Summit Academy Makes a Difference for Families

WEBSTER — Three years ago, John and Cheryl Divito were desperately trying to figure out how to help their son, Matt. He had been diagnosed with Tourette’s Syndrome, and was struggling in public school.

“Prior to coming to Summit Academy [the public school system] just didn’t know how to deal with Matt’s Tourette’s and tics,” Cheryl said.

Parent Roselle Flanagan was in a similar situation with her autistic son.

“He wasn’t that fun loving child,” she said.

But things changed for these parents when they discovered Summit Academy. Summit is a therapeutic school alternative for students with high functioning autism and related diagnoses. For more than 10 years, Summit Academy has provided high-quality academic programming that adheres to Massachusetts state standards while teaching students how to cope with academic and social challenges through daily social skills instruction, positive behavior support (ABA), counseling, and hands-on learning experiences.

The Divitos said since their son began attending Summit Academy, his tics have diminished in intensity and frequency.

“He’s made progress really in every area – socially and academically,” John said. “This has been a miracle for our family honestly.”

Flanagan agreed.

“Summit has made it better for our whole family because he actually wants to go to school,” Flanagan said. “My child is calmer; my child is happier.”

Summit students have unique gifts, but many of them have difficulty succeeding in traditional school environments. Larger classes, complex social expectations, sensory disregulation, and learning differences can make it difficult to get through the day, and often lead to behavior issues.

“A lot of the neuropsychological reports that come as part of our kids’ referrals specifically state that these students belong in a very specialized environment with kids who have similar cognitive and social profiles,” said Summit Inc. Program Director Amanda Panikian “So that’s what we’ve really tried to focus on doing here at Summit; is try to create this cohort that really is hard to find in this state let alone in a public school environment.”

Flanagan said she knew pretty quickly the staff at Summit understood what her son needed.

“Summit has given us the foundation.” Flanagan said. “Made him feel grounded, made him feel like, ‘I can do this. I can learn. I can be successful.’”

Summit Academy takes a multi-pronged approach to learning.

“It’s just right, just enough support for their emotional, behavioral and social needs but also enough academic challenge to move them towards reaching their goals,” Panikian said.

So it’s more than just academics.

“I immediately knew this is where Matt needed to be,” Cheryl said. “He would have a peer group here and that was something he never had before.”

Social relationships are something Summit Academy strives to facilitate.

“What happens here is the students come and they find other students that are very similar to them,” Panikian said.

The parents also recognize that not every day is perfect.

“When he does have those days where maybe he’s a little bit off, they have the right strategies to help him get back on track,” John said.

Flanagan agreed.

“If they need a break, they understand your child needs a break and they are providing the break for that child,” she said. “Would you get that anywhere else? I don’t think so.”

For the first time, the Divitos are thinking about next steps.

“The staff has just given Matt so much more self-confidence,” Cheryl said. “What a wonderful path he’s on.”

“He’s really starting to think about his future,” John said. “‘Am I going to go to college?’ ‘What’s my career going to be?’ And those are things, honestly, two or three years ago, that were not even on the radar screen for us.”

Flanagan said she also sees a bright future for her son.

“It’s about preparing children for life, not just preparing a child for a test,” she said. “They really care about the kids as if the kids were their own.”

The community is invited to join Summit Inc. for a “Bourbon Street Bash”-themed fundraising event Friday, June 15 from 5 to 10 p.m. at the newly-renovated Indian Ranch on Webster Lake, in Webster. There will be music, roving performers, food, gambling and casino games, silent auction, raffle, and a Mardi Gras-style parade. Proceeds benefit Summit Inc. and its subsidiaries. All events are 21+. To purchase tickets, visit Indian Ranch’s website at indianranch.com.

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