North Side therapeutic school seeks more pupils

June 14, 2012 (CHICAGO)

Could it be the economic downturn or resources available in local schools due to federal inclusion laws? For whatever reason, people at Ferst School want more students.

"I think Stuart G. Ferst School is one of the best-kept secrets in Chicago. It is like a hidden gem on the North Side," said Laura Thompson, director of educational therapeutic services. "Our mission is to not only help the students access their education but to access their lives, and so the staff here goes way above and beyond in terms of what a student needs to kind of get to a successful point in their lives."

Thompson says students come from both city and suburban schools.

"We receive those referrals when students have not been successful in another school setting, so they may be in the public schools or they may even be in another therapeutic school. But one that might not provide the same kinds of services we do," Thompson said.

Twenty years ago, they had 146 students. Now, there's only 37 from ages 7-22.

"We have 22 staff, and we have a variety of consultants that come in too," said Thompson.

Cathy Murphy's 14-year-old son Connor started Ferst School when he was 7.

"He came to the school because he was having some behavioral issues because of his placement in the CPS school," Murphy said. "When he started here, we had a lot of outbursts, behavioral explosions, he was very unpredictable with certain things. He was having a hard time socializing Sine he has been here at this stage now. He has advanced tremendously."

Connor's father Bart agrees.

"He's come a long way from when we first got him to this school to where he's at now. And the advancements are really good to see," he said.

This fall, Connor will be going to a CPS high school that will provide accommodations for his autism.

Luba Rodriquez wants her 19-year-old son Christopher to graduate from Ferst.

"Came from CPS school, and basically it was my insistence to be pulled out of CPS schools and be transferred to Ferst," she said. "He was very aggressive at CPS.

"Once he started Ferst, I'm going to be really honest, he has improved 300 percent. His speech, even at age 15, has been developed to the point where he can speak sentences now before it was just one or two words he has toned down," Rodriquez said.

There are benefits to having a small student body.

"We have a teacher and a teacher's assistant for 6 or 7 kids, can be very beneficial to those students where in a public school system, they might be in a classroom with 18, 20 25 kids. They might have appropriate numbers of staff but just not the intimate nature that you're able to do your very therapeutic strategies with students when you have so many children," said Rodriquez.

Ferst School would like a student population between 75 and 90.

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