Proposed school of the arts launches fundraising efforts

DOVER — Tyler Anaya, President and Founding Board Member of the proposed Central Delaware School of the Arts for the Exceptional (CDSAE), found the inspiration to pursue the project while raising her own son, Caiden, 13, who is on the autism spectrum. In her experience, and in the experience of many other local families, Delaware’s current autism programs were falling short, she said.

“Delaware’s current autism programs, in my opinion, are hit or miss — fellow parents call me all the time about it,” she said. “We don’t get therapy at home, we’re not getting any therapy for siblings of autistic kids and therapy should not just be for 20 minutes per week for the kids who need it. The programs we have are publicly funded so we have all the red tape, we want to remove that and do what should be done our kids.”

A board, which includes Marcus Henry, owner of the Brandywine Center for Autism, licensed clinical social worker Nancy Sieck-Quillen, pediatric neurologist Dr. Anand Gundakaram and Robin Hayes, owner of Nutritionally Speaking in Dover, assembled over two years ago to start conceptualizing the proposed school. Their hope is to establishing a private school for autism and the arts. Ms. Anaya said that it will provide schooling for 4th graders all the way up to 21-year-olds.

The CDSAE will offer small class sizes and year-round schooling. There will be a focus on academics, social skills and executive functioning in an inclusive setting. The Curriculum will be modified to integrate Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), a form of therapy for not only Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), but for “typically developing” children as well, to increase positive behaviors and extinguish unwanted behaviors.

The plan for the CDSAE includes offering disciplines in the arts, including photography, dance, vocals and computer graphic design — making it a school of the arts as well as a school for autistic students.

“Anyone is eligible, it’s going to be an inclusive school — Kent County doesn’t have a school that is just dedicated to the arts,” said Ms. Anaya. “The year-round programming will allow all students the freedom to hone their artistic abilities throughout the year, while building a sense of community with their fellow students and providing individualized academic challenges.”

Initially, the group considered trying to establish a charter school, but because of certain restrictions, they decided a private school model would better fit the needs of local families.

“People were telling us that the schools were going to try to shut us down when we started this,” said Ms. Anaya.”We’re not trying to step on the public school districts’ toes, we want them to understand that we need a good program that will include some of the higher functioning kids. We have the John S. Charlton School in Kent county, but the slightly higher functioning kids that are stuck in the middle are the ones being left behind.”

Recently, the CDSAE obtained its 501(c)(3) non-profit designation which she feels is a step in the right direction. Ms. Anaya says the group is also looking hard at achieving some funding through insurance.

“We’re trying to look at how we can apply the funding that is available for the state through the autism insurance reform, the bill that was passed in 2012,” she said. “If every child that would be in our program is eligible for a certain amount of money per year, we can become a resource center for them so they can get access to that money for services. At this point, everybody’s insurance money is just sitting there because there are so many road blocks.”

Passing from the concept stage to the fundraising stage, CDSAE board members hosted their first fundraising event Wednesday night at the Duncan Center in Dover. The event included a silent auction, a cocktail hour and reception and an educational presentation. The event, presented by the Brandywine Center for Autism, offered community members an opportunity to learn more about the school and meet families hoping to partake in the education opportunities for their children.

Ms. Anaya says she knows the next stage of her plan is very ambitious, but she hopes to actually launch the program, starting with grades 3-8 for a total of 60 students, by Fall 2017.

“We’re looking for an existing location that we can retrofit or possibly to purchase land and add to it,” she said. “To start the program in an existing location, we’re looking at raising $1.5 million. To build something new, which is the grander goal, would be about $24 million. Right now we’re going to push on raising those funds. Beating on doors is commencing.”

For more information contact Ms. Anaya at (302) 943-2274 or at tstevens24_2000@yahoo.com or visit CDSAE.com.

Reach staff writer Ian Gronau at igronau@newszap.com

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