Prepping for a Bright Future at Winston Prep

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Special Needs School At Winston Prep on West 17th Street in Chelsea, one parent will never forget the look on her daughter's face as she won a "Coach's Award" one year and "Most Improved" the next for her school's track team. Suzanne Engel's daughter, Shira, was not a very fast or skilled runner, she was determined. And, Engel said, this acknowledgment really stuck with her daughter. Shira is one of approximately 200 students at Winston Prep, a middle and high school for special-needs students, including dyslexic and non-verbal children. They also admit students who have difficulty with executive function, or day-to-day student skills. "Parents don't think they want to send their child to a learning disability school, but this is an awesome community," said Headmaster Bill DeHaven. "It's the teachers, it's the way our kids all struggle together. It's like 'hey, you may not be able to socialize as well, and I may not be able to read as well, but we can help each other.'" During the admissions process, students take an exam and have conversations with administrators to determine their skill level and individual needs, said Kristine Wisemiller, the director of admissions. Then, based on that assessment, the child is grouped with other similar students, based on ability, not grade level. The dyslexic children then can focus on language mechanics, and executive function-struggling students can learn how to be good students. Teachers also meet with students for one-on-one sessions every week. The school does not use a typical Regents curriculum, instead focusing on reading, writing and studying skills. This is one of the reasons the school is so successful, DeHaven said. The teachers do not even have a set teaching methodology, he said. "The analogy we use most often is that we try and put as many tools in our teachers' toolboxes as we can," DeHaven said. "We want our teachers to be familiar with many methods of teaching." The different methods of learning don't stop at the classroom door, either. Even with only 200 students at the school, students can participate in sports like track, soccer and basketball, or try out for a play in the school's drama program. Service is also a large part of education requirements at the school. Within the last few years, student volunteers have been volunteering their time to help victims of Hurricane Sandy. DeHaven boasts that 90 percent of Winston students go on to two- or four-year college. But even with that impressive rate, he worries about the other 10 percent, so they have implemented a new college transition program. The participants go to school half of the day, and intern at various places like travel agencies and the DJ Academy. Above all, the best part of Winston Prep is watching students graduate and move on to bigger and better things, DeHaven says. This year a former Winston student came back to replace a teacher on maternity leave. "The school really works towards complete independence for all kids," Suzanne Engel says. "They become independent learners and really push the children toward developing a self awareness."

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