New school opens with nontraditional learning environment

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MILLCREEK -- A Montessori school with an nontraditional approach to learning just opened a new facility in Millcreek.

The Elizabeth Academy teaches special needs students in classrooms with average and gifted students.

It's an approach few school use throughout the country.

 “Our classroom is designed to meet needs of every ability, on either end of the spectrum,” said upper level elementary teacher Aron Weiss.

The goal of the Elizabeth Academy is to include everyone and learn together, which means advanced students learn alongside children with special needs.

“Even the typical kids have their own kind of special needs, and once they realize that and they help each other,” said the head of the school Gail Williamsen.

Williamsen started the academy because she couldn't find a school right for her daughter who has Down Syndrome. She says 15 percent of people in the state have special needs or a learning disability -- a ratio she says should be seen in classrooms.

“What I realized was this isn't a method that would work just for her, but really it is the method that should work for all children,” she said.

Educators admit there are challenges to the setup, saying kids with special needs can sometimes be disruptive and other kids can be unsympathetic. However, teachers say isolating children is even more detrimental to learning.

“We work to cater our curriculum to every student’s needs,” said Weiss “We are in many ways teaching a different class for each student.”

“It's really nice that they can include kids with special needs,” said fourth-grader Jackson Kirkwood. “Because most of the time they get made fun of, or they don't get to learn, or they don't learn as fast.”

Many of the students say they've never sat in a traditional classroom, so the concept of inclusive learning doesn't feel strange to them.