School celebrates first year

That's what Townsend sought for her son Alexander. It was her inspiration for starting the Spotted Zebra Learning Center.

Alexander, 4, is autistic. Since his case is mild, Alexander's condition isn't noticeable as he carries on conversations with fellow students and teachers. He addresses them politely, looks them in the eyes and shakes hands. They are things he was unable to do before many children became his classmates, said Townsend.

He shares his success stories with a number of children enrolled at the school.

"The best way for a child that is dealing with autism to learn is to increase (their) relationships with role models," said Townsend. "We worked to create a atmosphere that promotes relationships."

Julian Kintz, 4, was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity syndrome. Julian's mother, Anna, followed her son's speech therapist to the Spotted Zebra, who was hired by the center last year. Allison Woodhouse, 4, "a very typical child," according to her mother Lynn, and is one of Julian's friends at the center.

"Because my daughter is in an environment where there are children with special needs, people (would) ask; are her needs being met?" said Woodhouse. "The school does a fabulous job and the atypical child has their needs met as well."

Allison asked to attend speech therapy with her friend, Julian. Lynn agreed. Allison's speech is getting better, and she enjoys the many activities that go on at the center throughout the day, said Woodhouse.

A staff of 17 teachers and therapists is at the core of the center's success. With a 4-1 student-teacher ratio, children are guided through their individual academic experiences. A typical school day addresses emotional growth, social skills, verbal communication, intellectual awareness and physical capabilities.

As Townsend looks to begin the school's second year, she is looking into establishing a nonprofit arm of the center. Ideal pre-school environments for special needs children are few and far between and costly, she said.

She hopes that in time she will be able to offer financial assistance through the center.

To learn more about the Spotted Zebra Learning Center contact 438-4800, or visit www. spottedzebra.org. The school is located at 2 Kross Keys Drive in Albany.""

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