As kids return to school this week, one Orem school hopes that opening its doors will provide life changing experiences for its students.
On Geneva Road in Orem, between new home developments and farmland lies a brand new 31,000 square foot school. To an ordinary passerby, Clear Horizons Academy looks like any other school. But Clear Horizons Academy isn’t your ordinary school, it is built specifically to help children with autism.
“One of the things I think is great about our academy is that we offer more than just the standard academics. We’re focusing on learning relationships, we’re focusing on learning social skills, we’re focusing on sensory integration, which is key for these kids to be able to learn. We are also focusing on life skills and job skills and independent skills. So we’re hitting a lot of different areas that aren’t typically covered in a school setting.”
That’s Sondra Hurst, acting director of the school and a mother of a child with autism. She understands how little accomplishments learned at Clear Horizons Academy can go a long way for a child and parent.
“We had a child that recently said ‘Mom’ for the first time and that’s just huge for a parent who’s waited seven or eight years to hear that. And for us to be able to assist and help support so the child can do that, then that makes all the difference in their lives.”
Autism affects one in every 47 families in Utah, well above the national average of one in every 88. Researchers don’t know why Utah has such a high rate, but schools like Clear Horizons Academy are helping children with autism and their families learn important life skills.
“Most families, in some way, some have ties to autism. Whether it’s their grandchild, a child, whether it’s a nephew or neighbor...so it’s really important for people to be aware of our school," says Carol Walker, the assistant director of development. She shows some of the specialized rooms in the new school. But building the the new facility took a lot of help from private donors: “Really we have been able to build this school through some very generous donations...we had a $6.5 million campaign for this school and we’ve raised $4.5. So we still have a gap. "
To ensure that parents don’t bare the load of the extra costs of sending their children to school, the Academy holds fundraisers to subsidize fees. Utah also helps subsidize the costs for students with scholarship money.
“Our children and the families receive money from the Carson Smith Scholarship, which is state money, and they have to apply for it but usually they get $6,000 to $8,000 a year to help supplement the costs."
With the financial backing of the state and other donors, the school is able to provide teachers to help their students learn, work and grow. For every one student, there are 1.5 teachers that give special attention to a students successes and struggles.
With a new facility and room for expansion, Clear Horizons Academy says it wants to bring hope of a brighter future for children with autism and their families.
More information is at www.clearhorizonsacademy.org.