We’re excited to highlight The Laura Cushman Academy in this Q & A with its director, Tracy Ross, Ph.D. Integrated Children’s Therapy (ICT) has a longstanding relationship with The Laura Cushman Academy, providing speech-language and occupational therapy as well as teaching classes on Social Thinking® and Narrative Development. “Teaching classes in the Laura Cushman Academy is a unique way to support social communication and language development in the community,” says Mandy Alvarez, founder of ICT. “Our partnership highlights the rich possibilities available for children when schools collaborate with skilled professionals who are aligned with their mission.”

ICT: 

Hi Tracy! On your website, The Laura Cushman Academy is described as a program within The Cushman School that accommodates students with various learning challenges who thrive in smaller classes and have the potential, with appropriate remediation, to achieve academically and function independently in less structured settings.

Can you tell us more?

TR:

The Laura Cushman Academy is a warm, nurturing environment for students who have many strengths, talents, capabilities, and limitless potential, but need a more specialized learning environment. We have small classes and a lot of support. We look at individual learning styles and work to make learning engaging, fun, and also safe, because many of our students come from educational environments where they felt unsuccessful, frustrated, or like a failure.  It is our aim to have every one of our students identify with their successes rather than their difficulties.  

ICT:

What makes The Laura Cushman Academy stand out? 

TR:

What stands out for me (and the reason I’m here) is that our philosophy is to not focus on a child’s challenges, but to focus on being a child by including things like PE, art, enrichment activities, and socialization in their daily schedule. The Cushman School philosophy is that a happy child is a child who can learn. A child’s emotional well-being and sense of self is the most important thing to preserve. We create a safe, welcoming, understanding environment to help students learn. All of that, along with low student to teacher ratio, specialized instruction, embedded group therapies, and an inclusive environment is what makes the Laura Cushman Academy unique.

ICT:

You mentioned an inclusive environment. Can you talk about how the students in the Laura Cushman Academy interact with the other students at the school? 

TR:

All students in the Laura Cushman Academy join a partner class for enrichment activities like PE, music, art, science lab, values, and class parties. In 5th grade and middle school we start a more inclusive model for certain academics like social studies, science, and electives. 

Inclusion benefits both the students in the Laura Cushman Academy and the other students at the school. It teaches them to understand how to navigate differences and work together. It presents wonderful opportunities for understanding, growth, leadership, and mentorship — going both ways.

ICT:

Let’s talk about your collaboration with professionals in the community. How do those collaborations enrich the program?  

TR

Aside from having two speech therapists and an occupational therapist who are fully-dedicated to our students during the school day, we collaborate with other therapists, educational specialists, psychologists, psychiatrists, and neurologists. We have speech therapists (from ICT) teaching Social Thinking® and Narrative development classes, and we have an occupational therapist teaching an occupational therapy class.

These partnerships enhance what we do on multiple levels. We learn from each other, share our resources and specialties, and consult with each other to brainstorm about specific situations. We have professionals come in to speak to our faculty or our parents about different topics. I also appreciate being able to provide families with options or directions towards solutions for difficulties, in whatever arena they might be. 

To me, our partnerships and collaboration with individuals in the community are invaluable. 

ICT:

Can you tell us a favorite success story?

TR:

Oh, there are so many, all for different reasons. For me, it’s so rewarding to see our alums come back — seeing them in college, in their career after college, and/or pursuing advanced degrees. It’s seeing these children who, after all of their hard work and their parents’ angst and tears, and sometimes being told by professionals in the past that their future would be limited…seeing them achieve their goals is so rewarding. It’s a big part of my job to encourage our families to see their children’s possibilities and potential. 

ICT:

How did you land here? 

TR:

Well, I’m in my 17th year at Cushman! I started as our Guidance Counselor after I’d just graduated with my Master’s in School Counseling. After a few years I went back to school to get my Doctorate in Marriage and Family Counseling. I originally wanted to be a family therapist. In the midst of pursuing that degree, I was selected to be the next Laura Cushman Academy Director. The Laura Cushman Academy administrative team consists of a speech-language pathologist, an occupational therapist, and a special educator, and I was chosen to provide leadership to our team and to offer support for our families and students. Being a parent is a wonderful, yet difficult role. Our families are on a unique journey and oftentimes need support and guidance. It was 11 years ago when I became the director, and here I am, doing what I wanted to do: Helping families. 

ICT:

To close out, what advice do you have for parents who have children with learning challenges and feel worried and lost? 

TR:

First, equip yourself with knowledge and support so you can accept and understand where your child is and what is available to help support your child’s growth and development. That acceptance and understanding can help determine your child’s success. Get support not just for your child, but also for yourself. Know that things will be okay, and that “okay” is different for everybody. Find a group of people whom you trust and who are on the same page, and let them help guide you. Overall, believe in your child and the possibilities that lie ahead. 

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