The Churchill School: A Portal to Success
The first thing you see when entering Head of School Kristine Baxter's office is a large photograph of Winston Churchill, Great Britain's prominent, albeit dyslexic, prime minister and the school's namesake. The Churchill School and Center is one of the few schools for students with learning disabilities (LD) that is both state approved for funding and a member of the New York State Association of Independent Schools (NYSAIS).
Baxter's goal of accessibility to faculty and students is achieved by a large picture window in her office that overlooks the lobby: students wave or smile on their way to class. They move with a sense of pride and confidence, yet another of Churchill's/ Baxter's goals. Churchill's mission is synonymous with Baxter's, whose 16-year commitment to the school is brimming with passion and compassion. "To find a child's strength and utilize it to allow him/her access to a traditional general education," is Baxter's overarching goal.
Children diagnosed with LD often do not perform well in a traditional classroom setting. Although many children with learning disabilities have average or above average intelligence, they often cannot absorb text book learning. "The biggest challenge for many of these children is they don't have the strategies to figure out traditional academic schoolwork," said Baxter. "Our students often are exceptionally strong visual learners. They are sensitive to sights, colors, and music and often perform exceedingly well in the arts and music. The Churchill staff encourages these strengths by interweaving a strong elective program into a traditional curriculum of math, science, and English. We believe in our students, until they can believe in themselves."
Some of the electives such as art studios, classes in computer graphics, a jazz ensemble, a radio station, a greenhouse and competitive sports, offer an intrinsic reward while building self-esteem and confidence.
The Churchill School straddles a fine line between offering motivation for kids with LD and at the same time preparing them for a regents diploma. While working toward a regents diploma can be challenging and stimulating, Baxter ensures that learning strategies are taught so that frustration does not impede motivation.
The Churchill School was founded in 1972 as an elementary school for children with learning disabilities. The original school consisted of two brownstones measuring 14,000 square feet, 150 students and 55 teachers. Education Update visited Churchill in 1995 at its old headquarters. Though the physical plant today is a magnificent structure that is state of the art, what has remained unchanged are the passionate, dedicated, patient, experienced teachers who "give their all" to their students.
In response to the demand for an expanded program, a middle school was added in 1986, and a high school in 2000. Now the school boasts a 6 floor, 71,000 square foot building on East 26th Street in Manhattan, 400 students, and 150 teachers. This year, Churchill School will also celebrate its first high school graduating class.
Kristine Baxter, head of the school for 16 years, has been working at the school since its inception 31 years ago. She received her BA from Tufts University in child psychology and an advanced degree in special education at Columbia University.
She started at Churchill as a student teacher, "and never left." She attributes her dedication to her own learning disability. "I couldn't read until I was in 5th grade. So I identify with my students' problems." Kristine's husband, Jim Ryan, is also an innovator in special education. Currently he heads a LD program at New York Institute of Technology called VIP. Together they founded Camp Northwood in the Adirondacks as well as the Marburn Academy in Columbus Ohio, for children with learning disabilities.
Truly, the Churchill School is special in every way.#