New Doors, More Hope

In Buzz, September 2016 by Alexandra Drosu

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Dylan’s name was put on the waiting list shortly after he was born. Learning how to communicate and interact with his peers later in life was important to his parents, and they knew where he could achieve those skills.

“This school should be the number one choice that parents should fight for if their kids qualify through testing,” says David Askew, whose son Dylan was diagnosed with Down syndrome. “They give concentrated and focused attention to your kids.”

The Frankie Lemmon School and Developmental Center, is a preschool that began as the Hudson Memorial Kindergarten for Mentally Retarded Children in 1965 with only three children enrolled when no other school would take special needs students. Through support from the community, it has continued to grow and thrive in Raleigh today.

“It’s a school that’s loved by the community, and we have a long history with serving children. We work well with the county, a lot of organizations support us, and we have a very active board. It’s a great place for families who have children attend here,” says Rebecca Smith, Executive Director of the Frankie Lemmon School.

Askew began visiting the school while Dylan, now 5 years old with one year remaining before he transfers into a mainstream elementary school, was still on the waiting list. By coming back year after year, he saw the progress that the staff and teachers made with the children, noticing milestones accomplished.

“The best thing about this school is the teacher to student ratio,” says Askew. “On top of that you have your speech therapist, occupational therapist and volunteers that help out. Every kid is different, but when you visit you really see how far the children come.”

A school that for 50 years has only been able to serve 25 students at a time, Frankie Lemmon will soon educate 125 in its new location, thanks to a building purchase by Michael Olander, Jr. of MDO Holdings. Beginning this fall, it will expand its services to children with and without disabilities, about 20 spots will be open to non-special needs students.

“Research shows that children benefit from inclusion,” says Smith. “By taking the expertise that we have from working with children with special needs and applying it to all children, it can be a more beneficial experience.”

The plan is to grow slowly to capacity over the next three years, she says. The small student to teacher ratio of 1 to 6 or lower will remain the same, as will the high quality, North Carolina licensed teaching staff.

“This school gives hope to a lot of us parents,” says Askew. “It lets us know that we’re not alone trying to overcome obstacles of kids with disabilities.”

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