HUNTSVILLE, Ala – An effort is growing in the Tennessee Valley — to integrate children with special needs with children without. A classroom is a classroom, and a child is child — that is the message of the Rise Program in Huntsville. The inclusive school announced a formal affiliation with the University of Alabama in Huntsville. President of UAH, Robert Altenkirch, made the announcement to an audience of parents, teachers, and UAH personnel about the new alliance.
“Which we think will assist the school in developing more enrollment and serve more kids in the region, and provide a good experience for our students, particularly in education, nursing, and engineering,” said Altenkirch. The program aims to integrate children with and without special needs in one classroom — bridging an educational gap.
“No difference in her special needs and a typical kid, she’s included in the class, she’s expected to learn and participate,” said Patti Bohan, whose daughter is enrolled with Rise of Huntsville. In one year, Rise of Huntsville has grown from one classroom in a church facility to three classrooms of their very own, operating in three portable buildings on UAH’s campus. The Tuscaloosa program was brought to north Alabama after the Huntsville founders’ own son was turned away from a preschool due to his special needs.
“What we found out is that there really was no place in huntsville for special needs to call their own,” said Jerry Lee, who founded Rise in Huntsville with his wife, “what we wanted was inclusion, we wanted him to play alongside regularly developing children.” The rise school does just that — maintaining a 50/50 balance of children with and without special needs. Parents of Rise students say their kids love to play as equals.
“She gets to learn, play, compete with kids her age, whether they have special needs, or are typical students,” said Brad Bohan. The Rise school educates children from 6-weeks old to 6-years old, and now will function under UAH’s Department of Education.