Kansas City Autism Center opens in time for fall school year
The Astra Day School is still enrolling typical preschool-aged children
By Kynette Campbell
The Kansas City Autism Training Center is moving from its Prairie Village location to a larger space at 10842 McGee St., site of the former Red Bridge Christian Church. Volunteers will help pack up classrooms on Aug. 15, and the center will reopen its doors in late August.
KcATC is a nonprofit that been providing therapy and educational services to families since 2006. Executive Director Ron Johnson started the organization when he recognized his autistic son needed specialized training.
The center serves two groups of children—those on the autism spectrum between the ages of 2 ½ to 14, and preschoolers without autism. “We want to revamp enrollment of our preschool program because it’s likely parents won’t transport their kids from our previous location in Prairie Village to our new Red Bridge location,” Johnson says.
When asked why parents should consider enrolling their preschoolers at KcATC, Johnson describes the academic growth there as remarkable. “We first teach children to be brave enough to engage with unfamiliar activities, embrace novel and unfamiliar concepts, and master them with pride. Our program is great,” he says.
Children in the preschool enjoy a 5:1 ratio of students to teachers along with the benefits of an extensive curriculum, including scientifically validated teaching methods from highly trained and motivated teachers.
“We’re looking forward to joining the Red Bridge community and we’re excited about the opportunities the new facility will provide for current and future families in and around the Kansas City area,” Johnson says.
The center’s new facility has 22,000 square feet and sits on 7 ½ acres nestled in the quiet residential neighborhood of Bridlespur. Johnson estimates the building will accommodate up to 70 students and 50 staff in the first phase, which involves the renovation of nine classrooms.
The center provides an evidence-based treatment program called Applied Behavior Analysis for children on the autism spectrum. Six board-certified behavior analysts work with children on the spectrum in a recommended student to therapist ratio of 1:1. As the children progress, they gradually increase to a ratio of 2:1, then 3:1 as they prepare for transition to a public or private school.
“Goals for students are established annually by using assessments that uncover the strengths and needs of each child. Extensive data collection is maintained to measure outcomes,” says Johnson, who adds that parents play a vital role in their children’s success.
He plans to install a wall for rock climbing in the school’s “gym-a-torium,” a large room near the front of the school that was the former sanctuary. He anticipates offering this space to others in the community for future events. He says students participate in activities such as a teacher-led running club, whose members recently ran in the Color Run at Arrowhead Stadium. Students also go on overnight camping trips to Clinton Lake in Lawrence, Kansas, where they camp, swim and take boat rides. Day trip destinations include Shawnee Mission Park and Lake.
Lunches for the students are catered by Eric Argie of EA & Sons Catering. Argie provides organic produce and meat from free-range livestock that is free of hormones and antibiotics. He refuses to use processed foods. “One of the programs we provide to families is expanding the food choices of children who are currently limiting their diet”, says Johnson.
When the center relocates at the Red Bridge site, it will have completed the first of three eventual phases. The planning and designing of the new location began last fall with the architectural firm of Gastinger and Walker of Kansas City. SiTESPAN LLC, an Overland Park- based design and build construction company, is providing building modifications oversite for the new location.
The first phase costs $1.75 million, with $250,000 donated as in-kind services. The remaining future phases are estimated at $3 million, according to Tim Everson, founder and president of SiTESPAN. Everson has been a donor of the school since its beginning. He also serves on the KcATC board.
When the Red Bridge Christian Church congregation and board decided to sell the church after 50 years due to declining membership, the value was estimated at $1.4 million. Johnson knew that KcATC could not afford both the building price and the cost of renovation, and inquired to see if the church would consider donating the property. The congregation generously accepted the request and the property was gifted to the center in November 2015.
The ultimate goal of KcATC is to provide hope for the future of children on the autism spectrum, says Johnson. But a short-term goal is to raise money for a capital campaign to pay for furniture, internet and phone system improvements, fencing, playground equipment and security monitoring equipment. To date, the center has received $1 million in pledges and is accepting additional donations.
KcATC will open its doors in August, with an open house slated to take place in October or November. School hours are 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information see kcatc.org.