Her family visited schools in their Arizona hometown, talked to administrators, and still came up empty. There were no schools that provided a specialized learning environment for students with Asperger’s Syndrome.
Students with Asperger’s Syndrome have unique needs. They tend to be academically gifted, but they struggle in social and interpersonal situations. To address these needs, a school needs to measure success by looking not just at student achievement but also whether students are prepared to successfully enter their adult lives.
“For these kids, because they’re bright, they’re aware,” Sweet said. “These are the kids who are bullied, teased, and tortured, not just in an academic environment, but in life…life is not easy, and people are not always going to be kind. The loveliness of this population is they believe everybody’s good.”
Without a good option for her son, in 2005 Robin opened Gateway Academy near Phoenix, Arizona to serve students with exceptional needs. Gateway is a private school with an eight-acre campus. The school uses equine therapy, occupational therapy, and support services for children with Asperger’s.
They also offer a music therapy program that encourages students to work together, learn, and have fun.
“Each class has their own rock band, which is priceless,” Sweet said. “They all learn how to play acoustic guitars, electric guitars, drums, keyboards, percussion instruments, vocals. They learn how to read music and then, at the end of the year, we have a rock concert for the community.”
Robin’s work is extraordinary. Her compassion is endless. And the results speak for themselves: 100 percent of Gateway’s graduates go to college.
But without Arizona’s state-supported scholarship program, it is unlikely that many Gateway families would be able to choose this school.
“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,” Sweet said. “I can’t even talk enough about how powerful and meaningful it is to these families.”
Today, Robin’s son is 26 years old. He has two college degrees. As she describes it, “he’s found himself.”
Thanks to Robin’s love and determination, Gateway Academy will continue helping other students find their own paths in life, and their own happiness – as long as programs continue to exist that empower families to choose this incredible school.