Photos Copyright Shrub Oak International School

This week, psychologist Gil Tippy returns to introduce Shrub Oak International School which will open its doors this September. He is the co-head and clinical director at the co-educational, boarding and day school located in the town of Shrub Oak in Westchester County, NY, on 127 acres of beautiful rolling fields and woods! The school will, of course, use a developmental approach.

An Interview with Dr. Gil Tippy

by Affect Autism

Student Choice

Once full, the school will have about 390 students on campus. It’s a boarding school–not a residential treatment facility. It’s about kids coming in, moving up, and making a choice about their future–whether it be a higher education track or career track. It’s not about the school doing testing and telling the students what they are capable of.

Rather, it’s about helping the students reach what we call in the DIR world, functional emotional developmental capacities 4, 5, and 6 so they can say what it is that they want to pursue because we know that students can make tremendous progress in the Developmental, Individual differences, Relationship-based (DIR) model that other models are not able to support.

Photos Copyright Shrub Oak International School

A Real Community

Shrub Oak is creating a community of like-minded professionals and peers who understand the struggles of their students who can use the school as a launching pad to help them take off into the world. The school will serve boarding students from the ages of 14 to 22, and perhaps even some younger students in the day school. They chose the boarding model to extend the academic and clinical program into a 24-hour program.

Photos Copyright Shrub Oak International School

Student life is fused with brilliant occupational therapy, transition skills, an equestrian program, speech and language combined with the organic farm, combined with retail skills, and a clinical psychologist out on a job sampling trip–all in the context of a 24-hour program.

Dr. Tippy feels that you’ll see progress at a higher pace than you would see in a typical day school kind of program. The equestrian program, pool, gym, farm, running trails, and cross country skiing trails all on one campus gives the opportunity for people to be doing physical outdoor things that are not possible in typical schools.

In Dr. Tippy’s experience, if you are too cramped and you have to put too many people in too little space it really impacts on how much progress kids can make. Their additional space allows kids who are having real challenges based in sensory processing that makes them overwhelmed to go outside in a space that is safe, monitored, and well-regulated.

It makes all the difference when you have kids who have challenges in sensory processing, with abstraction, and in the ability to read the intent of others that makes them really have to go into protective mode when things are close together, and the sound is loud, and there’s a lot of movement, and you have no place else to go. It’s been a deep consideration in program development.

Classroom and Clinical Structure

Dr. Tippy is looking intently at the clinical structure of the program for in the dorms at lights out, etc., but the classrooms are also getting a lot of thought. There will be more curricular structure on which to hang the developmental intervention because if the kids are constantly searching for something to do, that adds to the anxiety of the classrooms and that adds to the general tension in the school.

So you can individualize instruction the same way you always would in a developmental model, with attention to the student’s functional emotional developmental capacities and sensory processing, and still have more of a core classroom curriculum that makes it easier for kids to be part of a group.

Dr. Tippy  says that this is an aspect we don’t always attend to in a developmental approach.

They really want the student learning to be intrinsically motivated, so if they can do that and still have more structure in the classroom without having to resort to that extrinsic motivation of a more behavioural approach, then this is the model that will work.

That’s what really good education looks like anyway: having support when you need it the most so that you can move forward without it. Memory and structure are important but the ability to imagine other worlds and other places and how they might be different from what is right here (abstraction) is what good education looks like.

Staffing and Funding

At capacity, Shrub Oak will have 600 staff and over 100 clinicians, but to start there will be about 88 students on opening day with a smaller number of staff from which to grown. Staff will have opportunities they might not have in other places, with a lot of opportunity for growth and staff support, along with access to all of the facilities on site including dining.

Shrub Oak is a private school with tuition but it’s not more expensive than the other boarding models such as residential treatment facilities. The way people will access their funding will be different. It will never be a publicly funded school. The beauty of working in a private model is that you get to make decisions about what’s appropriate for the students and you’re not prescribed to.

So when a kid actually needs a clinical music therapist for instance because that’s how they need to have their mental health work delivered because they have trouble with spoken language, and they’re having trouble going back and forth in an emotionally meaningful two-way conversation, Shrub Oak can choose to use a clinical music therapist for that.

Or if a student needs occupational therapy seven days a week, two hours a day and that’s what’s appropriate and we’ll deliver it. It really allows the school to flexibly use the tuition money to provide the appropriate service and the one that will help the student make the most progress. It’s philosophical and it’s not more expensive.

An Open Source School

Because Shrub Oak is a private school, they have the luxury of not having to be so proprietary about any programming they create. They’re going to give it away. If you want their support and written stuff to see how they’re integrating the DIR and other models, and how they put them together and delivery it, they’re going to make it available for everyone. They hope that others will contact them and say “Hey, how are you doing this because we want to offer this, too.

“What I can confidently offer is all the programmatic support that anyone asks for.” 

Dr. Gil Tippy

Thank you to Dr. Gil Tippy for taking the time to share this great news with us. I hope you will consider sharing today’s post about this dream boarding school on Facebook and Twitter, and please share any comments below as well. Please visit the school’s website and read the introduction to the school on Dr. Gil Tippy’s blog!

Until next week… here’s to affecting autism!

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