Orion Academy offers high school students an academic curriculum that is challenging and structured, rich in its academic offerings and nurturing in its approach to fostering personal growth, responsibility, and independence. The Orion community–students, faculty, staff, and families alike–works collaboratively to help students discover and develop their individual gifts and strengths, become self-advocates, and realize their full potential. A safe, thoughtfully prepared environment encourages mutual trust, respect, and acceptance among those in its school community.
In the early 1990’s it became clear to Dr. Kathryn Stewart that adolescents with NLD and Asperger’s Syndrome were in need of a more comprehensive program than the weekly outpatient treatment she was providing. In IEP meetings, in family sessions, in consultations with parents and school staff the needs of these bright, but socially limited kids were discussed and interventions suggested; interventions that often felt inadequate. The need for an educational program for bright, academically gifted kids with neurocognitive disorders became imperative.
In 1988, after hearing Dr. Stewart speak about the type of program needed for these students, Sue Thompson, well-known educator/speaker on the topic of NLD, Judy Lewis, webmistress of the NLD-line and later president of NLDAA and Kathy Allen, author of the book Star Shaped Pegs, approached Dr. Stewart with a challenge: would she be willing to take the action she herself had been suggesting for years and start a school for NLD and AS kids?
The three put Dr. Stewart in touch with Aaron and Val Simon, parents of a child with Asperger’s Syndrome who were willing to support this dream. With hard work and the overwhelming financial generosity of Val and Aaron Simon, the first Orion Academy board was formed and the work began. It took two full years of meetings and outreach to get the funding and details of our comprehensive high school off the ground.
Orion Academy opened its doors in September of 2000 with eight students, four teachers. By June of 2001 there were twelve students. Through out that first year, the Orion families who started with us were truly visionary because they believed in the mission and vision of Orion, and took a chance on a new and untried program.
Orion Academy has grown in size and spirit. Presently we offer over 35 college preparatory classes to the almost 60 students we now enroll. Keeping the tradition of small class sizes our staff now includes 20 professionals. In addition we offer many extracurricular activities ranging from Chess club to Student Council, and from a Travel Abroad program to a Track team. The many Orion specific components continue as a foundation for Orion: a Dog Program, an Occupational Therapy class in the ALERT system of self monitoring, a required Personal Project class, Social Skills groups, computers as a basis of all work production, pragmatic language as part of language arts class, chores for students, required volunteer experiences and internships opportunities.
As the school grows so does the Orion Community. As always, parent involvement in the ongoing success of the Orion community. This has included the formation of the Parent Teachers Organization, Monthly Speaker Forums and an annual seminar on post-secondary transition planning.
Orion is dedicated to continuing its legacy as a leader in the education of students with neuro-cognitive disorders. We are presently running a capital campaign to raise money to move Orion to a larger facility. Orion hopes to grow to 100 students in the next 5 years. This growth comes in conjunction with the development of a college transition program called Bridge to College. Orion will pilot this program in the Fall of 2013. In addition, Orion is dedicated to the idea of sharing our successes through teacher trainings and other outreach programs in development.