Volume 20, Number 38 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | September 8 - 14, 2010
New Lower Manhattan school, born from necessity
BY John Bayles
Most people’s New Year’s resolutions revolve around losing weight or quitting bad habits. But for Micaela Bracamontem in 2008, her New Year’s resolution was somewhat more tangible and born out of necessity.
“My New Year’s resolution…was to start your dang own school,” said Bracamontem.
It was a resolution born of frustration with the education system and of a glaring need to find an appropriate setting for her own child, Jordan. She and her husband tried every avenue available for their child. He has had an Individualized Educational Plan (I.E.P.) since he was eight-months old. When Bracamontem describes Jordan she uses words like “cognitively precocious; a brilliant, ingenious and unusual kid.”
When she describes the trials and tribulations that faced her son, it sounds more or less like a typical adolescent struggling to find his or her place in a school setting.
“In special education parlance, he was "acting out and non-compliant.”
The couple tried every scenario possible: from a Montessori school to a general education setting to a private school for a special education needs population. Finally, after three years the couple decided to home school Jordan.
Bracamonte put an ad on Craigs List and interviewed some 50 teachers before finding the right fit. The couple renovated their basement into a classroom setting and before they knew it they had additional kids in their home taking classes, and in a sense, were piloting the curriculum that will be the foundation of the Lang School.
And one might say that Bracamontem has gone beyond the call of duty in establishing the Lang School. While the school grew out a desire to find the appropriate class setting for Jordan, her own 2E (twice exceptional) child, Bracamontem has established a board of directors for the Lang School that reads like a who’s who of “luminaries and revolutionaries in the field” of special education particularly for 2E children.
The school will staff four full time teachers and three part time teachers this year. It will also have an occupational therapist, a speech therapist, and a school psychiatrist.
As for the response Bracamontem has received since announcing the opening of the Lang School, she said numerous parents have brought their children in for interviews. Most of those interviews are very emotional.
“The sigh of relief on their faces!” said Bracamontem. “Most cry at some point in the interview.”
And the education consultants are relieved too, because they don’t know where to send theses kids, according to Bracamontem.
She does not parse words when she describes her own dealings with the New York School system. Whether it’s public schools or private schools, she said the private schools who bill themselves as focused on students with special needs, often do not have to abide by regulated standards. And as for the public schools and the “general educational setting” it offers for 2E children, she said, “The schools are overpopulated and the teachers are underpaid and under trained.”
She believes there is a concerted effort to simply remove students with special needs from certain schools so they can open up space in their classrooms.
Currently the Lang School will employ four full-time teachers, three part-time teachers, an occupational therapist, a speech therapist and a school psychiatrist. As of this year, it has a total of 18 students registered for classes. The space only allows for 20.
The students have a wide range of special needs, from ADHD to dyslexia, to Asperger’s and to students with auditory processing challenges.
The origins of the school can be traced to the only other school in the country that offers a similar curriculum for the 2E population. Bracamontem visited the school, Bridges, in Los Angeles, California two years ago. She said it was incredibly inspiring. “You saw a setting where kids were finally offered the opportunity to ask all of the questions they wanted to ask."
As for staffing the Lang School, Bracamontem reached out to parents of other 2E kids and asked them who their favorite teachers were.
And as for choosing the location, she said it was a natural fit. Her son attended a Summer Buddy Camp run in part by Kim Bucci, who will coincidentally serve as the Lang School’s school psychiatrist in the upcoming year. Bucci also had connections to the Bridges Academy in Los Angeles.
So as all the pieces of the puzzle began to fall together, Bracamontem found herself seeking credibility in the world of 2E educational reform. After years of pursuing her New Years’ 2008 resolution, she is now welcomed into the sliver of advocates focused on the 2E population.
Not much room to grow
With a capacity of only 20 students and with 13 to 18 students already enrolled for the upcoming year, Bracamontem knows it won’t be long before she has to look for a bigger space. One thing is for certain, she does not want to move the school from Tribeca.
“It’s the perfect community,” she said. “Education is a high priority and it’s ultimately a community of families.”