This August when the new school year rolls around, there will be a welcome addition to the educational community on The Friendly Island. Manasseh Academy is opening at #6 Independence Drive in St. John’s Estate.

It may be humble beginnings, holding classes in a converted house, but the potential for excellence and growth is clear – thanks to the dedication of the teaching and administrative staff already assembled. And the property is quickly being transformed into an inviting four-classroom school setting, complete with white boards, a computer centre, boys and girls lavatories, a food prep zone and playground area out back.

Manasseh Academy promises to help parents of special needs children to find a home away from home and to provide them with a teaching style that is flexible and targeted to the way each child learns. By keeping the classrooms small and the student-to-teacher ratio low, there will be a focus on each student’s educational and social needs. In addition, each child will be tested and evaluated to create an Individualized Educational Plan, or IEP, that will guide educators in their daily lessons and track the students’ progress.

The school will accept students from kindergarten to sixth grade and will follow the Ontario Curriculum. The school’s brochure outlines: “We at Manasseh Academy cater to the educational commitment of students whose developmental and instructive needs are not being fully met by the traditional education system. We identify that the elementary years for a child are the most important in their life. These are the years where the building blocks of learning, social skills, self-respect and discovering their own potential are formed. While maintaining a strong academic emphasis, we commit to offering room for children to develop at their own pace.”

Manasseh Academy is the brainchild of Tina Hickinson, a mom willing, like most moms, to go the extra mile to help her child who is autistic and in need of dedicated special education facility. After being advised to move to a country that had such a school, she and her husband Daniel Jurczenko decided to take a leap and enter the challenging world of running a school. Enter veteran educators John and JoAnne Baird from Ontario, who together have more than 60 years teaching and running schools. “We love teaching and being around children,” said JoAnne. “They keep you young!” The Bairds even run a summer camp back in Canada, so their educational style is far-reaching and varied.

An in-house multidisciplinary team comprising a psychologist, an occupational therapist, a speech therapist, and counsellors have already been established. The aim of this team is to professionally evaluate each child’s learning styles, challenges to overcome and their natural talents and tendencies. All this to better assist the child in gaining the skills he or she will need to enjoy a successful life. The team will also assist the family in finding support services in the community that can aid in the child’s development.

“The parents should be the greatest asset to a child,” said Tina during a visit with WEEKender in the school’s office. “So we take a conferencing approach to making plans and evaluating progress. We want the parents to take an active role in their child’s learning and in maintaining their self-esteem. We want to focus on learning, but also on behavioural skills, such as cooperation, honesty, discipline and sharing.”

The school day is planned from 8:00am until 2:45pm, with two nutrition breaks of 40 minutes where students can eat and then, under supervision, run around outside for some fresh air. “We have found that a couple of small breaks serve the special needs students much better than one long lunch break,” said Special Educator JoAnne Baird. “They do better when they don’t have too much time without a task at hand.”

The school is open to any special needs children within the ages of five and 12. A child with any type of learning disability, such as dyslexia, ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), autism, or even issues with lack of motivation or inability to focus, can find support, acceptance and ultimately earn positive academic results at Manasseh Academy. Look for open house and other events in the advertisements within upcoming Daily Herald newspapers. The school can be reached via maspecial.ed@gmail.com or 1 (721) 548-6263, 586-2016 or 520-6263.

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