OKLAHOMA CITY - It takes a village to raise a child – or in this case, it takes a family, a university, an archdiocese and a health organization. Thanks to the collaboration between the University of Central Oklahoma, Mercy and the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, children with neurological disorders, such as autism, in Oklahoma now have an option for accredited, specialized education at the Good Shepherd Catholic School at Mercy.
More than 100 members from UCO, Mercy and the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City gathered Friday, Nov. 4 to witness Archbishop Paul S. Coakley’s blessing of the facilities on Mercy’s campus.
“The Archdiocese of Oklahoma City is very pleased to be a part of such a unique and special collaboration. The three-way collaboration itself is unique. However, what is even more special is that, to my knowledge, there is no other Catholic school in the country that is geared toward meeting the individual needs of children on the autistic spectrum,” said Sister Catherine Powers, CND, superintendent of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City. “I have no doubt that we are meeting a great need among our families in the Oklahoma City area.”
Once it reaches full capacity, Good Shepherd Catholic School at Mercy will enroll approximately 20 students with autism or similar neurological disorders and approximately five neurotypical students, ages 3 to 9. Each student has a behavioral interventionist who provides individual attention throughout each day.
UCO is uniquely positioned to offer staffing support for the school, given its roots as a teaching college for the Oklahoma Territory, its College of Education and Professional Studies’ emphasis on improving preschool to grade 12 education, and long-standing history of specialty training in its nationally-accredited department of psychology. In 2008, the university began offering Oklahoma’s first specialty track program to prepare students to become nationally board certified behavior analysts specializing in autism.
“It’s estimated that one in 110 children will be diagnosed with autism in the United States, and we in Oklahoma need to not only be prepared to meet the education needs of these students, but also to lead the effort,” said James Machell, Ph.D., dean of the UCO College of Education and Professional Studies.
“The Good Shepherd Catholic School at Mercy advances these efforts by providing specialized education early on to autistic children and by providing a place to prepare educators for success in working with this growing population."
“This is a great example of local organizations realizing a need and working together to provide a service,” said Tom Edelstein, vice president of mission and ethics at Mercy. “The specialized staff, school accreditation and new facility will help improve the lives of so many special kids and their families.”
The school opened this fall and currently has six students enrolled. Teachers and parents have already seen progress in the students as a result of the program. Some parents are hearing their children speak for the first time in months.
“All involved in this program are excited about its potential and the possibilities of seeing this program grow,” said Sister Powers. “Any family who has been touched by autism knows that this new school is a blessing. These special children and their families deserve the opportunity of receiving a faith-based education in the Catholic tradition.”
Autism is a complex developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of life and affects a person’s ability to communicate and interact with others. It is defined by a certain set of behaviors and is a "spectrum disorder" that affects individuals differently and to varying degrees. There is no single known cause for autism.
The Good Shepherd Catholic School at Mercy is accredited by the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City; UCO provides assistance with staffing and Mercy provides the facility. The program is funded in part by a loan from the Inasmuch Foundation.
For more information on enrollment, call Donna Kearns, Good Shepherd Catholic School at Mercy principal, at (405)752-2264.