WATCH NOW: Open Wings Learning Community in Kenosha marks its 10-year anniversary with celebration | Local News

Over a decade ago, educator Kim Hufferd-Ackles found herself with limited options after her daughter was diagnosed with autism.

She believed public and private schools in the area lacked the support structures complex learners like her daughter needed to thrive, and Hufferd-Ackles worried she’d be left struggling.

“I couldn’t figure out the right school for her,” Hufferd-Ackles said. “Through no fault of the schools, some kids fall through the cracks.”

So Hufferd-Ackles decided to make such a school, and on Sunday, Open Wings Learning Community in Kenosha marked its 10-year anniversary.

The event, hosted at The Tabernacle, 7951 36th Ave., invited teachers, parents and students both past and present to celebrate the occasion. Activities included tours, an art show, item raffles, carnival games, face painting and more, all capped off with the cutting of a birthday cake.

Hufferd-Ackles said the event celebrated more than just an anniversary.

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“It’s a true victory,” Hufferd-Ackles said. “We’ve shown our unique model is effective in teaching students and launching them into the next chapter of their lives.”

One of the strengths of Open Wings’ model is its low teacher to student ratio, Hufferd-Ackles said. In most public school classrooms, a teacher may have to work with 20 or more students. At Open Wings, a classroom of five to eight students is paired with a teacher and an associate teacher, allowing more personal and individualized care.

That model works wonders, according to both students and parents.

positive feedback

“Ever since I’ve been here I’ve loved it,” said 11-year-old Elric Meyer. “My other schools would treat me like I’m not normal.”

Jaxson Thomas, face half covered in face paint, gave a succinct endorsement.

“I think it’s magical,” Thomas said, before running off to do more activities.

Jaxson’s mother Autumn said he had always struggled in public schools, but quickly turned around after coming to Open Wings.

“It was a total transition,” Autumn Thomas said. “He’s really striving and doing really good.”

Other parents had similar stories, and also talked about the more welcoming environment at Open Wings, where calls home were a regular occurrence and other parents were less empathetic to their experiences.

Pediatrician Michelle Snyderman, who joined the school’s board two years ago, said she was looking forward to the next 10 years for Open Wings. To Snyderman, the school offers services that are missing elsewhere in the community.

“We don’t know where to send them to get them a better experience,” Snyderman said. “This place just turns them around.”

Anthony Rowe, part of Open Wings’ online education team, had worked under Hufferd-Ackles previously at a school in Illinois. When he learned about her new school, he grew interested in its more empathetic approach to children with complex learning needs.

“I was always curious what they were doing here,” Rowe said. “The patience the staff show in helping these kids adjust is otherworldly.”

Continues to grow

When Open Wings began in 2012, Hufferd-Ackles said they had just six students. Today, that’s grown to 46, with 15 new students applying to join next year, an unusually high number according to Executive Director Alicia Johnson.

“It’s really expanded in the last couple of years,” Johnson said.

They now teach up to 10th grade, with many hoping they’ll expand their high school education. That includes Hufferd-Ackles, who also said she wants to have multiple campuses to expand the school even more.

“I really want the community to know about our school,” Hufferd-Ackles said. “Our school really works for kids.”

Although Open Wings has many neurodiverse learners, including students living with ADHD, autism and apraxia, among others, Hufferd-Ackles said all students are welcome. Often, parents will send their children together to keep them in the same school.

More information on Open Wings can be found at their website, openwingslearning.org.

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