This story appears in Ingress Issue 2: IDENTITY. You should really read it there for FREE! Or, if you want, order a physical copy. Coffee table quality, perfectly glossy, and it comes with good vibes. https://www.ingressmagazine.com/identity
THE SOCIETY in which we exist has the most influence on who we are as we grow and mature in a blossoming world. For students with autism, Down Syndrome, and other intellectual disabilities, the environment in which they learn affects their life greatly as they learn appropriate social skills, complex thinking, and independent living capabilities.
Located in Sandwich, Massachusetts, the Riverview School is an incredible living and learning school that coaches and helps students with disabilities navigate problems as small as hammering a nail into a wall to as difficult as obtaining a job and maintaining healthy relationships. The students range from 6th grade to the GROW (Getting Ready for the Outside World) program until age 22, and have the choice of boarding or simply attending as a day student. The school does much more than teach math and history; it helps the students to develop their own unique sense of self and identity.
"We never shy away [from] embracing disabilities. During senior year [the students] have a focus on disability awareness,"
admissions associate Lauren Spencer notes. “They write their own autobiographies where they really dive into their disabilities, but also how they’ve also overcome that.”
The school provides the opportunity for students to learn about themselves and others, as well as their position and identity in society. They engage in activities and classes that help them develop the skills that they’ll need after they graduate from Riverview. They participate in “Challenges”- one hour blocks weekly that allow the students to puzzle through a variety of challenges. The feat could be stress busters, learning to measure something, or the complexity of navigating potential dangers outside at night. The students are also involved in a health curriculum where they discuss the appropriate way to become someone’s friend or potential significant other.
The Riverview students themselves are the biggest advocates for what the school has to offer in its life-changing curriculum.
“We talk about the steps to a healthy relationship- the first step would be getting acquainted with someone, and our highest step is marriage. We tell the students about what each means and how important the steps are.” Spencer remarked.
Both day students and boarding students are given the opportunity to participate in afterschool activities. These activities vary from sports to the performing arts, and everything in between. Cassidy Cook, the youngest Riverview student at 11 years old, says that her favorite activities are cooking and the adaptive dance program run by a local dance studio.
One of the most valuable things she has learned from cooking is how to make spaghetti. 18-year-old Michael Destefano likes “TLC” the best, a computer lab named “The Learning Center” where students can hang out and acquire computer and technology skills.
"This school makes me who I am today. When I came here, those negative emotions stopped and there was just light in my eyes."
Anna Sampson, a senior from Bellingham MA, enjoys musical theater the most. “It gives me a chance to express myself and be creative in my own way but still [create] something pretty amazing.” Sampson said.
As for senior Morgan Padgett, his heart lies within Riverview’s expansive sports programs. “I love being active; I play soccer, basketball, and softball” Padgett remarks. “Sports make me the person that I am today because I’m a team player so I like interacting with people and seeing how other people work together.”
The Riverview students themselves are the biggest advocates for what the school has to offer in its life-changing curriculum. “I have autism, and that can be very hard on me. I have a lot of sadness, and confusion, and anger and frustration, but I put a smile on my face everyday,” 15-year-old Victoria Schena voiced. “I’ve learned that this school makes me who I am today. There may be some troubles I face but I know the teachers are here to solve them. When I came here, all of those [negative emotions] stopped and there was just light in my eyes.” Schena reflected upon the loathing she had for school before enrolling at Riverview, and how the school’s welcoming environment, warm staff, and eager students have helped her cultivate a love of learning.
“Whenever I see someone who’s thinking of sending their kids to Riverview, I tell them about how I feel [and how] it changed my life and it can change yours too," she commented.
Riverview staff helps the students develop a belief that they can conquer anything they wish. When asked what makes them unstoppable, the Riverview students had no shortage of answers about their own unique strengths.
“I have the courage to be myself. I’m stronger than most people think.” Anna Sampson declared.
The energetic Cassidy Cook had much to say about her own remarkable characteristics, including her athletic abilities and personality. “Everything! My brother is on the track team at school but I’m still faster than him. Most people say that I’m funny and cute and I’m just like Spongebob.” Cassidy exclaimed.
Morgan Padgett remarked that his most notable and valuable characteristics are his ability to understand and help, his generosity, and his cooperation with teachers and peers. 18-year-old Michael Destefano of Sandwich says,
“I stick to what I’m good at and I’m a good leader. I keep going to the future.”
With a mission to teach independent living skills and life guidance, the staff of the Riverview does much more than help the students learn history or language arts. They are committed to creating a safe environment for students, allowing them to learn and mature at their own pace. The Riverview school is unlike any other--impactful and extraordinary in its ability to help students create a sense of self and identity in today’s society.