How Oak Bridge Academy stole the hearts of the LeadManaging team, and how this new school is creating a brighter future for children with behavioural challenges in the Region of Waterloo

A few weeks ago, the LeadManaging Team visited Oak Bridge Academy, and it was an experience that none of us anticipated would affect us so deeply.

 

Who is Oak Bridge Academy?

Oak Bridge Academy (OBA) is a school that provides specialized education structured around the principles of Applied Behaviour Analysis, designed specifically for children with neurodevelopmental disorders, such as Autism spectrum disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety, and other related learning exceptionalities. OBA offers implementable strategies, including contingency management, goal setting, self-control, mindfulness, and Acceptance and Commitment Training for students. Oak Bridge Academy is the only private school for children with learning and behavioural disorders in the Region of Waterloo, and there has been a lot – and I mean A LOT – of need for such a school, not only in Ontario, but all over the world.

 

How is OBA making a difference in the lives of children with learning disabilities?

Kathie Shaw, Principal and Founder of Oak Bridge Academy, guided us through the school, located on the top floor of Forward Church in Cambridge, ON. There are 38 students in total, from grades 1 through 8, with classes capped at 10 students— a number that is above capacity for the location and number of staff members at OBA. Kathie let us know the importance of staff to student ratios in a school for students with learning and behavioural challenges. “You need to make sure you are giving each student enough one on one time, and the attention they need,” she noted. They have one teacher and two behaviour therapists in every classroom.

The school opened its doors to its first students this past September 2018. Our team at LeadManaging was able to glean a little bit of the major impact the school has been making for the students in only a short span of a couple of months. We visited the different classrooms and “quiet rooms,” where we learned that lying on a yoga mat was one of the activities the kids at Oak Bridge Academy practiced daily. For children with Autism and other forms of behavioural disorders, lying still is not an easy task. Kathie provided a sense of understanding by explaining that, back in September, enough focus to lie still on the mat for a single second was an accomplishment for many of the students. Since then, that time spent resting has gone up exponentially: from one second to a few minutes! This measurable improvement was something the OBA staff expressed the weight of, and it was easy to see that they were very proud of the children. It was through recognition of such celebrated successes that the LeadManaging team came to realize the amount of patience, care, and hard work that was put into running a school for children with special needs. The staff really touched our hearts.

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Why are there so few schools for children with learning and behavioural disorders in Ontario?

There is a similar – but much larger – school to Oak Bridge Academy for children with emotional and behavioural disorders located in Illinois, called Journeys School. Journeys is the institution that gave Kathie much of her inspiration, leading her to open one with a similar concept in the Region of Waterloo. Still, these specific schools are sparse across the rest of the nation, which is quite surprising considering the number of children being diagnosed with Autism or other behavioural disorders has been rapidly increasing over the last 5 years. OBA is an independent, not-for-profit (registered charity) private school; OBA does not receive any funding from the Ministry of Education, and relies primarily on community donations and fundraising events.

During the registration for OBA, Kathie was overwhelmed with the number of families that showed up wanting to enroll their child. They had over 300 families, and an overwhelming amount of parents, asking questions like, “how are you planning on supporting this many kids?”, and, “What is the process of turning children away?” These were, understandably, difficult questions for Kathie to answer, given the fact that she and her team had not anticipated that the number of families wanting to enroll their children being nearly that high within the Region. The staff hadn’t even done any advertising for the school, besides a few social outlets and the inevitable word of mouth. These elements just prove the serious need in our community for more outlets offering education similar to that of OBA.

We asked Kathie if her team planned on expanding their facility. “We definitely want to expand and help more children, but we don’t currently have the space or resources.” Kathie explained how fortunate the school had been to get some of the best staff working at OBA solely because the members have a true passion for wanting to help children with behavioural disorders, and were willing to leave the school board and its perks to do so. This speaks volumes to the level of care, support, and determination devoted to the school, regardless of its limited resources.

 

How LeadManaging is contributing to making a brighter future for children with behavioural disorders, not only at Christmas, but all year round!

  1. We help educate and spread awareness of Oak Bridge Academy’s impact in the community.

    The most significant thing we can do to support Oak Bridge Academy’s efforts is spread awareness. It is obvious, based on the number of people who showed up for the open house at OBA, that there is a major shortage of resources for children with behavioural disorders, even in our own local community.

  2. We have been making a charitable donation in lieu of client appreciation gifts at Christmas.

    OBA does not receive any funding from the Ministry of Education. Rather, they rely heavily on community donations, and are extremely grateful for every contribution to the school to ensure the students are provided the resources they need, such as Chromebooks, computers, classroom/art supplies, furniture, and much more! LeadManaging is a proud supporter of OBA, and we plan on becoming much more involved in the new year.

  3. We are planning a company fundraising event in the spring of 2019 – stay tuned!

    Any contribution makes a difference in supporting the operations of OBA, and ensuring a hopeful trajectory for each and every student. If you are wanting to make a significant impact on the success of Oak Bridge Academy, and have the resources to do so, planning a fundraising event with your current organization and partners could be the difference OBA needs to bring the school from 38 students to 100.

  4. We encourage others to visit Oak Bridge Academy and get involved.

    It is one thing to make a donation to help the success of such an important initiative, but until you experience what OBA is all about, you may not have a true understanding of what your donation is really contributing to. Meeting the staff and students, and taking the time to learn the necessities for providing the proper education for the children, offers a completely different outlook and comprehension of the importance of the academy’s growth. Our team learned so much from our visit at OBA, and have a heightened level of appreciation for the amazing things Kathie and her team are doing for these hopeful families. We are looking forward to becoming more involved than ever in supporting Oak Bridge Academy in 2019!