WINTER GARDEN — At first, the classroom activities at a nonprofit charter school off Winter Garden-Vineland Road sound similar to those at any other school. In one room, fourth-graders are calling out differences among animal habitats, and down the hall, kindergartners are learning about good manners.
But in each of those classrooms, there also are resources in action to address the special needs of each student: For example, a physical therapist massages the shoulders of a fourth-grader while he answers a question about the climate of the rainforest.
At United Cerebral Palsy’s West Orange Campus, children from 12 months old through fourth grade are able to learn and grow at a pace that is personally appropriate. Cerebral palsy is not the only disability accommodated at UCP; other students have Down syndrome, autism, spina bifida, speech delays or visual impairments.
UCP West Orange soon will be expanding so that more children can receive services in Winter Garden, even if they do not attend the school.
Currently, UCP offers therapy for the community at the West Orange Campus, but there isn’t enough space to accommodate everyone who needs services. Within a few months, UCP will be opening a bigger center for student and outpatient therapy services, either at the school or elsewhere in the same plaza. The new therapy center will serve anyone up to age 21.
Not every student at UCP has special needs. The curriculum is all-inclusive.
Dana Power’s son, Jack, suffers from seizures. It makes it difficult for the family to go out together. Power’s daughter, Holly, didn’t feel like her family’s lifestyle fit in with her friends’ families.
When Power enrolled Jack at UCP, she gave Holly the option of joining him there or staying at her elementary school. Holly chose to go to school with her brother.
“Having a peer group here, she knows we’re not this really weird family that has all these restrictions,” Power said about Holly. “Now she knows she’s got friends with siblings that have special needs as well.”
Power said she also was pleased with Holly’s initiative to look out for her brother at school and model certain behaviors for the other children, such as washing her hands and eating politely. And, she said a culture of bullying “purely doesn’t exist” at UCP, which is helpful for both of her children.
UCP is able to accommodate nearly any child because of its practice of differentiated learning. Children are often split into multiple small groups within a classroom to work at varying levels.
“We do a lot of small groups through the day,” director Marilyn Martinez said. “Also, our (student-adult) ratios are very low in comparison with some of the schools. … There’s always extra hands.”
The staff at UCP has many success stories of students who have become high-functioning after attending the school for a while. Some students no longer need an Individualized Education Program, which is the cornerstone of education for children with special needs. Then some are able to transition to their next school after UCP with much less difficulty than they might have otherwise.
“Our main goal is for them to be mainstream,” Martinez said.
The curriculum at UCP focuses on arts and technology integration, with opportunities for children to learn about music, dance, visual art and computers. There is a school nurse on-site, as well as physical, speech and occupational therapists.
UCP is able to accept new students at the West Orange Campus and other campuses around the Orlando area. To learn more about enrollment, go to ucpcfl.org.
UCP West Orange
ADDRESS: 1297 Winter Garden-Vineland Road, Suite 110, Winter Garden
PHONE: (407) 852-3300
EMAIL: [email protected]
Contact Catherine Sinclair at [email protected].