SARASOTA, Fla. (WWSB) - The Starfish Academies are inclusion-style preschools in Sarasota and North Port. Teachers and therapists work together to teach children with developmental disabilities right alongside their typically developing classmates.
On Thursday, these kids tapped into their creativity, painting and gluing little pieces of glass all morning long. The art they created will be auctioned at a gala on December 6th to raise money for the school.
But there’s a deeper lesson here that even adults can be reminded of: our differences make us more alike than they set us apart.
“Hellooooo,” said 4-year-olds Ebuka and Jackson into the camera.
“I love the letter J," Jackson said. "Because J is for Jackson.”
If you ask Ebuka, 'J' is for jumping. “I like jumping in the pool,” he said.
Like any other 4-year-old, Ebuka and Jackson jump through life. But both have hurdles that are a little higher than your typical toddlers.
“One of the reasons why he is here is because of his anxiety and all of the issues that he was having developmentally," said Diana Laureano, Ebuka’s mother.
After three failed attempts at other preschools, Laureano said Ebuka is finally more calm, focused and less hyper at home.
“The therapist here work with him and they give us the pointers to follow," Laureano explained. "Instead of giving into his anxiety, toning him down. What’s causing it? Let’s do some exercises.”
Strategies that benefit typically developing children as well.
“One in four children suffers from a developmental delay," explained Susan Carney, principal of the Starfish Academies. "At the Starfish Academies, we have an inclusion-style preschool. What that means is that children with special needs are in the same classroom as typically developing students.”
It’s a lesson in itself. The children see that their classmates come in as many different shapes and sizes as the pieces of glass they used to create their art pieces with.
"The children’s creativity can be seen in every one of those pieces,” said Melissa Dunlap, on the Board of Directors for the Florida Center for Early Childhood.
It’s art. The beauty of each individual coming together to make a masterpiece.
“When you walk into our classrooms, you don’t see typically developing children and special needs children, you see a classroom full of preschoolers," Carney said.
All 55 students are taught the basics, like how to read and write, but throughout the day, the ones who need special care visit with occupational therapists, mental health and speech and language therapists, too.
“It is amazing," said Carney. "Watching the progress that these kids make. They come from places of trauma, they come from other schools, they come from all over and to see them come to a place where they’re accepted, acknowledged and helped to grow and blossom is amazing.”