JACKSONVILLE, Ark. (KTHV) -- Pathfinder Inc. in Jacksonville has opened a middle school for children with autism. The school year begins on Aug. 15 and the organization is holding a summer program to prepare the students for the school year.
"It's exciting. Exciting for me because when he was in public school I would never go have lunch with him because he would cry when I left."
Lisa Bamburg's son, Joel, is one of eight students enrolled in the new Pathfinder Academy in Jacksonville. Joel and his classmates have autism. He's working on a basic skill, brushing his teeth, when we visit his classroom.
Director Tim Thomas says they are ready for the academy's first official year to begin.
Thomas says, "This last year, we started the pilot program with one child. We had one student that was our pilot student."
That child was Joel. Thomas says Pathfinder Academy is ready for more.
"There seems to be a large need that has been expressed from the communities around us for an educational site for these children with autism."
Bamburg says, "Although Joel is 14, he needs supervision. He is very smart but he doesn't know that if he runs out into a street, a car could run over him."
Bamburg says they tried multiple schools in Little Rock, North Little Rock, private and public and says "The schools that had the best programs, of course, were full."
Not a good fit is what Joel's mom says. But like the puzzle pieces which are the official logo for autism, Joel and Pathfinder Academy fit perfectly. Joel helped put chairs together and helped put the classroom together, his mom tells us.
"He was learning life skills doing that independence. That's what we want for our children is to be able to be independent, and I see that more and more every week with Joel," says Bamburg.
The first day of school at Pathfinder Academy is Aug. 15 and it's for 6th-, 7th- and 8th-graders who have autism.