Jake Wildman, 9, attends Chrysta ABA Academy in Maple Ridge. (Contributed)

Maple Ridge school for autistic children loses government funding

Walk With Chrysta takes place Oct. 20

In January Tara Wildman received some exciting news.

A private Maple Ridge school geared towards children with autism and other special needs would be opening up for the school year starting in September of this year.

Chrysta ABA Academy would consist of a school and learning centre to, “teach students with a range of different needs, who require supports above and beyond what is available even in a supported regular classroom,”read the description on the school’s GoFundMe page.

The learning centre has been operational since September 2017.

There was an open house for Chrysta ABA Academy with founders Nathan Searle, Vanessa Nazareth and her daughter Gillian.

All three have an education and background in behaviour analysis.

At the time families were told the school was working with the provincial government to obtain independent school status.

Wildman and her family packed up their lives in Coquitlam, moved to Maple Ridge in order to register their autistic son, Jake, at the school.

However, three weeks before school was due to start, families were told the school’s application to obtain independent school status wasn’t accepted because the Ministry of Education is not designating any new special education schools.

Without independent school status, school officials said, Chrysta will not receive any funding towards its operating costs and the funding per student will drop by $5,000.

The result, they said, is a deficit of $50,000 for the school year.

Wildman was told Aug. 20 about the funding. This was after they she paid $2,000 to have an assessment done on her 9-year-old son to determine what learning level he is at and to match him to the appropriate instructor at the school.

“We have teachers, speech therapists, assistants, behaviour interventionists,” said Wildman.

But instead of closing the school, school officials, teachers and parents decided to keep it open, raising money independently.

“We’re staying because we believe in this school,” said Wildman.

“The teachers agreed that they would all take pay cuts. TLA, Traditional Learning Academy which is a home schooling, they are sort of backing us,” said Wildman, explaining that Jake is doing his Grade 4 curriculum through TLA but Chrysta Academy is implementing it in a way that suits his learning ability.

The school uses the principles of Applied Behaviour Analysis to teach students and was set to accommodate 20 students, although only half of that are enrolled.

It does not operate on a kindergarten to Grade 12 classroom model either where learning proceeds according to a prescribed curriculum or timetable.

Instead, children move on to more advanced ideas as they demonstrate they have learned those they are being taught.

For example, although Jake is in Grade 4, he is doing Grade 6 math, and every Thursday teachers at the school take the students swimming where they learn to get themselves into their bathing suits, brush their own hair when they are finished and also put the quarters into the lockers.

“This is life skill, social skill and academic-based school, because our kids have to succeed in life,” said Wildman, adding that there are no other schools like this one in the area.

“There are a couple in Vancouver. There is one in Kelowna. There needs to be more of them,” she said.

A 1.8 kilometre walk for the school called Walk With Chrysta will take place at 1:30 p.m. on Oct. 20.

Money raised will be going towards the school, with 10 per cent going to Autism Speaks Canada, an agency dedicated to helping individuals with autism and their families by supporting and working with community partners, enhancing resources and services, increasing understanding, acceptance and inclusion of people with autism spectrum disorder and advancing research into causes and better interventions for autism spectrum disorder and related conditions.

The walk will start at 11756 232 St. in Maple Ridge and will take place rain or shine.

Hot dogs, water and other snacks will be available by donation.

If weather permits there will also be musical entertainment and fun stations for everyone to enjoy.

They require 30 to 50 volunteers to assist with set up and tear down of the event, registration, route marshals and parking attendants, route check point, the refreshment area, stage area and the children’s activities.

A volunteer form can be found at chrystaacademy.com along with information about the school.

A GoFundMe page has also been set up for the school with a goal of $15,000. So far just over $4,000 has been raised.

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