Art, Movies, Lit, Theater

Sunshine School Offers Much Needed Community Support

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Sunshine-School copy

A Very Special Art Show:

Under The Sea, Nov. 22, 5:30 – 7:30 p.m., $25 or $40 for a couple. The show will feature various artists, including Under-the-Sea themed art created by the Children of the Sunshine School. Wine and snacks will be served. Held at the school at 3400 Woods Ln. in Rogers. Tickets can be purchased at the door or online at www.nwasunshineschool.org.

Alternative School In Rogers Part Of The Community For Over 50 Years

By Terrah Baker

The Sunshine School and Development Center located in Rogers just went through a big change. It wasn’t a change to their over 50-year-old mission of helping integrate children with disabilities into the public school system; or to their small teacher-to-student ratio that has allowed them to offer a specialized development plan for their students; or even to their services offered to adults with disabilities in the community.

They decided to add “Development Center” to their name that has stayed the same since 1958. Because, as Development and Communications Specialist Summer Backstrom explained, they wanted to make it clear their goals encompassed all people with disabilities, and some without.

“We are known for our therapeutic preschool, but we also have services for adults who have disabilities,” Backstrom said. “We call it community support. We basically try to keep adults from institution.”

In fact, 27 percent of their budget is in what is called the Alternative Community Services Waiver, where adults with disabilities receive government assistance for sometimes daily personal and medical attention.

“We send professionals into their home to help them with washing dishes, themselves, going to college, just giving mom or single parent a break,” Backstrom explained.

But not all Arkansas citizens with disabilities are able to receive these regular services. Recipients of the Arkansas waiver can expect to wait an average of 10 years, according to the Medicaid Waiver website, and more than 2,000 are left waiting for one of the roughly 3,900 spots to open up.

For those people not receiving services, places like Sunshine School offer workshops and weekend retreats for caregivers to have much needed time off, and for adults and children with disabilities to have a fun-filled day or weekend.

Preschool Center

The Sunshine School has classrooms for children 18 months to 5-years-old. However, not every classroom is made of only children with disabilities. Some children are on a tuition program to attend the school for its high quality development practices and individual support. Some of these children have siblings with disabilities or a parent who works at the school. These children’s caregivers pay for the school out of pocket, or the school offers tuition waivers through grants they receive from various sources — in the past places like the City of Rogers and the City of Bentonville.

“Basically, our mission is to get these guys to their fullest potential before they go into the public school … Because it’s kind of a scary leap for parents with a child with special needs. They worry how their children will adapt and who will be tending to them,” Backstrom said.

While the children attend Sunshine School, they receive occupational, physical and speech therapy, as well as have personalized achievement goals that are practiced on a daily basis and measured yearly.

“Some of the children that come here, they are walking and they were not supposed to ever walk, so that early therapy is really important, and it’s all right here,” she said.

Their class ratios are two teachers to twelve students for toddlers and above, and two-to-eight for younger students. They provide a structured routine that incorporates one-on-one attention, which is important for children who need extra attention, Backstrom explained.

History

The Sunshine School started in 1958 with two families that were seeking a healthy learning environment for their children with disabilities. However, in those days there wasn’t a place in the public education system for children with these special needs. The two families decided to come together and start the Sunshine School. No government funding for such projects was available at the time, so the school flourished solely off contributions of friends, neighbors and corporate donors.

The first room was located in the basement of the First United Methodist Church in Rogers. By the end of the first month the basement had soon grown to adapt to eight families. With more families showing interest, a new facility was built in Vaughn in 1961. By 1991, as the public school system began integrating developmentally disabled children into classrooms, the Sunshine School had started to focus on programs which included Early Intervention, Community Support and a Preschool Center. These programs catered to individuals in the community with developmental disabilities of all ages.

In 1982, the Preschool Center was formed at Peace Lutheran Church in Rogers, and then moved to a new building on Tiger Boulevard in Bentonville shortly after. Needs of families continued to grow, and within ten years the school had outgrown capacity, and moved to Moberly Lane. Here, a new preschool center for children with developmental disabilities was formed and utilized. Another program called Parents as Teachers was quickly added to help the community.

The new facility was quickly becoming overcrowded and extra classrooms and office space had to be rented nearby. Once again, through donations from the community, another facility was funded. The move was made in Jan. 2007 to the current 40,000-square-feet facility where they now serve over 500 people a year.

For more information on The Sunshine School and Development Center, or for a tour, visit www.nwasunshineschool.org.

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