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Mentor Schools Opens Cardinal Autism Resource and Education School

CARES opened this Monday with nine students

Brittani Mejac, a teacher at Mentor Schools' new , sat on the floor of her classroom Wednesday afternoon.

She showed a series of objects with different shapes and colors to her student Shane Duncan, who sat on a chair.

"She's using them to assess his level of comprehension," CARES Director Christy LaPaglia explained as she watched unseen in one of the school's observation rooms. "She's also teaching him a lesson and reinforcing good behavior by getting him to sit still and pay attention.

"She's brought herself down to his eye line," LaPaglia pointed out.

and students, who all have autism, and the teachers are still getting to know each other; but LaPaglia said she's already noticed good signs. She said that Shane wouldn't sit down for more than a few seconds Monday but he calmly went through his lesson with Mejac Wednesday.

When the lesson was finished, Mejac pulled out a schedule made of photos and showed Shane what they would be doing next.

LaPaglia explained that the teachers use schedules with the students. It helps gives the students visual cues and helps establish their routine.

"On the spectrum, people with autism are generally visual learners," LaPaglia said. "We really rely on visual supports we put in place for the students."

Meanwhile, in the high school wing of CARES, the teacher used a Smart Board to play an educational game with her two students.

The high-school curriculum at CARES is three pronged. The students have a classroom like the other age groups, but they also have two "labs" that teach specialized skills. One is called the independent living lab, which teaches skills that the students will need in their home lives. The other is a Practical Assessment Exploration System (PAES) room. In layman's terms, it will be a room where students can learn career skills.

CARES opened with nine students in two age groups: first through third grade and high school. LaPaglia plans to have 12 by January but it could be more if there's sufficient interest.

The district intends to increase the number of students each school year until it reaches 42 in 2014. The will range in age from prekindergarten to high school.

"I gave five parent tours just today," LaPaglia said.

CARES has several features that the school district thinks will help students with autism and appeal to their parents, including physical and speech therapists, gym and music classes taught by certified physical education and music teachers, sensory rooms and a student-adult ratio that will never be less than 2:1 and is often beneath that.

The ultimate goal is to make CARES a top-notch facility for students with autism that attracts interest from all around the region. Already, some of the students at CARES are from districts besides Mentor.

as an ambitious plan that could help bring money to the district

However, Superintendent Jacqueline Hoynes previously said CARES is primarily about helping students with autism, not money.

"With (Headlands Elementary) closing, we feel we have the opportunity to renovate the building to make it a state-of-the-art facility for students with autism," Hoynes said while proposing the project.

Those who are interested in learning more about CARES can go to an open house from 2:30 to 6 p.m. Oct. 11 at the building.

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