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Autism school gets new home

By JR Ortega
July 31, 2013 at 2:31 a.m.

Erin Hatley, executive director with the Vine School, is helping the school relocate to a new home in the Town and Country Center on Azalea Street. The new space is being remodeled and will be ready for the new school year.

The Vine School is growing in the right direction - up.

Victoria's autism school will begin the 2013-14 school year at its new location at 2911-D Azalea St., a space nearly double the size of its 1,500 square-foot first-ever location at the Methodist Day School.

With the final coat of paint applied to the walls and the final tile snuggly placed onto the floor, the school's first big goal is almost complete, said Erin Hatley, executive director.

"We've been so blessed to have our space at Methodist," said Hatley. The school's new location is where Sylvan Learning Center was once housed. "Methodist has been patient and supportive, but it was time and we wanted to be able to grow our program."

For six years, the school has worked toward growing the program, Hatley said. The first school was on the second floor of the Methodist Day School and had three classrooms.

The new location will feature a waiting room and two classrooms with room for a third. However, it also has a computer lab, motor lab, speech therapy room, one-on-one room, natural environment room, kitchen and parent-teacher conference room.

Through donations by the community, this has all been possible, Hatley said. About $2,300 has already been donated, some of which isn't monetary but equipment off the school's wish list.

The O'Connor & Hewitt Foundation has already donated seven Dell computers for the school's new computer lab, which has been very helpful, Hatley said.

Computers will be used in the school's classrooms, which are divided into Level 1, 2, and eventually, a Level 3 classroom. Level 1 is typically ages 3-6, while Level 2 is ages 7-12. When funding becomes available, the goal is for a Level 3 classroom for 2- to 4-year-olds, Hatley said.

Another goal is to add an after-school program and daycare for children of parents who don't get out of work until after school is let out, she said, adding everything feels like it's finally coming together.

"I feel we've made good progress," she said. "We aren't staying stagnant."

The progress will be helpful for parents like Rosemary Pena Watts, whose son, Adam, 8, will enter his fourth year at the school.

Adam, she said, has grown significantly because of the autism-specific education he's received.

"He's excited about going," she said about the school. "I drop him off knowing his needs are being better met there."

Adam lives with low-functioning autism and uses a nearly $10,000 "talker" computer device to communicate.

Pena Watts spent one weekend helping the school paint the walls of the new location.

"It's amazing," she said about how the school has grown. "I feel like someone who has bought their first home. They've come so far."



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