Andrew Campanella: What motivated you to open Gateway Academy?
Robin Sweet: I started getting involved in running schools right after our son was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. That was almost 17 years ago. He just couldn’t be successful in a traditional environment and there were many, many other children just like our son. I didn’t really want other people to have to learn the hard way because these are very fragile, very complicated kids who need lots of different support services.
Andrew: Tell me more about Asperger’s and what learning environments best meet the needs of many children who have Asperger’s?
Robin: Asperger’s Syndrome is a Level One Autism Spectrum Disorder. Academically, these children are very bright, and socially, they have challenges. They don’t understand social expectations. Their senses are very heightened. So, smells and touch and textures can trigger them to look behavioral to the untrained eye, but to the trained eye, they are reacting to an antecedent. They need lots of support services.
Andrew: What types of services and programs does Gateway offer?
Robin: We’ve been very mindful about putting together our program to have an outstanding academic curriculum to encourage and enhance our students’ academics but also offer occupational therapy that is based on sensory integration and giving them the tools and strategies they need to be able to cope in a situation and use different tools. We wanted the school to be all-inclusive [of] music therapy, equine therapy, occupational therapy, and speech and language therapy. We have a speech and language therapist that focuses on pragmatic language…and we also have an experiential model where the students will go out into the community and go on field trips. We do a lot of community service and giving back to our wonderful community that helps support us.
Andrew: What does school choice mean for you and the families you serve?
Robin: Ninety-eight percent of our student population is funded by the Empowerment Scholarship. These families would never, ever be able to afford a private school that is specialized to support their child otherwise. I can’t even talk enough about how powerful and meaningful that is. That’s why we do something unique and different every year during National School Choice Week, because the kids are all aware of what school choice has done for them. Last year, they all wrote essays about what Gateway means to them and what it would mean if they didn’t have the Empowerment Scholarship. After reading those, I cried for days.
Andrew: You are such an inspiration, Robin. You are a hero. Does it bring you great joy to know that you have started this school because you wanted an option for your son and now you have provided options for hundreds of other families?
Robin: I’m absolutely honored to serve them. It gives me great joy every day to come into work and see the parents and the kids and watching them grow and develop to be the best they can, because they all have incredible abilities that aren’t really tapped into.