Students at independent schools benefit from having an education that is tailored to their particular needs and vision for life. That specialized academic experience serves students well, but can also mean that opportunities to socialize and study alongside students with different needs in our neurodiverse world are fewer.
Aspire Living & Learning (ALL) Academy and Green Farms Academy (GFA) are bridging that gap through a new partnership. ALL Academy serves neurodiverse students in grades K-12 and during the transition to adult life, supporting them to discover their passions, unlock potential, and thrive. GFA is an independent school serving students K-12 that seeks to empower students to do the essential work of shaping their own world, of building their own future. The two schools shared vision of empowering their students makes the partnership a natural one.
Starting this year, ALL Academy has welcomed GFA students to the Stratford campus to engage in social activities and special projects. Every Friday a group of GFA middle school students gets together with ALL Academy grade-schoolers. To break the ice, ALL Academy teachers planned sports activities and board games that students could do together. “We have different types of activities going on. It needs to be fun for everyone,” notes ALL Academy principal, Lisa Riggi. The students have also done service projects together, including writing letters to military personnel for Veteran’s Day and a gratitude project for Thanksgiving.
Over time, choice and control of the activities is directed by the students of both schools as they get to know each other. GFA community service coordinator, Sue Wilchinsky, says “We’re all learning things every time they go. They want to do more and are coming up with ideas,” The program has already inspired one student to take the initiative.
A GFA junior, Lilly Hogan, was captivated when she heard about the partnership. She was thinking about a project for her sustainability class and reached out to ALL Academy high school students to partner on a community garden. Lilly, her sustainability classmates, and ALL Academy students meet monthly. Lilly presents in sustainability class what they’ve learned about the biology of plants and how to grow them. Together they’ve started seedlings for spring planting, and also, are working separately throughout the month to keep the plants growing.
For Lilly, an important part of the project goes beyond gardening: “Just talking and getting to know each other and developing friendships. It’s fun… It’s building a community, and I want it to keep going.” Students at ALL Academy feel the same, reporting to their teacher about what was important in their experiences: “Talking with Lilly and her friends…We would love for them to come back.”
Both Lisa and Sue see this partnership growing over time. They hope to see the garden project continuing over the summer. A high school cohort for weekly visits is planned for next year. Visits will go in both directions, with students getting to utilize both campuses.