DCSD’s ‘Best Kept Secret’: Plum Creek Academy
HIGHLANDS RANCH – Located in the shadow of DCSD’s Shea Stadium, Plum Creek Academy is an educational gem; a shining example of how a school district can care for students with significant needs.
“It is definitely a best kept secret,” said Lisa Coe a Plum Creek Academy parent and DCSD teacher. Her son, who has Asperger syndrome, was accepted at Plum Creek Academy this school year.
“My son was at Cimarron last year as an eighth-grader and he really struggled with other kids, being around other people,” Coe explained. “They have done tremendous things with my son. He is happy. He likes school. He has the support he needs.”
The experience has been the same for Jeff Granato and his son, Leland. Over the past seven years, his son, who has been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, cognitive disabilities, ADHD, and sensory integration disorder, had been hospitalized between six weeks and four months and his worst episodes occured when he was at school.
“I would be getting phone calls to come and get him at nine in the morning. I just dropped him off and 30 minutes later I would be getting phone calls,” Granato said.
This year, while attending Plum Creek Academy, he hasn’t had to go to the hospital once.
“When we discovered Plum Creek it was really a blessing,” Granato said. “Now he is able to get through his day. He comes home. He gives me a great big hug every day. He is happy. He shows me the crafts that he has done. He’s got work that he’s done and he’s ready to work with his behavior therapist and other people. It’s a very different experience totally.”
Granato says it is the staff of the school that has made the difference.
The experienced team knows how to work with students entitled to special education services. They can immediately provide therapy, when needed, so that the student can return to learning.
“It is kind of like the special forces of special needs schools. They know their job. They can anticipate what is coming. They are able to regroup and pull everyone back together and stay the course and accomplish the mission,” Granato said.
VIDEO: Plum Creek Academy: A Parent’s Perspective
The goal of Plum Creek Academy is to provide the care their students’ need, so they can return to their home school, as soon as possible.
“It’s not really a place where you send a child and they stay there. It is a transition school back into your home school,” explained Coe. “They have all of the counselors and the support staff you need, the sociologists and psychologists, and very small class sizes. They really work with your student to meet their needs to transition them back.”
“I think that’s phenomenal,” added parent Rae Marie Heard. “I think that should be the goal and it is the goal. It’s been discussed at times with my child, he’s not there yet, he needs the safety and comfort of which the environment like Plum Creek provides.”
When parents were informed of the little-promoted program, parents said it sounded too good to be true.
“I came to visit and was really blown away, because I had been to visit all of the private programs around town, Granato explained. “It is something that I only had been hearing about in other parts of the country and was actually contemplating moving because of the need that I knew my son had.”
“Every time I looked for a program for my kids, it was out of state,” Coe added. “Cherry Creek doesn’t have this program. Jefferson County doesn’t have this program. Denver doesn’t have this program. We’re it. So, we’re really lucky to have this program in Douglas County.”
Douglas County School District is proposing the addition of a K-8 Special Education Facility, based on the successful Plum Creek Academy model.
“I wish they would have had this program for my daughter who just graduated last year from Legend. She was in 3rd grade when we came to the district but there was nothing like this,” Coe said.
Heard agreed, saying, “I wish they had it when my child was in second grade.”