Live and learn
A Tulsa school is pioneering innovative programs for children with unique educational and social needs.
Students Jackson Ingle, Hannah Young, Aiden Williams, Zoe Smith and Dietrich Brunjes enjoy Town and Country School’s customized approach to learning.
Twelve-year-old Wilson Sautter is having a good day. In fact, most of his days are good now that he is in a new school.
“Oh, wait — I forgot, I just turned 13,” says the shy but polite sixth grader at Town and Country School.
When asked what his favorite class was in school, he didn’t answer recess or lunch as many kids might.
“I really like math,” Sautter says. “I like to figure out problems.”
Sautter is one of the many success stories of Town and Country School. In its 52nd year, Town and Country is the only accredited school in Oklahoma designed for students in grades 1-12 diagnosed with learning disabilities, attention disorders and autism spectrum disorder.
After an unsuccessful run at several other schools, Sautter’s mom, Kat Couch, decided to try Town and Country.
“He (Sautter) was not transitioning well at all,” Couch says. “He was diagnosed with autism, obsessive compulsive disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. He is very smart but socially awkward, and had a tough time in mainstream classes.”
This past school year, Town and Country served 159 students, which is a record enrollment for the school. It also recently moved into a new facility which doubled its space and allowed the staff to expand programs. The facility, located at 8906 E. 34th St., was previously home to Tulsa Public Schools’ Fulton Teaching and Learning Academy.
“Our new space has been such a blessing to us,” says Dawn Duca, community and development director for the school. “We are so thankful to have all our programs under the same roof with room for growth.”
Each class has 12 students and two teachers. Therapists and counselors are available to all students at any time during the day.
“We customize an education plan to each student,” Duca says. “Our kids learn differently, so we teach differently. The small class size and student-teacher ratio allows us to really work with each student individually.”
Town and Country’s program differs from “pull-out” or “inclusion” programs found in other schools. Its individualized approach eliminates a student’s fear of competing with other students who can think, read, write, communicate and perform in a more expedient manner. By focusing on the child’s positive aspects and skills instead of his or her deficiencies, it builds the child’s self-esteem and motivation.
Staff and students describe the culture of Town and Country “like a big family,” Duca says. For Loretta Keller, the school has definitely been a family affair.
“I’ve been involved with the school for almost 20 years,” says Keller, who after 18 years on the Town and Country board of directors became the executive director in fall 2012. “My son was a student here. He is 38 years old, lives on his own and is gainfully employed, and it was Town and Country that gave him a great foundation for his future success.”
Keller says her experience as a board member allowed her to understand the school’s financial needs and obstacles, as well as the needs it meets in the community.
“When I took the (executive director) position, I already had the history as well as knowledge of what the needs of the school are in order to sustain its growth,” she says.
Town and Country will soon launch a new program, Transition to College Success, to help its students make the transition from high school to college.
“Transitioning from high school to college is a major change for anyone and can offer some unique challenges for students with learning disabilities or social disorders,” Duca explains.
The program is designed to work cooperatively with a student during his or her first year in college. The course will focus on self-advocacy; social, problem-solving and organizational skills; and learning disability issues.
Other components will include mentoring and teaching study skills. A staff member also will be available to visit with a participating student’s professors to help facilitate the learning process for the student if needed.
“You don’t necessarily have to be a student or graduate of Town and Country School to participate in this program,” Duca says. “We are opening this up to anyone who feels like they could use some help in learning to navigate their way through the college experience.”
Thanks to the innovative programs Town and Country provides, the future is bright for Wilson Sautter and the many others who attend.
“He has completely transformed since attending Town and Country,” Couch says of her son. “He is accepted for who he is and has become so much more confident in himself. He is brilliant, and I know with Town and Country’s help, he will go far.”