The Carter School is so special, so amazing, so unique, that it will be difficult for me to be as specific as I ought in my review. But I must try, for there is no institution in Boston so deserving of every possible assist in its mission. The William E. Carter School, nestled behind its dominating--and helpful--neighbor Northeastern University in the South End of Boston is a school for the most disabled, the most challenged, the most fragile children in the Boston Public School system. As the parent of a child profoundly handicapped intellectually--yet physically more or less normal--my husband and I were at a loss as to where, and how, to educate our youngest son. After literally YEARS of research, meetings, and car trips, we, like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, found that the search ended in our own back yard--Boston. This very special place, with its deeply devoted principal, Marianne Kopaczynski, and its equally committed faculty and staff, has become our son's second home. Here, he learns--among his peers--and with the help of the superbly competent staff, the simple tasks that will form his future life long after we, his aging parents, are gone. Here he learns how to hang up his coat, place his lunchbox in his cubby, sort and carry various items through the school to their proper destinations. He learns how to dress himself, how to organize his day, and how to interact with his fellow human beings, in an atmosphere that is more like an extended family than a school--and much less, like an institution.
Our son, Charlie, was born with the somewhat unusual dual diagnosis of Down Syndrome and Autistic Spectrum Disorder or ASD, although the autism diagnosis didn't come until much later, when he was eight or nine. Charlie is sweet, affectionate, and, thank God, physically sound, but he is severely handicapped intellectually. He cannot talk, and his ability to communicate by any method is severely limited. For many years, Charlie attended "regular" Boston Public Schools, receiving special education therapies and classes, all the while being more or less "mainstreamed" with his non-disabled peers. As it became more or more apparent that he needed to be in a highly specialized setting, we began the long and difficult process of finding the right school for Charlie. We looked at many, finding schools that were large and small, schools that had unique behavior-modification methods and schools that specialized in rigorous physical education as a means of intellectual discipline. None seemed to be exactly right for Charlie. And then, like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, who found that she had been traveling around the world in search of understanding that, all the time, had been right in her own back yard--we found the William E. Carter Development Center in the South End. It is a Boston Public School. It has a very small and unique student population, all of whom are severely mentally and/or physically challenged. It is tucked into a little corner of the South End in the heart of Boston, bordering the campus of Northeastern University (which, over the years, has become in many ways, more of a partner than neighbor to this one-of-a-kind school). As soon as we walked in the door (after touring some half-a-dozen schools) we knew: this was it. The Carter School is, first of all , very, very small. There are only 25 students, and so, along with the incredibly gifted, caring, and innovative faculty and staff and the parents and principal--the wonderful and deeply devoted Marianne Kopaczynski, who has been with the Carter since its beginnings in the 1970s--the school is more like a big home, rather than a small school, and really and truly feels like a large and friendly family. My husband and I felt immediately that our search was over and now, three years in, we are more certain than ever that the Carter School will be Charlie's safe and happy home-away-from-home until he is 22. I commend the staff, faculty, and administration of this unique institution for the severely disabled children of Boston and I thank them for their wonderful work.
I worked with the W. E. Carter School for several years as a landscape architect consultant in the planning and development of their Sensory Garden Outdoor Classroom. I found it to be a rewarding experience both professionally and personally. The dedication of the staff and administrators to this often neglected group of our population is extremely impressive. The enthusiasm for the creation and realization of this long held dream of providing a sensory stimulating, educational and rewarding outdoor environment, specifically designed for their students was unwavering. They are constantly striving to come-up with new and inovative ways to incorporate the garden environment and its potential as an effective learning tool into their curriculum.
As Professor of Electrical & Computer Engineering at Boston University, I lead the Senior Design Capstone Project course in which student teams develop technology for real-world 'customers'. Each summer we solicit engineering 'needs' throughout the Boston area. The students work with their 'customers' to develop technology solutions to their problems.
The Carter School has for years been an enthusiastic collaborator as a 'customer', usually seeking assistive technology development for a particular student or a low-cost design for a learning technology aid that would be beyond their budget. We have a Carter School project most years. An interesting consequence of this collaboration is that the college student team gets to know the Carter School, its students and its teachers. Often the college students and the Carter school students are only a few years apart in age; projects almost always held the engineers better appreciate disabilities and the resources needed to serve such students.
Examples of projects include
--sensors and switches to allow students with limited fine motor skills to interact with sound, light, and motion, giving them control over their environment
--vocational training aids, e.g. a popsicle stick counter that automatically prompts (with recorded messages) and affirms a student while she counts out a set number of popsicle sticks (used for medical testing in packs of 10 sticks).
--location sensing devices that detect when a student enters or leaves an area and gives them and the teacher an immediate audible welcome ("Jamie is here" or "Jamie says 'goodbye'")
The Carter School's commitment to exploring technology to help their students and classroom environment has inspired dozens of young engineers directly. Indirectly the Carter School's participation in Senior Design has publicized the needs of the multiply disabled to hundreds fo graduating seniors through class reports, demonstrations and public presentations.
Although I just retired, my colleagues continue to teach the Senior Design course, and the Carter School remains a regular 'customer' around assistive technology development.
I work as an attorney to provide pro bono legal services to the families at the Carter School. The staff treat each child with the utmost care and respect. I am always moved by the professionalism if the staff.
The Carter School is one of the greatest schools in the United States of America for educating and caring for physically challenged students in this nation. It has been an honor to spend time at the Carter School to attend special events and to see the growth of the school in terms of what the school provides for the students in a multitude of areas. I have enjoyed watching the students sing and move to the live music at the Carter School events.
As a Boston School Committee member, I have had the great pleasure to visit the Carter School on several occasions. It is an exceptional school designed to meet the needs of students with significant physical and educational challenges, and it does this critically important work every day in a caring and nurturing environment. Principal Marianne Kopaczynski is an outstanding school leader who leads an exemplary staff. The city of Boston is fortunate to have the Carter School as an option for families and children across all of our neighborhoods, and it serves as a model of best practices in the education of students with complex health needs and severe disabilities.
My interactions with the Carter School spans the past 6 years. I have had the pleasure to be the Clinical Faculty for many groups of Northeastern University nursing students placed at this school. The Carter is the only Boston Public School for severely handicapped students 11 - 22 years. My students have learned many medical interventions for this very medically fragile population but also have had the honor of experiencing the joy and dignity that defines the atmosphere here. There are many specialties present and the students have a regularly scheduled day as any school would. The "gift" that I stress with my students is the manner in which the lessons, evaluations and care is delivered is absolutely Gold Standard and one I stress should be emulated as they matriculate into the work world as health care providers. I always leave happier and in a better place after a day at the Carter. The competencies of teamwork, collaboration and professionalism define the atmosphere as well as empathy and cultural competency. I am honored to be associated with the Carter School.
Kathy Jurgens RN, MS, PNP-BC
The William Carter School provides exceptional educational programming for exceptional students. The WEC community sets educational expectations for each individual student at an appropriately high level and provides the learning experiences necessary to achieve those goals. The teaching faculty, paraprofessionals, administrators, nurses, therapists, etc. are experts in their fields and treat every student and his/her family with respect, care and compassion. I have been affiliated with the WEC community for over a decade and am inspired by the outstanding work they do.
Everyone that works at the WEC care about everyone they touch. We are fortunate to have
Been on the receiving end of their incredible services. We adopted our son when he was 16 it was a very difficult moving a child who is autistic, blind and dumb from his “home” of sixteen years to a new home. Than on top of all of those stressors a new academic program needed to be identified. We were BLESSED to have found WEC. Our son grew emotionally he became attached to people at WEC as if he had known them hos whole life.
As for my husband and me we needed to be educated about Jamie and all the needs that he came with. We were supported and encouraged to lean more and become part of the process and the family of WEC. I am very grateful for their place in our lives and know that we are a much better family because of them. I just wish they had an adult program…. WEC provides what no other can….. secure hope.
The William E. Carter provided our son with an experience only he could enjoy in a strength based way that supported us. The folks at WEC are basically family and they took care of my son as if he was theirs. Jamie enjoyed attending WEC and has not been the same since he left.
William & Theresa Gately
Parents for Jamie Gately
I have been volunteering at the William E. Carter School for the past 3 years. I help on Fridays with swim therapy for the students. I have also gone on field trips with the students and staff. The Principal, staff, and students are all very friendly and welcoming. They are very appreciative of all the volunteers. The Carter School has a very warm family atmosphere.