An Open Letter to Families Considering Stewart Home & School:
Hello! My name is Sandy, and my daughter Caroline is a student here at Stewart Home & School. As parents, families, or guardians of a special needs individual, you and I have many things in common. We are advocates, caretakers, financial supporters, friends, and in many ways, the world of our special ones. Having been in your shoes, searching for answers and options, I would like to share our family’s experience in learning about and transitioning to Stewart Home & School.
Our family was first introduced to the school by another special needs parent when our daughter was 10 years old. We investigated the website as you are doing now, and basically tucked it away in our thoughts, for the day when we were ready for some next steps. Fast forward 10 years, and while meeting with our financial planner, we were reminded of Stewart Home & School, as he spoke of his niece who is a student here. This conversation inspired us to make a call to the school, and our journey began.
Through our first phone call, we learned many important aspects of the school and its staff. There is no student age limit; everyone continues to learn in the classroom daily; some have jobs on campus and off; there are many, many activities in which students can choose to participate; students live in dormitories and each have private rooms, students have many opportunities for off campus trips to town, special events and even vacations, there is onsite 24/7 medical care available; families can visit anytime and students can travel home when you wish, etc. We also discussed that there is no admission criteria and no contracts: Through your investigation of the school, interviews with the staff, and your knowledge of your special needs individual, you and the school decide if this is the right place for your family.
Our first phone call was not a scheduled call, and I have to say that I was incredibly impressed when the assistant director spent an hour on the phone with me. Her passion for her job was so evident, and her patience and insight to my questions were very comforting. Based on our call, we decided to schedule an on‐site visit to meet the staff, tour the campus and get a feel for what daily life for students is like. We also chose at this point to bring our daughter into the conversation and process. We showed her the website, which she spent hours reviewing, and we told her about our phone call and the visit we had scheduled. We believe that involving our daughter was one of the most important things we did that contributed to our success in the transition process.
Our first visit to campus gave us an excellent overview of life at Stewart Home & School. We met with numerous members of the staff, spent valuable time with the director, and were given personal tours of the school, facilities and multiple dormitories. This visit was important as it gave our daughter exposure to the staff, the students and the multiple opportunities that she could have. She wore a permanent smile that day as she encountered student after student who wanted to know her name and when she was coming to school! The welcoming and loving environment was simply contagious! Our next step was to schedule another visit to campus in which we could ask any further questions, but most importantly, allow Caroline an opportunity to participate with the students for a portion of a day.
We were fortunate to visit on a day when she was able to participate in a field trip which included a visit to the pumpkin patch, corn maze and lunch with friends. The staff snapped a photo of Caroline and sent it to us that day, and we knew from the genuine smile on her face that we had found the right place for us. We then met with the staff, discussed our desires to move forward, and began the process of admission.
The process of admission was very organized and thorough, with us supplying requested information about our daughter’s specific abilities and needs, and her medical records. The staff reviewed our documents and called with any questions, and we provided follow up detail as needed. Attention to detail and honesty during this process were important. We as parents/caretakers know what our student’s challenges will be in transitioning from their current environment to Stewart Home & School. We discussed this at length with the staff and provided a narrative about Caroline so that the staff was well prepared, had a frame of reference for her, and knew what to expect and how best to deal with it.
Transition to life on campus was very similar to taking a child to college. We were provided with the list of suggested items needed from clothing to furniture, etc. and Caroline loved participating in this process, since it involved shopping! Frequent contact with the staff during the preparation to move gave us confidence that we had what we needed and that we were as prepared as we could be. We were given staff email addresses and cell phone numbers so that we could communicate as needed. Staff met us upon arrival, spent time helping us move in, and answered our many, many questions about where we should put what, who will make sure she’s up on time, when does she shower, etc., etc., etc.!
I know that the thought of this whole process can be a bit overwhelming. Our investigation, application and transition process spanned a six month period, but the time invested in the process was well worth it. Our goal was to orient our daughter as thoroughly as possible, so that she had as many knowns as possible in moving to a new environment. We had continual dialogue with her during the whole process, she read or looked over every document, and participated in every decision. This effort paid off, in that from the day she stepped on campus, she has been smiling, excited, and eager to become a part of the Stewart Home & School family.
Last but certainly not least, I cannot say enough about the rare and exceptional people that live and work at Stewart Home School. From staff to students, I am constantly amazed and inspired by the special care, love and joy that is a part of their daily lives. As my husband and I reflected at the end of our daughter’s first full day on campus, we realized that we had spent much time and many resources over the years building a special environment for Caroline that in the end was really about who she wasn’t, rather than who she is. I can truly say that Stewart Home & School is all about who she is, and I am humbled and feel exceptionally blessed to be able to provide such an opportunity for our daughter. I encourage you and your family to experience Stewart Home & School for yourself.
I wish you much success on your journey!