When the ChildBridge Center for Education opened its doors for the first time 10 years ago, it was a chance to recapture a longtime dream at Little City.
Little City opened its first school in 1964, but it was forced to close its doors in the 1980s after state and federal pushes to integrate all students into traditional school settings. That changed in 2011 after more people realized what those at Little City always knew — a specialized, focused school for people with developmental disabilities could unlock a world of potential for students.
So in 2011, the ChildBridge Center welcomed its first three students, with about the same amount of staff, to work toward a new dream. Today, that dream has been realized as 37 students in nine, dynamic classrooms are taught and supported by dozens of staff including teachers, speech therapists, occupational therapists and so many more.
Staff from the past and present share their memories and thoughts about the life-changing school and how it has become a crown jewel at Little City:
Phil Siegel, principal, 2019-present
One area of growth I am excited about is that we are implementing a new intensive intervention program. There is no school in Illinois that will serve the level of needs in students that we do. There have been students sent out of state that will now be able to stay in Illinois and be at our school. We have an ability to meet the population of students with autism and developmental disabilities where they are more than ever. We have a responsibility to never let quality diminish and always look to increase what we do. We can provide services to a greater number of students and maintain our quality at the same time.
Meaghan Grap, teacher, 2014-present
The key for me has always been the time we get to spend with the students. I’ve had some students I’ve worked with for five years now who are about to graduate. Coming in every day and seeing their growth over the years is what makes me want to come to work. It’s great to watch them become adults and know they are ready for it. You get to see all those little breakthroughs over the years turn into big life-changing skills.
Jason Cohen, speech therapist and school technology coordinator, 2013-present
I remember my first week here I was probably driving home crying wondering what I was doing. It was tough. But then it changed, I learned how to work, if that makes sense. When I first came here, we had no speech room, I was in the corner of what was then the lunch room. Therapy in a corner, really. Then after a year, we had the expansion and we had a speech room which was a much more quiet environment and the therapy took a step up at that point. Then we started pushing therapy into the classroom too, because not every kid should be learning in a 15-minute, 30 minute session with those demands, so it just happens in the classroom at times.
Jessica Kingji, former school therapy & clinical coordinator, 2012-2021
I think we always hoped this could happen for the school. When I first came it was pretty much a hallway and a repurposed building with one classroom. It was hard to envision the true potential of what we were doing, but we were able to grow in a strategic way. We built the school to meet the students’ needs as we learned about them. Now we have nine classrooms, students change
classrooms during the day and we have a bus that lets us take community trips up to three times a week. I am just so incredibly proud of what the school has become.