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Local private school offers special-needs alternative

Parent unsatisfied with choices now program’s principal

Posted: October 8, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: October 8, 2012 2:00 a.m.

Teacher Katarina Montano sounds out letters as she works with Imago Dei School students with developmental or learning disabilities at Trinity Classical Academy on Thursday.

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When Megan Howell was looking for schools for her youngest son, Beau, she wasn’t happy with the options out there.

Howell taught at Trinity Classical Academy at the time, but her son had special learning needs, and she wanted something that wasn’t quite available in the Santa Clarita Valley, she said.

“(Trinity) wanted to offer something for students with special needs,” said Howell, who’s now principal of Trinity’s special-needs school, Imago Dei. “And what we offer here is very unique.”

Imago Dei is officially a kindergarten-through-eighth-grade school, though it doesn’t have students in every grade. Currently, the school enrolls 12 students.

With two teachers and two teacher aides for two separate classes — there are four students in grades 1-3, and eight students in grades 7-8 — the classroom ratios offer a lot of one-on-one work, which is what Imago Dei’s students need, Howell said.

Imago Dei students have to take part in traditional school activities, such as flag football, chess and even cheer, while receiving specialized instruction.

“They get the support from the classroom and the inclusion, which probably surpasses what they get in the classroom,” Howell said. “For these kids, school is hard.”

The program is academic in nature but provides additional supports to achieve learning goals.

“We not only focus on the academic piece, but work with the deficit of brain function that exists in special-needs students,” she said.

To that end, the school also has a speech therapist on staff and an occupational therapist who comes by on a monthly basis to work on basic functions, such as how they conduct themselves in class and interact with teachers and peers.

“I consult with the teacher and give them ideas and share my perspective on fine motor skills, posture and sensory processing,” said Inga Runolfsdottir, the school’s occupational therapist. “These are foundations (students) have to have in order to make sure they’re getting all of the instruction.”

A nearly 4-to-1 ratio for student-to-teacher instruction is part of why the tuition for Imago Dei, which is Latin for “Image of God,” costs approximately $22,000 each year.

“It’s very specialized and intense therapy and education,” said Wally Caddow, who co-founded Trinity Classical Academy with his wife, Liz. “I think that this kind of specialized education does require a lot of people, so yes, it does it cost a little bit more,” he said.

“But they’re getting an education that’s just not available elsewhere.”



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