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Virtual schooling holds silver lining for kids with autism, special needs

One Arizona charter school is now expanding its remote learning and offering the extra help some students may need.

PHOENIX — Parents and educators have found a silver lining from virtual schooling when it comes to kids with autism and special needs.

In fact, one Arizona charter school is now expanding its remote learning and offering the extra help some students may need.

It’s just another day in class for 10-year-old Quanah Jorgenson, talking with his teacher Jennifer Romero at Arizona Autism Charter School, also known as AZACS.

“One of my top students, as you can see. Super engaged,” said Romero. “He’s learned a lot and been able to take it and then apply it in the real-world, so it’s been awesome to see."

This was a learning model many schools were forced to follow during the pandemic.

“AZACS did an amazing job with pulling resources together with the staff and virtual schools and zooms,” said Kerrie Mallory-Thompson, a parent who preferred remote learning for her 11-year-old son, Conor.

“At least for my child, there’s a lot of distractions in the classroom…where at home, I can clear off the table, he’s got no one beside him, I can 100% focus on what his needs are to make his education better,” she said.

Conor is now getting ready to start his third year of learning virtually.

Some kids took to it so much, the school received requests from parents to keep the option.

That led to the approval of two new online schools.

“The first online charter school’s tuition-free, serving families across the state of Arizona,” said Dana Van Deinse, senior director of online learning and partnerships.

She said that so far, about 50 families have decided to stay online.

“We’re hoping to grow that number to 100 or more,” Van Deinse said. “We have the teachers and the support staff to serve those families.”

In addition to students with autism or special needs getting a quality education, they provide additional programs.

“We’re able to bring speech therapy and occupational therapy, different services and appointments that they may need,” she said.

These new online programs will help kids like Jorgenson continue learning to reach that next level.

“He will be with a new teacher, a little sad, but yeah, it’s okay,” Romero said.

While Romero will miss him next year, she is proud to see his growth.

“Yeah, he’s been doing good,” she said.

Fall classes start on August 3, so for those interested in learning more about online classes at Arizona Autism Charter Schools, just go to the school's website for more information.

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