22 July 2014
Tucked away in Fluvanna County is one of the nation’s top 10 private special needs schools.
Oakland School, located on Rt. 616 in Keswick, was just ranked #9 in the country by Master’s in Special Education Program Guide, a website dedicated to providing “high-quality, well-researched education and career resources for individuals considering a master’s in special education or a related field.”
Of all the private special needs schools in the United States, Oakland School made the cut because of its rich curriculum, low student-teacher ratio, and “unique programs which transcend the basic academic curricula,” as the Master’s website put it.
One of those programs is found in the school’s horse stables. Each student at Oakland can choose to spend an hour every other day horseback riding, and then do barn work like mucking stalls, sweeping, and grooming horses. “A lot of the kids choose to do it,” said Jamie Cato, admissions director at Oakland. “It teaches them responsibility.”
During the last weekend of summer camp, the school hosts a horse show. “All the families come and get to see their kids ride,” Cato said. “They have a picnic lunch and a summer showcase in which all their work is displayed from their classes.”
The equestrian program has been a big success in connecting with Oakland’s students. “A lot of students come to Oakland and have struggled in their previous schools,” Cato said. “They have low self-esteem. When they get to take care of a horse, this large animal, it really helps build their confidence.”
Students who struggle in a traditional classroom often find themselves at home at Oakland, Cato said. As its website states, Oakland School “is a small co-ed boarding and day school that enables bright children who benefit from a small class size and individualized programs to reach their academic and personal potential.” Oakland focuses on helping students learn, instilling them with confidence, and then – perhaps surprisingly – sending them back to a traditional classroom at their appropriate grade level.
“We see ourselves as working hand-in-hand with the public schools,” said Head of School Carol Williams. “They do a great job but they can’t do everything. A lot of the kids that come in the summer are coming for a boost to help them have more of a productive year in their own classroom in the fall.”
Part of what sets Oakland apart, said Williams, is how individualized it is. “We look at the strengths and weaknesses of each student,” she explained. “We’re not bound by grade levels and what those particular grades need to do, so we teach individually to every student.”