Fayette County News

Fayette County


ClearWater Academy rings in new school year with new faces

(L to R) New staff members Amy Sebastian and Sally McWilliams and new Director Heidi Johnson are thrilled to kick off a fresh year at ClearWater Academy.

Nestled just over the line from Peachtree City into Tyrone is a little gem of a private school with a big heart. The ClearWater Academy, with its dedication to students with learning differences, just kicked off a new year with some exciting new faces.
New Director Heidi Johnson, along with new staff members Amy Sebastian and Sally McWilliams, is ecstatic to be part of the ClearWater family.
“I’ve only been with the kids for two days now, and everybody has said that what I’m going to get from the kids is way more than what I think I can give to them,” says Johnson.
Johnson, who brings years of experience with Fayette’s public schools, is excited to be involved with a whole other kind of learning experience.
“I was happy being an Enrichment teacher. I loved what I did,” says Johnson. “This is just different and unique. I feel very, very blessed to be here.”
ClearWater’s individualized, hands-on approach is what sets it apart. It is something that is especially important for students with learning differences like Asperger’s Syndrome, Autism, ADHD, and other diagnoses. By keeping student-to-teacher ratios extremely small, it allows for a unique learning environment.
“It’s an individualized learning approach where every child has his or her own individualized plan,” says Johnson. “We look at the whole child focusing on their academics, social-emotional, and behavioral strategies and we provide the therapies they might need, and all that is provided within the school day.”
The learning starts early with the morning regulations. Currently, that means walking the track to start the day as a way just to clear the mind and get ready for learning. NeuroNet, a program that makes networks between motor skills and learning, has also been popular.
“It’s just a way to get all the synapses started in the morning. It helps the academics flow a little easier.”
Everything the students could need is available and part of the school day. There is an OT gym on campus so therapy doesn’t require leaving the building. Teaching social thinking skills is an integral part of the curriculum, with a focus on developing independence. Rather than relying on a teacher to tell them what to do and how to do it, each student learns how to find what they need by using personal strategy notebooks.
“We intentionally teach strategies enabling students to solve problems independently. When they feel their anxiety level rise, they recognize what they’re doing and what they need to regulate themselves.”
The curriculum also includes learning outside of the classroom. In fact, in the afternoon, the building only has a handful of students in it. A popular activity is the once-a-week Therapeutic Riding program at the Calvin Center. When the weather changes, there is aquatic therapy. Other therapies include music, speech, and occupational. Team building and leadership skills are put into practice with Outdoor Rec Adventures at Cochran Mill. The kids climb, hike, and do group work, getting to put their social skills to the test out in nature.
An exciting, off campus activity for the high school students is the Career, Independence, and Academics for Life Program. The goal is to help each student develop the vocational, academic, and functional life skills for adult life, while experiencing social interactions and relationships both in education and community environments. The program puts the students in a work environment with the support of a faculty member. Partnerships with Chick-fil-a, Serenbe Farms, Bloom, and other local businesses are helping teach valuable life skills.
“It’s all about independent learning,” says Johnson. “We want them to be problem solvers, to be able to regulate themselves. We want them to be what every parent wants their kid to be. We want them to be independent.”
ClearWater started as a solution for parents facing the very same predicament that the parents of many children with learning disabilities face. The Kassem family was not satisfied with the education their special needs child was receiving in a typical school setting. On top of that, there was simply no school on the south side of Atlanta that fit their needs. They decided to start ClearWater Academy to fill that need for both their child, who is still a student there, and for parents facing similar struggles. The school wasn’t started just to fill space, it was built with love by a family dedicated to making a difference.
“Everything about this school was intentionally designed for individuals with Sensory Integration Disorder,” says Johnson. “ClearWater was designed to make every student feel at home.”
For more information on the school, visit www.clearwateracademyga.org.

By Christopher Dunn

Managing Editor Christopher Dunn has been with the Fayette County News since 2011, in addition to running Fayette Victory magazine. He is a graduate of Fayette County schools, as well as a graduate of Georgia State University with a degree in journalism. Follow him on twitter @fayettesports.