Visit Reports
Visit Reports

Aug 11, 2009, 12:29

Frankfort, KY
Sandy Bell

Visit by Judith E. Bessette- June 23, 2009

On a serene 850 acres just outside Frankfort, KY, the Stewart Home School, a very special residential community for intellectually delayed individuals from 8 to over 80, offers the opportunity for continuing education, work, companionship, recreation and maximum development for residents. It's a place that presents opportunities that might just allow dreams to come true for both students and their families.

The school -- the dream-come-true of John Q. A. Stewart, MD -- was established in 1893 and is currently run under the able direction of Dr. John P. Stewart, current chairman of the board and resident physician at the school. Five generations of Stewart physicians have continued the tradition of the school's proud past and extend its dynamic opportunities for the future.

Longevity is a hallmark of the leadership team at the school with Sandy Bell, School Director, about to enter her 40th year of service and David Sellwood, Program Director, completing nearly 38 years. CEO, Barry Banker, who married a Stewart girl some 33 years ago, is the new kid on the block...with about 20 years of service under his belt. The current Dr. Stewart has been at the helm for 8 decades and shows no signs of stopping any time soon.

There are currently 374 students living on campus -- close to twenty between the ages of 14 - 17 and another fifty or so between 17 - 23. The current student body comes from 38 states and 3 foreign countries. The oldest student, a spry 87, has called the school home for 80 years and introduced himself to me as "the leader of the band." He offered to answer any questions I might have that stymied staff since he had been there longer than any of them!

I spent time in the majestic "Main Building" (built in the 1800's as a resort and then converted into the first Kentucky Military Institute) interviewing Sandy about the program and their admissions policies. While they can take students as young as 8, the youngest student there today is 14. Every admission is carefully reviewed -- to insure a good fit for both the candidate and the existing student body. There is no upper age limit but all residents must be ambulatory to be admitted and to continue to reside there.

Sandy explained that while the range of IQ's "on paper" was in the 30s on the low side and the 90s at the high end, she finds many of their students to be quite capable receptively but often quite limited expressively. Among the students, you'll find various syndromes that limit cognitive functioning -- from Down to Williams to Prader Willi and even Fragile X -- however, there are many, many students with no obvious cause for their intellectual limitations.

Sandy was quick to explain that the school's philosophy was to draw on each student's strengths rather than attempt to remediate so-called weaknesses. I met a student who is a gifted singer -- and who can (and does) perform opera in 30 languages. I learned that in the last 3 years, three students have earned GEDs. And, I learned that 12% of the students work in various businesses in the community and another 9% are involved in unpaid positions off campus. Several students also volunteer at the local soup kitchen.

Knowing that five generations of physicians have been hard at work at the Stewart Home School, it's not surprising that there are both outstanding primary care -- including onsite lab work and x-rays -- and mental health services right on campus.

I toured the campus with David and literally every student we passed had a cheery hello or high five for "Coach," as everyone calls him. Students live in charming houses of about twenty. Each student has his or her own room...and can, not only decorate, but also have the room painted the color of their choice. Each house has a dining room and residents share bathroom accommodations.

We visited the academic building, which includes a computer lab with both PCs and MACs, and several students told me about their classes. The school also has a well-equipped gym -- physical fitness being an important aspect of life at Stewart Home School. The newest facility on campus is a gorgeous stable, complete with an indoor riding arena with huge doors that run the length of the building on both sides that are kept open during good weather.

Learning is a lifelong endeavor for everyone who attends Stewart Home School. The school works hard to provide motivational programming for the expression of each student's skills. Families, faculty and students choose classes and work programs based on achievement, interests, and goals. Students are gently encouraged to explore new areas of interest.

Families are important at school and are welcome to visit any time. Students are also free to go home regularly. Most students return home over the holidays, a few weeks in the summer, and in the spring and fall for special occasions. Stewart Home School hosts a Family Weekend each year in May, and families arrange to be present for the fun and festivities.

I asked each member of the leadership team to tell me a couple of things they felt were especially important for consultants and other professionals to know about the school. I was struck by the similarities in their responses.

First and foremost, students are loved and families appreciated at Stewart Home School. Making sure students are happy is a high priority for everyone. The school strives to offer a full range of opportunities to every student. And, without exception, the leadership team expressed gratitude for having the opportunity to do the work they do.

I was very impressed with what I saw - from the students, to their interaction with staff, to the beautiful grounds and well-kept buildings. I think one of the staff members summed it up best in telling me that "the Stewart Home School is a college for life."

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