Richmond Hill school opens for pupils with autism

Richmond Hill school opens for pupils with autism
Queens lawmakers and schools officials celebrate the opening of the School for Language and Communication Development in Richmond Hill last week. Photo by Anna Gustafson

Last week’s ribbon cutting for the School for Language and Communication Development’s high school in Richmond Hill was lauded as a dream come true by the school officials who have spent the past eight years in a contentious legal battle with the state Department of Education.

The SLCD, which serves students with language and autism spectrum disorders, and the state DOE settled the eight-year lawsuit this past February, which allowed the Richmond Hill school at 87-25 136 St. to open for this school year. The SLCD had sued the DOE over a cap the state had placed on the number of students the SLCD could serve, essentially prohibiting the group from opening a high school.

The SLCD provides services to more than 400 children ages 3 to 21 and has been given the green light by the state to enroll as many as 540 students. It also runs a pre-K and elementary school in Glen Cove, L.I., and a middle school in Woodside.

“This is a dream come true,” Ellenmorris Tiegerman, the founder and executive director of the SLCD, said at the high school’s ribbon-cutting ceremony Friday. “It’s been a long, hard fight. At the end of the day, what are we fighting for? We’re fighting for these wonderful children who have so much potential, so much to give.”

SLCD Director Christine Radziewicz said it was a “combination of mitzvahs and miracles” that made the high school a reality, including help from the bevy of state legislators who attended Friday’s celebration.

“Dealing with Albany was indeed an experience, but we wanted to give any help that we could,” state Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose) said. “What Dr. Tiegerman has done here, what she has been all about, is to see every child reach their maximum potential.”

Sen. Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) said the SLCD’s schools should prove to be models for institutions across the state.

“As a member of the [Senate] Education Committee, I can tell you we need to invest more into schools like this,” Addabbo said. “Today, this is a great snapshot, a great snapshot of success for our children.”

Students can attend the Richmond Hill school for as long as six years until they hit the age of 21. At the school, students engage in academic classes as well as vocational courses. There is a model of a Calvin Klein retail store, in which students learn how to work a cash register, fold and sort clothes and deal with customers. The school also has a model apartment, so students can learn how to live on their own after graduation, and a business office in which students learn skills needed to work in an office environment.

“My dream was to create a high school program that prepared children with disabilities for independent life,” Tiegerman said.

Jonathan Davis, a former SLCD student and Howard College graduate, said he was thrilled to see his alma mater open a high school.

“The Calvin Klein store is great because the students find out quickly there’s a life after the textbooks, the blackboard,” said Davis, of Hempstead, L.I.

Davis, a journalism major at Howard who authors a blog on the SLCD website, said he fondly remembers his time at the school.

“We were all in it together, the students and the teachers,” Davis said. “The only way we got over hurdles was to be here.”

For more information about the School for Language and Communication Development, visit slcd.org.

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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