Science Prep Academy provides unique STEM program for autistic students

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Science Prep Academy, which opened in August, currently hosts 12 autistic students in grade fifth through ninth and works to provide them with an intimate environment for them to excel in STEM – science, technology, engineering and math.

Principal Kenneth Mims says he has tapped into a superpower within autistic students. He says he found that they had an affinity for science as far as problem solving, analytical thinking and general nature and sciences.

“My passion for science transitioned into my passion for educating individuals with autism to become scientists,” Mims says.

The academy focuses not only on STEM education, but also speech and occupational therapy so they have all the skills they need for future STEM jobs. There’s also a focus on health and fitness.

“The role of the speech therapist isn’t just to facilitate the language, get them to talk, get them to use their words,” Owner of Milestone Pediatrics Lyndsey Steele says. “It’s other things like understanding body language, is this person trying to end the conversation, are you standing too close to someone. On the occupational therapy side, it’s more working on self-regulation.”

The teacher to student ration is 3 to 1. Autistic students have shown to perform best when they are learning in smaller class settings. They get to experience an intimate learning environment that they wouldn’t find in a public school.

“Most of them probably wouldn’t have participated in a gym class,” Educational Consultant Calvin Worthen says. “They would’ve probably felt too ashamed or didn’t have the right encouragement especially in a larger class.”

The students are getting ready to participate in the FIRST LEGO League. It’s not something that special education students would have the opportunity to participate in if they were in a public school.

“That’s really made them light up,” Worthen says. “In this place, everyone is learning and we give them the opportunity to fail.”

For more information on Science Prep Academy, visit scienceprepacademy.com.

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TED SIMONS-A NEW SCHOOL IN PHOENIX HOPES TO REACH AUTISTIC KIDS BY USING "STEM," WHICH STANDS FOR SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY, ENGINERRING AND MATH. PRODUCER TATUM HUBBELL AND PHOTOGRAPHER SAM MENA WENT TO THE SCIENCE PREP ACADEMY TO LEARN ABOUT THE PROGRAM.

TATUM HUBBELL-AT THE SCIENCE PREP ACADEMY IN PHOENIX, THEY RECOGNIZE THAT STUDENTS WITH AUTISM DON'T ALWAYS MAKE THE FIRST SHOT, BUT OVERTIME, THEY CAN MAKE THEIR GOALS. THE SCHOOL OPENED IN AUGUST AND HAS 12 STUDENTS. HE DISCOVERED EARLY IN HIS CAREER THAT HIS BEST STUDENTS WEREN'T NECESSARILY THE TYPICAL KIDS.

STUDENTS WITH AUTISM LIKE SCIENCE. THEY ARE GOOD AT SCIENCE AS FAR AS PROBLEM SOLVING, ANALYTICAL THINKING, IN GENERAL, NATURE AND SCIENCE. I CALL THEM SUPERPOWERS WHEN IT COMES TO SCIENCE.

TATUM HUBBELL-NOW THEY ARE TEACHING THEM S.T.E.M. CAREERS.

MY PASSION IN SCIENCE TURNED TO A PASSION TO EDUCATE INDIVIDUALS WITH AUTISM TO BECOME SCIENTISTS. WITH THAT BURNING DESIRE LIT IN MY HEART, I WANTED TO CREATE A LEARNING ENVIRONMENT WHICH LED ME TO OPENING THE PROGRAM. I THINK IT WILL BENEFIT THE STUDENTS, FAMILY, COMMUNITY AND AS A WHOLE, IT WILL BENEFIT THE COMMUNITY AND THE WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT.

TATUM HUBBELL- THE ACADEMY CREATES A COMFORTABLE ENVIRONMENT TO LEARN AND COMMUNICATE WHICH FOR AUTISTIC KIDS MEANS MORE THAN JUST TALKING.

THE STUDENTS HERE WORK WITH SPEECH AND OCCUPATIONAL THERAPISTS. THE ROLE OF THE THERAPIST ISN'T JUST TO GET THEM TO TALK AND USE WORDS, IT'S UNDERSTANDING BODY LANGUAGE. IS THIS PERSON TRYING TO END THE CONVERSATION? SPACE, ARE YOU STANDING TOO CLOSE TO A PERSON, NOT RECOGNIZING THE NONVERBAL CUES? ON THE OCCUPATIONAL THERAPY SIDE, IT'S STUDENT REGULATION.

TATUM HUBBELL-THE RATIO IS 3-1. STUDENTS WITH AUTISM DO BETTER IN SMALLER CLASS SETTINGS.

THE ENVIRONMENT IS TO INTIMATE. IF YOU GO TO PUBLIC SCHOOL, IT'S 20 OR 30 KID IN THE CLASS. IT'S HARD TO GET THE FOCUS WE HAVE HERE.

MICHAEL IS A SIXTH GRADER. HE SAYS HE HAD A DIFFICULT TIME LEARNING IN A TYPICAL SCHOOL ENVIRONMENT.

HERE, IT'S DIFFERENT. SCIENCE PREP ACADEMY TEACHES BREATHING TECHNIQUES. IT TEACHES S.T.E.M. AND TRYING TO MAKE US GET FIXED.

TATUM HUBBELL-A LOT OF CURRICULUM IS ONLINE, BUT HANDS ON S.T.E.M. LEARNING IS A HUGE PART OF THEIR DAY. THE SCHOOL IS COMPETING IN THE FIRST LEGO LEAGUE ROBOTIC PROGRAM.

THE FIRST LEGO GO LEAGUE IS NOT ALWAYS OFFERED WITH KIDS IN SPECIAL ED. THAT OPPORTUNITY IT SELF HAS MADE THEM LIGHT UP. THEY ARE ENGINEERS IN THEIR MINDS. THEY PUT TOGETHER THE ROBOTS, AND THEY CAN HAVE A CHANCE TO MESS UP AND NOT HAVE ANOTHER STUDENT MAKE THEM FEEL BAD OR BULLY THEM OUT OF THEIR CREATETIVITY. IN THIS PLACE, THEY ARE LEARNING, AND WE GIVE THEM THE OPPORTUNITY TO FAIL.

TATUM HUBBELL- AND THE OPPORTUNITY TO SUCCEED. EXERCISE IS A STRESS RELIEVER FOR THE KIDS.

MOST WOULDN'T HAVE PARTICIPATED IN A GYM CLASS AND TO RUN DRILLS FOR BASKETBALL. THEY WOULD HAVE FELT ASHAMED OR DIDN'T HAVE THE RIGHT ENCOURAGEMENT. I FEEL LIKE WE OFFER THE HEALTH PERSPECTIVE AS WELL.

TATUM HUBBELL-THE SCHOOL IS LEARNING AND GROWING ALONG WITH STUDENTS, FIGURING OUT WHAT WORKS, AND WHAT DOESN'T, FOR EACH CHILD.

ONE, TWO, THREE -- SCIENCE PREP ACADEMY.

THEY EXPECT TO HELP STUDENTS TRANSITION TO HIGHER EDUCATION. FRIDAY, THE JOURNALIST ROUND TABLE. WE TALK ABOUT STUDENT DEMONSTRATIONS AGAINST GUN VIOLENCE IN SCHOOLS AND HOW MUCH THAT IMPACTS THE GOVERNOR WHO SAYS HE WILL CLOSE LOOPHOLES AND ENHANCE BACKGROUND CHECKS. THAT IS IT FOR NOW. I'M TED SIMONS. YOU HAVE A GREAT EVENING.

Kenneth Mims: Principal, Science Prep Academy
Lyndsey Steele: Owner, Milestone Pediatrics
Calvin Worthen: Educational Consultant

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