hired by the center last year. Allison Woodhouse, 4, `a very typical child,` according to her mother Lynn, and is one of Julian’s friends at the center.
`Because my daughter is in an environment where there are children with special needs, people (would) ask; are her needs being met?` said Woodhouse. `The school does a fabulous job and the atypical child has their needs met as well.`
Allison asked to attend speech therapy with her friend, Julian. Lynn agreed. Allison’s speech is getting better, and she enjoys the many activities that go on at the center throughout the day, said Woodhouse.
A staff of 17 teachers and therapists is at the core of the center’s success. With a 4-1 student-teacher ratio, children are guided through their individual academic experiences. A typical school day addresses emotional growth, social skills, verbal communication, intellectual awareness and physical capabilities.
As Townsend looks to begin the school’s second year, she is looking into establishing a nonprofit arm of the center. Ideal pre-school environments for special needs children are few and far between and costly, she said.
She hopes that in time she will be able to offer financial assistance through the center.
To learn more about the Spotted Zebra Learning Center contact 438-4800, or visit www. spottedzebra.org. The school is located at 2 Kross Keys Drive in Albany.“