In March 2019, Pine Tree Center, located within Lake Orion Community Schools, held a spring concert.
This may seem unremarkable, yet it is anything but.
For some of these students, participating in a spring concert was something they had never had an opportunity to do.
But that’s just what they did. What was different about this concert though was the students were free to perform in whatever way they were able.
For some, that meant clapping to the beat of the songs. Others danced. One girl, who had a duet with a classmate, hid behind the stage curtain as she sang. And, at the end, dozens of parents stood and clapped, many with tears in their eyes.
Pine Tree Center has been creating a very positive vibe. In April, a student’s story went national when the news learned the young man, who has Down Syndrome, had also recently underwent a heart transplant and was returning back to school after several months of recovery. The video showed how happy the student was to be returning to Pine Tree Center.
“Here, we foster being who you are and learning how we can do that in an appropriate way,” said Robert McClellan, behaviorist at Pine Tree Center.
Generally, academic subjects are focused on in the morning and electives in the afternoon. Soft skills such as how to do laundry, cooking and keeping an apartment clean are taught to the older students.
“Every program is individualized,” said McClellan. “We want a classroom schedule, but within that classroom schedule, every individual student has their own schedule.”
The school days are started with a check in and end with a check out so students have the ability to discuss what may be bothering them. Each classroom has a separate area so if a child is struggling, they can decompress.”
One other thing unique to Pine Tree Center: all staff are required to know something about each student. If not his or her name, then a fun fact.
Dakotah Cooper, an elementary teacher in Lake Orion Community Schools who lends his talents to Pine Tree Center and helped coordinate the spring concert, said it is this type of attitude which has created such a positive culture for the schools’ students.
“Building those connections has been really, really easy because of the culture of the building,” he said.
Pine Tree Center is a school that houses center-based programs for students with Emotional Impairments and students with Autism. The school offers classrooms for elementary and middle school-age students with Autism, an elementary classroom for students with Emotional Impairments and Adult Transition Programs for students aged 18-26. Center-based programs are designed to educate students who require substantial levels of support with the ultimate goal being for the student to return to their resident district to learn alongside their typical peers.
For more information on Pine Tree Center, visit https://www.lakeorionschools.org/pine-tree-center.
Sarah Davis is the communications specialist at Oakland Schools.