Student Impact: Special Needs Aren’t That “Special” At All

Written by Teresa Goodnight

Let’s cut to the chase. Kids with “special” needs are looking for love, social encounters, opportunities to grow, and education. There’s nothing “special” at all on their radar. They are looking to grow their relationship with Christ just like the rest of us. These students and their parents want exactly what the rest of us want—a place to belong and to be a part. As the Church, and certainly as Christian schools, we are going to have to do some rethinking of our position here. Could it be that we’re simply not paying attention to what we are not paying attention to in the area with these children of God? There’s a gap. One group in Owasso decided to do something about it.

Pretty little girl with pigtails, smiling

Julie Paul and a group of families and professionals launched King’s Grove School, a classical Christian private school for persons with special needs, this year in Owasso, Oklahoma. They started with 11 students, who are receiving an incredible opportunity to experience Christian classical education in an environment coupled with physical and occupational therapy. From my assessment, their program is possibly akin to Regent Preparatory School except that it’s moving at an appropriate pace and setting for their unique learners.

I had the opportunity to sit down with Julie, the Executive Director of King’s Grove. God has been challenging Community Spirit and our readers to think about the missing links in opportunities for those labeled with special needs in our existing structures. So, I wanted to get a peek inside the heart and souls breathing life into these amazing, but often overlooked souls. They challenged me right where I sat to even further rethink my own views on those with special needs.

“This is a program that hasn’t been tried before in our state.” Julie said. “ The three pillars of our school are Curriculum, Therapy and Community all built on the foundation of glorifying God in all we do while sharing the Gospel and making disciples of ALL men. We’re using a nationally recognized classical Christian curriculum specifically designed for special needs. We integrate therapy throughout every school day. We have a full time physical therapist and occupational therapist on staff. Next year we plan to add a speech therapist and an additional OT and PT aide.” Julie went on, ”We wanted a pilot group of families willing to help us begin this year, so, we self-selected for this first group. Within the design of community at KGS is the need for partnership with families to ensure a successful education for our students.. The Lord says the family is the primary teacher in the child relationship and we desire to come alongside families with special needs to help them in the areas of academics and education while they remain the primary source for life instruction for their children.”

Several similar schools have begun within existing schools on the east coast according to Julie. However, at this time, King’s Grove is a stand alone school and they decided to up it a notch with their integrated therapy specific to academics. This method allows the students to have access to having their sensory needs met within their daily school routine. King’s Grove wants to help families raise their children in Christ in their school the same as any other Christian school—even though that includes a few things not always found in a normal school.

 So far, the feedback has been fantastic. I don’t know how parents could be anything but overjoyed. In just the small amount of time I spent at the school, everything I saw was truly magnificent. I saw their faces. These kids were thriving. It was so beautiful to see them in an environment tailored specifically to grow them into who God created them to be. There’s a sense of purpose to every encounter. “That’s not by accident,” according to Julie. “The student program is designed around purpose in everything they do.”

Julie knows firsthand the challenges of parenting a child with special needs. She and her husband’s eight-year old son went to public schools for a day before they realized the environment wasn’t right for him. He’s non-verbal and on the autism spectrum like so many students. So, she started homeschooling him with this specifically designed curriculum. She quickly realized her path was going to be bigger than just focusing on her son. Now she can offer him, and others, the Christian education she and her husband want for him, while he gets to experience socialization at the same time. When I walked by him in class, it was easy to see he was in his element. That’s really what it’s all about, isn’t it? Giving these incredible kids a way to be their best selves? I could see their joy, as they had instruction with a teacher engaging them on whatever level they needed to be drawn into the experience of learning.

Students and teachers at King's Grove

The sensory rooms at King’s Grove School is one example of a simple way to meet these children’s needs. Any parent who has a child with sensory issues understands the need for some downtime to regroup. It can make the difference for the entire day if they just have room to regain their composure. Sometimes being in a classroom setting for too long can become a bit overstimulating. Sometimes the child needs a safe place to go and sort of catch their “sensory breath” if you will. It’s a simple technique that could easily be employed in every school with children who can experience sensory overload. It’s just one of the ways King’s Grove works to lead the way with instructional care fitting the needs of the students that attend there.

Julie added, “If the student can learn better self-regulating skills overtime through therapy and with a break in the sensory room or outside—it creates a win-win scenario. Then, the student can regain needed focus and composure to go back into the academic environment for instruction.” She continued, “A natural and calm setting is essential for our students to thrive. We spend a good amount of time outdoors to meet general sensory needs and then use a program called the Sonrise Method within our sensory rooms to encourage socialization and calmness to their abilities and meet sensory needs indoors when appropriate. Instead of our students having unmet sensory needs and derailing their education time, they can come into this room for a few minutes or longer depending on their needs that day. It gives them some time where they are not thinking about academics but are still in a learning atmosphere. There’s purpose to the play, instruction or interaction. Every single part of our day has a purpose to it. “

Integration

Through efforts towards community, King’s Grove School hopes to help Owasso and the greater Tulsa area see the need for special needs persons to be truly integrated into their communities. Julie said, “There is a benefit to our families to give excellent education to our special needs students. Yet, if there is no community willing to accept persons with special needs into their daily lives our purposes fall apart when our students reach adulthood. Unless their families move away, these students will become adults here. As a community, and especially in the community of believers, we want all of our citizens to be thriving in service, fellowship and work where applicable. Our communities and churches will not operate at their fullest purpose and potential unless all of our persons are involved and valued. We do not need to retrofit the community. We do not need a different part for some and another part for others. We need to retrofit people’s mindsets to value the personhood God has designed in all individuals within their community and network for the purpose of His glory and the furthering of His Kingdom. We are to do this together as one body.” King’s Grove is teaching these students how to have a meaningful purpose in society. They are being discipled to serve Christ.

Julie said, “Students at King’s Grove aren’t just receiving an education. They are also receiving that needed discipleship to teach them how to be contributing members inside the Body of Christ. We see their giftedness for His good work daily. The fruits of the Spirit are being taught inside these classrooms along with the academics to help live them out. We are striving to walk alongside them in community, education and discipleship as God grows them into who He created them to be.” I agreed with her. These students were being taught how to fulfill God’s purpose for them—to do what God created them specially to do.

As a Christian community, as the Church, we need to be thinking about how to help them help us to fulfill God’s purpose in His kingdom.

How can YOU Help?

King’s Grove School is looking for persons to partner and champion their students and vision by adding volunteers to their school days and in securing a firm future to help more families through donations. 

KGS has a great first semester group of volunteers. They hope to expand their day to day volunteers for their students.  Julie shared, “We are looking for persons who want a life changing experience. Our volunteers spend time with the students in both academics and socially. Most volunteers come once a week. Our school day is only 9:00–2:30. Some volunteers come in the morning and some in the afternoon. We vet our volunteers similarly to the Little Light House and provide training to help our volunteers feel ready to be with our students. Most of our volunteers have never had any formal training or time with special needs students. They just want to come and have a great day.” She continued, “So many of our volunteers comment on what a happy place KGS is. One volunteer texted me after their first day and said, ‘ Julie, the school broke me today. After seeing the students work hard, love on each other and then praise the Lord during music through song and dance, well, I just had to praise the Lord.’ That’s what we mean when we say we want persons who want a life changing experience. Be ready. It truly is.”

Julie also expressed the great need for donations during this first year of school. Private special needs education hasn’t been attempted at great lengths because it is very expensive. The national average to educate a neurotypical student is around $8500/ year. The national average sky-rockets to $34,000 / year for a student with special needs. King’s Grove School keeps things simple and purposeful with curriculum, campus and supplies. However, the cost of personnel that includes two teachers to a classroom and professional certified full time therapists is expensive but absolutely necessary. “Class sizes are intentionally small. That is a non negotiable for us. It is essential to the learning environment of our students. We never want money to be a reason that families cannot attend KGS. We want families who will partner with us in our approach to Christian education. Because of this our tuition makes up only ⅓ of our operations cost. We rely on fundraising and private donations to meet our annual budget needs and will rely on our community to continue to support us financially as we grow to accommodate more families.” Julie added, “ Since June of this year, we have had over 200 requests for application to our school. The need is so great. Our families share part of that financial responsibility but we pray our communities will see that this is an opportunity for all of us to improve and add beauty and value to our society and daily life. Your investment isn’t just for them it’s for everyone!”

King’s Grove Schools have several ways to donate. They encourage private giving and also are running a “GROW THE GROVE” campaign that encourages recurring monthly gifts of any amount. “Every single person in the greater Tulsa area can make a huge difference,“ said Julie. “Whether you donate $1 / month or $1000/month, you are impacting families and your own community. Two of our own students have donated their own allowance to their school. How beautiful is that? The Lord is using the smallest acts for the greatest impact to His kingdom.”

When I walked away, I found myself looking forward to more Christian schools in our area volunteering at the school as part of their own journey. KGS is looking for peer to peer volunteers to come on Fridays during their enrichment time to share in the non-academic experiences at KGS such as art, music and movement, with students their own age. I can already hear the stories from the students who went—thinking they were going to help and finding themselves walking away changed by these kids.

 I’m envisioning kids volunteering at the fund raisers and coming up with ideas to help fund King’s Grove. Every encounter shows me the gaps and the distance we have to go, but new foundations are being built. When God is through with the Church, I’m praying that He finds a community so fully integrated with these amazing students. As they journey into adulthood, I pray that He shines the light on it to help replicate this success throughout all of His work here on Earth. After all, He is the one who knew these children in their mother’s womb. He has certainly prepared works in advance for all of His children to do. 

Pray with me for God to move mountains to equip this school with the most integrated, fun-loving, people-loving students, volunteers and financial resources to make one GIGANTIC kingdom impact. Can you imagine? Hopefully very soon we won’t need to imagine it.


King’s Grove had over 200 families reach out to find out more. More will be trying to come. Right now they have nowhere else to go. There is no Christian school we can find offering an integrated program right now. Funding is always an issue, but now that we have someone making these amazing kids a priority, I think it’s at a minimum up to the rest of us to support them.

Do you want to be part of reaching ALL of God’s children: King’s Grove does not charge students the full amount needed to educate their children. It’s a ministry operating off of the donations, volunteerism, and hearts of people just like YOU! (yes YOU!). With the end of year “donation” season approaching—why don’t you add them to your list!

These kids are being left out on Christian education. They deserve to be educated with a Christian curriculum.  Jesus said in Matthew 19:14 “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like these children.” Will you help King’s Grove bring the opportunity to know Christ in their school environment? Let’s not stop them. Let’s give them everything they need to impact the world for Christ. Then, just sit back and watch.

Hop online at www.kingsgroveschool.com. Scroll to the bottom left side for both the volunteer and donate buttons. If God’s children are all a part of the body of Christ (and we know they are)—then when we aren’t bringing in and equipping those with special needs, we are essentially a body trying to operate without an essential functional piece. Can you imagine how well the Body of Christ will function when we’ve enveloped ALL of God’s children, equipped and joining in God’s missions prepared in advance for us to do together? #GoDoBe

Little boys drawing with teacher