Black Bear Academy could be the best early education secret – but maybe not for long!
Black Bear Academy at 1801 W. Byron is not named after its owners and executive directors, Maureen and Kevin Black, as you might guess. It’s named after the animal, the black bear, who will ferociously protect her cubs against all dangers.
The name was chosen fifteen years ago after the owners came face to face with a black bear in the Grand Teton mountain range. They thought it was the perfect representation for a program serving very young “Cubs”.
There are two very unique program tracks, academic for typically developing students and the therapeutic program primarily treating children on the autism spectrum. Both programs attract students from all over the country and the therapeutic program has become internationally known explained Jennifer Lane, who joined Black Bear in 2010 as an early childhood educator. Lane was recently promoted to the Director of Academic Programs for both the pre-academic program (for toddlers through four year olds) and the academic programs. Lane says “I came to Black Bear and realized there was no other place I would rather educate students and here I am.”
The therapeutic program is directed by Kristen Vincent and conducted by a savvy group of speech pathologists and occupational therapists along with a strong support staff. Their primary goal is to change the outcome for students with unique learning needs due to autism or other therapeutic needs to be ready to transition successfully into the mainstream classroom upon entering a traditional private or public school.
Both Lane and Vincent who, in addition to overseeing classes, also conduct tours for parents, insure that individual student goals, as well as program goals, are met and effective quality implementation is achieved.
Every staff member at Black Bear has a four year degree related to the program that they serve and many have masters degrees. Class sizes vary with all having very small student to teacher ratios. Some range from two teachers and six kids to their senior kindergarten program which is staffed with one teacher and twelve students.
The length of the school day varies with each child, Lane continued, noting that the primary goal is child specific programming.
“Our little guys, eighteen months old, are in school for only an hour and fifteen minutes a day to give the “kiddos” exposure to greater independence, playing with others and begin the introduction to structured classroom learning activities”. She said.
“This isn’t a drop-off program. We are not a daycare. We are something much, much more.”
The philosophy of Black Bear Academy is that there should be no gatekeepers to learning. At a time when the brain is literally being developed in young children, Black Bear considers itself a knowledgeable and effective “general contractor” in its development.
“Yes, we’ll have different colors of play dough out, but they’re learning many things in addition to colors. They learn concepts such as size, texture, quantity along with social skills like sharing and communicating with friends. All the while they think they’re just playing with the play dough but we know its so much more.” she said.
In addition to stressing excellence in teaching Black Bear Academy also stresses the importance and development of compassion and charity in its young students. They conduct a variety of events supporting charities throughout the year. Current activities, include The Giving Tree Charities, which is an annual activity that supports a state, national and international charity. The tree represents our ability to reach out to others. This year the local “branch of the tree” is “adopting” a family through Heartland Alliance, their national branch is working with Autism Speaks to raise money as well as awareness for autism and the international branch is Educate Bwindi to help buy beds and blankets for an orphanage in Uganda.
It seems Black Bear Academy really does consider the whole child. If you want to “build” a strong child, Black Bear Academy might just be the “general contractor” you’re looking for.
“There might be other schools doing something like this, but I haven’t seen it before. Black Bear Academy is a special place.”
To learn more about Black Bear Academy, visit www.blackbearacademy.com.