The Hirsch Story is a Love Story
The story of The Hirsch Academy is about the unyielding love parents feel for their children. It’s a story about the lengths parents will go to and the challenges we’ll overcome when we see our children aren’t receiving the care and support they need and deserve.
The Hirsch story started in 2004 with one child. One child who longed for successful connection with peers and adults. One child who needed academic and therapeutic support. One child who needed understanding.
This child’s name is Ian. Ian was six years old and grossly misunderstood. Ian’s parents were frustrated with his school’s inability to support his needs. Ian’s Occupational Therapist was frustrated too. Ian wasn’t her only client who was not being supported successfully in the school systems, and she was struggling to find educators who could understand Ian’s struggles were not behavioral, but guided more by his sensory and learning differences.
It was clear that new resources were needed and, importantly, a new approach for students like Ian. Existing approaches and techniques were failing Ian and too many students like him. Something desperately needed to change.
So the Hirsch Academy founders decided to BE the change.
Be the Change
The Hirsch Academy was founded in 2005 by a group of parents and professionals who wished to build a loving learning environment for children like Ian. Children who need a deeper understanding and innovative strategies to be successful. They wanted to build an environment where students are excited and inspired to learn, where the students are a part of something bigger than themselves.
How could The Hirsch Academy be the architects for this? They knew they didn’t have all the answers. But motivated by their love for their students, they committed to learning and developing strategies for each student.
Hirsch Academy staff starting seeking advice from innovative professionals in education for children with learning and sensory differences. They sought advice from experts who understand children who needed a deeper understanding to support critical thinking, regulation supports, and social/emotional thinking. They found terrific training and advice from the DIR/Floortime community, where children’s differences are respected and the relationship is the guide to all learning.
They saw improvements in their students but felt they were still missing something. Many of the students entering their classrooms had communication differences such as: nonspeaking, minimally speaking, and/or nonreliably speaking. The staff wanted to understand more about how these students were taking in information, and more tools to help students demonstrate their comprehension, questions and insights about the material. So they kept looking for advice, strategies and new techniques.
Wisdom from the Source
The Hirsch Academy staff started attending conferences where Autistic self-advocates were presenting. Staff started reading self-advocate blogs and self-advocate autobiographical literature. The Hirsch Academy started inviting self-advocates into their classrooms and getting ideas and advice about all aspects of the Hirsch Academy program. They offered advice about the structure of the classrooms, communication and sensory supports, and innovative curriculum changes. Staff quickly realized this was exactly who they needed to align with in order to help truly understand their students. These were the consultants they were looking for. These were the true experts.
On the basis of this advice, Hirsch adapted to the new concepts of presuming competence, recognizing new ways of presenting academic information and the use of alternative communication methods for those with communication differences. These approaches, combined with the DIR/Floortime foundations and continued mentorship from the self-advocate community, were the perfect combination to ignite the fuel for the continued success of each student.
The Hirsch Academy is still learning, growing, and continuing the search for the best ways to support their students. They recognize that the approaches and techniques will shift and change as they gain more understanding. What will remain constant is the continued mentorship from the “true experts” from their community. Hirsch will continue to be guided by their team of trusted self-advocates who visit and work synergistically to implement changes that continue to make Hirsch Academy an incredibly warm yet intellectually stimulating learning and inclusive space for all.
In the words of one of Hirsch Academy’s Self-Advocate Mentors:
“The warm feeling when you enter the doors is generated from a building filled with innovative, caring professionals who go out of their way to make sure every student is engaged, happy, and learning without boundaries. They shine like a guiding star that other schools should model because beyond their amazing approach is a willingness to change their pedagogy as the staff learns more about the human mind. Hirsch is the blueprint for inclusive learning.” Laura Nadine, Self-Advocate, Teacher, Author