New school opens in Chesapeake

Published 11:50 pm Friday, September 18, 2015

Staff member Brenna Crossen works with Plan Bee student Corbin Garrett. Plan Bee is a school that opened in July for children with autism.

Staff member Brenna Crossen works with Plan Bee student Corbin Garrett. Plan Bee is a school that opened in July for children with autism.

The Plan Bee Academy, a new school for children with autism, has opened in the Western Branch area of Chesapeake and already is making great strides toward helping its students achieve their full potential.

While the school has only been in operation since July, one student has already improved significantly, said Wendy Fitch, director and co-founder of the school.

For the past year, Fitch said, the parents were unable to get the teenager to school. But last week, he went to Plan Bee for four of the five days. The parent told Fitch the student said, “This is the school that’s going to help me.”

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It’s hearing that kind of news that makes Fitch enjoy her job.

“I love working with the families,” Fitch said. She also likes to see her students progress.

The school teaches students with a variety of autism-related disabilities and various levels of functionality. The school is located in its own wing of Believer’s Church, located at 4500 Peek Trail in Chesapeake. However, the school is not affiliated with the church, Fitch said.

While the autism spectrum disorders have a number of common characteristics, including language and social deficits, autism “doesn’t define them as who they are,” Fitch said.

The program is built to not only teach the students academically, but also help students cope with everyday life. For example, instead of hitting, students are taught to replace the way they show their annoyance with a different expression of their feelings, Fitch said.

Within the school, students have the opportunity to learn about music, art, math, language arts, science, current events, life skills and more, Fitch said. Students learn to shop for groceries and cook. Students will also be creating menus, cooking and selling food from the café located in their part of the building, Fitch said.

“Everywhere is a classroom,” Fitch said. Recently, students took a trip to a Mexican restaurant for lunch. There, students were to order in their own turn and not play with their phones during a portion of their time there. Parents are welcome to join the students on field trips, to just observe or eat lunch with their child.

Students will also have the chance to work: one opportunity will be at an animal shelter.

Preparing students for life’s transitions is a priority at Plan Bee, whether it be to school, to work or to adulthood, Fitch said. The school also offers the opportunity for students to receive high school credits while attending their program so that some can go on to earn their diplomas, Fitch said.

Fitch has a master’s degree in special education and has worked with children in special education programs for more than two decades. When Fitch thinks back on the students she taught in school in the 1990s, she believes many would have been considered autistic had they had more knowledge of autism, she said.

The plans for the year round school have been in the works since last fall, and it opened in July with three students, Fitch said. The school now has 21 students and five teachers.