For children with neurobiological disorders — such as ADD, bipolar, Tourettes Syndrome, and the autism spectrum — achieving in school can seem fruitless. But there is hope. That hope comes in the form of a school that breaks convention and swaps the stigma of doing poorly for the enthusiasm of doing well: Gersh Academy.
Instead of forcing a child to fit the mold of the classroom, tailor the classroom to fit the child is the mantra of founder Kevin Gersh. 2006 marked the first high school graduating class from Gersh’s Huntington, Long Island campus, as well as the launch of a new school for grades 6-12, here in Glen Oaks, Queens.
It all began with Kevin Gersh’s commitment to make a difference for one child.
Stemming from his natural ability to relate to kids, coupled with the struggles he faced as a collegian with ADHD and dyslexia, Gersh pursued a career in education — initially as the owner of a Montessori School. When he bonded about eight years ago with a child who had a chemical, neurotransmitter disorder, Gersh established a Special Ed classroom within his Long Island school. Soon, students who had no alternative other than home schooling were referred its way, and a new style of educating these bright, challenging children emerged.
Today, the Gersh Academy in Queens has about 35 students, and there are more than 100 spread across two locations in Long Island. These children, from 6th grade and up, are served by a mix of special education teachers, psychologists, aides, and therapists — people who may be in different disciplines but have a common outlook on young people with special needs.
“I want the community to know that there is a place that understands the child who has not been successful before, and that there is hope,” says Gersh, adding, “if you’re willing to fight.” That fight is about more than just a parent’s or child’s determination, it is a fight to eliminate the obstacles. In Gersh’s school, that takes many different forms. It might be giving a student whose age is 10th grade a 3rd grade exam on which he can score 100 percent; letting a child walk around the room in between writing down his answers; or turning down the lights or noise level in a classroom. It can be supplementing basic skills development with vocational training and the tools for independent living. It can be honoring an essay’s humor or creativity beyond its structure. And it can be the careful attention of a team who all love what they do; a team whose staff-to-student ratio approaches one-on-one.
Whatever the methods, it appears they work. The students in that small 2006 graduating class scored well on their Regents exams and most are going on to college. Gersh’s team is currently doing consulting work on special education for the state of Connecticut, as well as shopping for a new school location in Florida.
For more information on this unique school, call (631) 385-3342 or go to www.gershacademy.org.