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Posted: Feb 20, 2006 11:59


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By: Lon Woodbury & Kathy Nussberger

With its recent acquisitions of Ombudsman and College Living Experience (CLE), Educational Services of America (ESA) now has 104 day schools in 14 states nationwide that focus on working with kids with a wide-range of learning styles. In an interview with Woodbury Reports, Inc. President/ Founder, Lon Woodbury and Co-Editor Kathy Nussberger, Mark Claypool, CEO/ President, Educational Services of America, Ashville, FL, 615-361-4000, pointed out that CLE provides academic support, social skills development and independent living skills for the students in the program.

ESA is replicating the Florida based College Living Experience program model in Denver, CO and Austin, TX. "We found through the referral histories at College Living that a lot of parents who live west of the Mississippi have contacted the program, but many were not willing to commit to placing their child in it because it was too far away. So, we decided to build two new College Living style programs in areas west of the Mississippi; both are set to open in time for the 2006 Fall Semester."

Claypool explained that CLE is continuing to operate with the same staff. "College Living Experience has not changed, and we have no intention of changing anything about the program. We have promoted several people from within and put one of our veteran internal people (Dr. Steve Roth) in the program during the transition to provide oversight. Dr. Roth has been with ESA for about five years and is a native of south Florida. The CLE staff is very happy, and the positive energy down there is exhilarating."

He added that he wanted to quell some of the rumors about ESA and the concern that the company would or has changed the structure of the College Living Experience program. "ESA intentionally acquires brand name programs that offer high quality services to students and their families. We do not change the programs we buy, but we do use them as models for new programs in different regions of the country."

He said there is an interesting potential synergy between the (Woodbury Reports, Inc.) traditional base of resources in residential programs and the resources available through the ESA schools which can be called transition programs. "ESA is a great fit for kids who may be just a few credits short of high school graduation and want to prepare to go on to college. We think our programs can help these kids ease into their next stage of life as opposed to abruptly dropping them back into a public school or private academy after they come out of a more structured residential placement. In this respect, I think we offer a variety of services that would be a nice complement not just as an alternative, but also as a booster to what is already available."

Claypool pointed out that ESA covers the full spectrum of alternative education and in working with children with different learning styles. "The most intense programs we offer are our Spectrum Centers for children with autism and developmental disabilities, but most ESA programs are for children with more common school problems. We use a very eclectic approach in education, which has a lot to do with our program purchasing strategy. We intentionally purchase expertise for our company, which allows us the ability to combine and integrate a lot of different curricular tools and techniques at any given school. We offer our staff and facilities the biggest bag of tricks available without becoming fixated on one method or idea. Instead of imposing one curricular method on all of our kids, we want our teachers to use what is best for the specific needs of each child."

Although ESA does not offer residential placements, they are rapidly becoming a new resource for parents seeking alternative solutions to residential schools or programs.

Claypool said "ESA was built to meet the needs of children who have a different learning style from those in the mainstream. For us it is more important to provide quality education than to focus on who is footing the bill, but we tend to maintain a 50/50 balance between private and public pay contracts. I think the only thing we don't do and hope we are never asked to do, is to watch children sleep. Our students at College Living Experience are young adults with whom we work to improve their academic, social, and life skills. We do not provide 24 hour supervision at CLE."

ESA was founded in 1999 because as a social worker, Claypool wanted to work directly with kids while helping to keep them out of trouble. "I love kids and feel education is about the only tool that we, as a nation, can afford that is going to work. I don't think there is enough money to solve a lot of the social issues in this country, but I do think there is enough money to get kids the education they need to lead productive lives."

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