Dr. Temple Grandin, best-selling author, animal behavior expert and subject of a popular HBO movie, recently visited The Winston School for students with learning differences. Grandin, who as a student with autism also learned differently, capped her tour by commenting “I could have thrived here.”
The Winston School (http://www.thewinstonschool.com) is a college preparatory program for bright, creative students in grades 4 through 12 who have struggled to meet their potential. The Winston School offers an extensive arts curriculum providing classic training and a creative outlet as well as opportunities to build character and self-confidence.
Brenda Holzclaw, a Winston parent, initiated the visit by inviting Grandin to visit Winston during her recent visit to the area. Holzclaw said she felt Winston’s unique approach to teaching students with learning differences would interest Grandin – and it did.
In December, Grandin toured the campus and met the school’s students and faculty. Predictably, she made a lasting impression on everyone she met — especially student Joe Ciacci. The 10th grade student was serving as the school’s ambassador that day and was about to start a campus tour when the notably direct Grandin told him he needed to lose weight. “It was hilarious,” Ciacci said. “I’m chubby and the first thing she asked me was ‘What are you eating?’”
According to school headmaster Mike Peterson, Grandin’s inquiry wasn’t meant to offend, as many people with autism ask questions that cross social boundaries. “Adults are often dismissed as ‘eccentric’ when they engage is this type of behavior but adolescents can suffer significantly when they don’t understand how to communicate with others,” he said. “Young people with autism benefit from safe, supportive environments that both accept differences and give children tools to become socially successful. The Winston School provides this environment.”
Ciacci has attended Winston for two years and said he had a receptive audience in Grandin when sharing his sentiments about the school. “I told her that it’s the best school I’ve ever been to,” he said. “It’s friendly, more laid back and there aren’t any angry principals angry at life or teachers who won’t let students talk out of turn and don’t like to listen to student ideas. At Winston, I’ve seen several students come up with mathematical theories to solve something and if it works, they’ll use it. It’s not just their way.”
Peterson said Grandin showed great interest in the art and science programs at the school as well as the fact that students are prepared for high-stakes testing even though faculty doesn’t actually “teach to the test.” Instead, students engage in multi-sensory lessons that help to build connections to what they are learning. He said, “Grandin talked a lot about her own experiences in education, both positive and negative, and in the end said ‘I could have thrived here.’”
For more information, visit thewinstonschool.com.