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Welcoming Back a New School Year! This time in-person!

Ever since the campus shut down last March, the two Palm Beach County public charter schools on our campus have had to slowly rebuild their infrastructure bit by bit. Originally, classes were going to be at least partially virtual, but by the time the new Fall Season rolled around, Palm Beach County School District announced that a decision was made to return to full in-person learning. It was thought that a transition to full in-person education may be the best way to teach the children, especially since it may alleviate social isolation, and it may also allow them to concentrate on their studies more. The classrooms in the Rupert Education Wing and the Shanken Education Wing were suited up and ready for in-person education, including air filtration equipment throughout the buildings. With live classes back, the Foundation’s Recreation Services Coordinator, Kelley, started back up all of the afterschool recreation programs that are open to the greater community including art, yoga, kickball, golf, and more. It has been great to have all the staff, students, and parents back at The Els Center of Excellence.


The last time I was in high school was close to 20 years ago, so I wouldn’t be a good person to talk about the facilities we have on campus for education. I managed to get time to speak with Melissa Levine and her son Jack Levine. Jack has been a student at The Learning Academy at The Els Center of Excellence (TLA). It was his birthday earlier in the month of September, and he has been used to seeing the changes going on with The Learning Academy. He is also attuned to the school environment around him, and thrives there, along with attending some of the Foundation’s programs and services. Since Jack is so involved with activities on campus, I decided to interview him and his mother Melissa about their experiences going to school at The Learning Academy and transitioning to in-person instruction 100%’….So, I sent them a bunch of questions to respond to. Here we go.


Q and A with Melissa Levine:

Merrick:  Before Jack went to TLA, which is a charter school, did he attend a regular public school?

Melissa: Jack attended a private school for Emotionally Disabled students back in New Jersey from when he was about 5-14 years old. By the time he left, he was in a self-contained classroom with a ratio of students to teachers that was approximately 2:1, in a classroom of 8 students. He transitioned to an Autism school in New Jersey about 6 months before we moved to Florida to attend The Learning Academy.

Merrick: What does Jack like about the environment of TLA?

Melissa: I feel that Jack has finally found a home in a school that truly understands who he is as a person and as a student. The teachers and staff celebrate him every day, from the minute he walks through the door in the early morning to the emails he receives nightly from the many different staff members that he corresponds with at our house. His self-confidence and self-esteem has dramatically improved, as a result of the love and support he receives from the staff at TLA.  You can actually see his confidence in the way he carries himself as he walks into the building. Jack is with a peer group in his classroom that provides emotional support for him as well. He has made very good friends that he video chats with nightly. Jack actually had his very first birthday party 3 weeks ago, with a small group of boys in his class. The TLA environment enables him to be exactly who he is.

Merrick: How did Jack feel about going back to school for in-person instruction in over a year?

Melissa: Jack was so excited to get back to school to see his teachers and friends, but at the same time he was very nervous. Jack took very well to the virtual learning environment. His independence within our home environment grew significantly. He took responsibility over his academic organization and learned how to effectively problem solve issues if they arose without seeking help from us. Communication does not always come easy for Jack, so I think working through the computer gave him a buffer. I feel that he did not have to be “on” all the time, which actually helped to develop his self-confidence when participating in classroom activities. I think he was nervous to go back in person because it takes more effort for him to attend and process what his teachers and peers say when he is in person. He has made a beautiful transition back to school and I feel that he has retained the skills that he gained from virtual learning.

Merrick: What does Jack want to do after graduating high school?

Melissa: Jack has had a complicated medical history. As a result, he has always been interested in watching videos about X-rays, MRIs, and surgeries.  So, he was leaning towards doing an internship in a hospital. However, since being a student at TLA, he has recently expressed interest in teaching. The teachers and staff at TLA have had such an impact on his life, that he wants to be able to do the same for other kids that have learning challenges. He really enjoys taking on that leadership role and mentoring other students.

Merrick: What would you like to tell students, and parents, about the two charter schools on our campus and the educational opportunities?

Melissa: My husband and I took a chance. We left our friends and family. We moved to Florida with hopes that TLA would be a good fit for Jack. We had heard from various people that The Learning Academy and The Learning Center were great schools for Autistic students. We at least knew that he would be better off in the warmer climate, as he always thrived during the New Jersey summers. We could have never imagined the social, emotional and educational growth he would have experienced through these two short years, despite this weird and challenging time in our lives. TLA has far exceeded our expectations. From the most amazing group of teachers and therapists Jack has ever worked with (and there have been MANY) to the after school programs he has been able to participate in through the Foundation. The staff at TLA has provided us with comprehensive information that is preparing us for Jack’s future, which is uncertain because he is constantly growing and changing every minute of every day. We have the staff at TLA to thank, as they are always challenging us to do more with and expect more from Jack.


Q & A with Jack Levine

Merrick: What do you like about TLA?

Jack: I like meeting new teachers, going outside with my friends and I like learning new things about physical education.

Merrick: How did it feel to go back to school for in-person instruction…

Jack: I was kind of nervous but also excited.  My first day back with my friends and teachers was awesome.

Merrick: What do you look forward to the most whenever a new school year starts?

Jack: I look forward to seeing my friends and teachers after a long summer break.

It is great to see an individual thrive enough to where they want to use the experiences they got from our educational system to inspire and educate others, right?

It is also good that Jack has managed to adapt to the realities of our educational system over the past two years, and has even used his newfound confidence in a virtual system to translate to in-person instruction, even if he was very nervous about doing so.

In the next article, because October is National Disability Employment Month, I will write an article about my experiences working with the Els for Autism Foundation!