CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – A unique, individualized, and intensive learning environment that is changing lives every day — that’s what school leaders and parents say is unfolding at Pattison’s Academy on a daily basis.

The public charter school, now in its thirteenth year, is helping students with special needs reach goals once thought impossible.

“We are an organization here in the Lowcountry that provides comprehensive therapy and education programs for children with disabilities- ranging all the way to the severe and profound,” said the school’s executive director, Paige Knowlson.

The public charter school is sponsored by the Charleston County School District.  

“Our children have a degree of disability that requires a little more intentional support than an average school,” explained Knowlson. “We combine that therapy and education model for children with severe disabilities to really give them the intensive and individualized support they need to grow and thrive. Milestones people never thought possible are reached here. We have children that are told at birth, they will never walk, never talk, never feed themselves, and these things are happening for the first time through these doors every day.”

The school has 48 students in kindergarten through the age of 21.  

“We bring our children in, they go through a comprehensive and therapy-based evaluation that determines how we can meet their needs and how we can challenge their abilities. We want to make sure two things are true here: one, we can meet that child’s needs and keep them safe and healthy and meet their physical needs, but also challenge them academically and therapeutically to really ensure they are being challenged as much as possible to reach their full potential while they are here,” said Knowlson.

In each class throughout the day, there are teachers, teacher assistants, therapists, nurses, administrators, and volunteers. “It’s really difficult looking in the classrooms here and tell the difference between a therapist, a teacher, or teacher assistant and that’s intentional. You can’t reach a part of a child without reaching the entire child, so we have to integrate therapeutics, health, and education into one comprehensive service for our children,” said Knowlson.

Pattison’s has therapy rooms for in-school and outpatient clinical care, providing intensive occupational, physical, and speech therapy, along with a focused academic curriculum.

“We do reading, math, writing, social studies, science, all the normal academics at a typical school.  It’s just we adapt it to our children here at Pattison’s. We have arts and crafts.  We have music therapy and art therapy, and sometimes we have dog therapy,” said teacher Kyra Sorensen. “We love being able to walk in and you see all the kids smile and light up.”

Crystal Hildt is a teacher’s assistant and parent of a student here at Pattison’s.  She said Pattison’s Academy has been an amazing school for her daughter, who has attended the school for eight years and is now more independent.

“She’s walking independently without having to hold someone’s hand.  She’s walking up and down stairs now.  She’s doing great things with her speech devices, and with pic symbols, and being able to communicate with friends and family now, eating solo by herself, and even educationally just being interested in the lessons, wanting to learn things,” Hildt shared. ” She’s just growing up before our eyes and doing more than I could ever (have) imagined her being able to do.  She gets all of her therapies here for her IEPs, but she also gets her outpatient therapies, so I as a parent I don’t have to take time off of work to take her somewhere else. Everything gets done here.”

A significant portion of the funds needed for the programs come from community support.

“The Charleston community through their generosity and philanthropic support of this organization, are making those milestones happen, helping those children walk for the first time at eighteen,” said Knowlson. “They’re helping this organization grow and thrive to serve more children in the Charleston community, and they’re spreading that joy and unlocking potential for our children every day.  It’s a really special place. It’s a place that’s as special as the children that we serve.”

If you would like to nominate a Cool School or educator, send an email to Octavia Mitchell at omitchell@wcbd.com.