The teachers at Manville have to be flexible, patient and creative. Each class has around 8-10 kids, but the kids vary greatly in their learning abilities. A class may have kids in 3 different grades. Reading and math is done in small groups of kids with similar capabilities. Teaching at Manville is not like teaching in a public school. Behavior plans have to be built into the classroom. Disruption is fairly common. Given these challenges, the teachers are great, some better than others, as in any school. Each class is staffed with a teacher, an assistant teacher and a counselor. When a child needs to leave the classroom to regroup, there are clinicians in the hallways they can talk with. In addition to seeking each child weekly, the therapists are available to check in when a child needs some support. Thus the learning at Manville is supported by a team of people; the teachers are part of the team.
While I was buried with homework as a child, my daughter K is not capable of doing it. She struggles with all of the language-based learning disorders. She is too exhausted when she gets home; learning is so hard for her that her brain needs to regroup over night. For a while we tried to do homework -- just a page or two -- but it became a destructive struggle between us and it wasn't worth it. She now does her homework in school. For kids capable of doing homework, the school probably doesn't give enough, but for my kid Manville was flexible and devised a plan that worked for us. Note that the specialists at Manville -- the reading, OT, speech and language and math tutors -- are terrific. K receives reading and math tutoring 3 times per week. The specialists are Manville staff, not independent providers who come to the school. I believe most of the kids receive extra help.
My child entered kindergarten at Manville and is now graduating at age 17 (Manville ends at 10th grade). Life at home is often difficult given her attachment issues, so Manville quickly became, and remains, her safe haven. In each grade, she formed deep connections with a teachers and counselors. She has had several terrific therapists over the years, and especially loves Autumn, her therapist for the last few years. Manville not only provided K with a safe and positive home, but also provided tremendous support to me as a single parent. They developed home-school behavior plans and taught me to implement them. We do family therapy at Manville with a masterful clinician and it has made a great difference in our relationship. While the kids have a wide range of challenges, Manville does an amazing job of knitting together a cohesive and positive community. The mood at the school, set by the staff, is always upbeat. The staff care deeply about the kids, as do the administrators. K has learned to advocate for herself; she attends periodic academic review meetings and has input into her IEP. I have regularly attended the weekly parent support group meeting (child care provided!) and have heard stories about many other schools and programs from other parents, and they have made me more grateful to have had K at Manville for her entire academic career up to this point. She will be moving on to a new school for 11th and 12th grade and is terribly sad about it. I am too, as I know that no other school will offer us the same amazing amount of support and caring that we have received from Manville.
My son has been a student at Manville for 3 years. We have found the staff to be very compassionate and understanding of his academic and emotional needs. The teachers have helped him want to go to school and take pride in his academics. He is forming friendships for the first time. Manville does a nice job of working the social pragmatics into each day.
Staff is very creative with his tough behaviors and keep us involved in all decisions. This has helped him become more reflective about his actions and proactive for future situations. My son is now able to play a team sport in our community which has bern a real struggle for him. I speak to his therapist regularly and feel that we are working together.
My son's IEP covers all his areas of disability and is very thorough. His Team has helped me with finding community resources for him.
My favorite piece is the Parent Support Group that meets weekly. Child care is provided by staff.
The main thing I can share is that our family and neighbors see a BIG difference and a maturity in him. It has been a challenge raising a child with an emotional disability as well as Sensory Processing Disorder and dyslexia. I feel I now have a child who has learned so much about his emotions and how he expresses them. It has helped to make our family structure more cohesive. I am very thankful to Manville.
Now, don't get me wrong. Some of the teachers I liked; Ms. Gleason and Mr. Wilson remain in my mind as bright spots, people who actually did try to teach, despite being hampered by the structure, and despite the fact that they did nothing to stop the abuses I talked about in my main review. Others, though, were controlling and resented being questioned in any way. One incident springs to mind; I was planning to sing for the talent show. The standard procedure was for students to lip-sync over music playing in the background, and for the songs to be cut off at the three-minute mark. I however wanted to sing unaccompanied. I stated this very clearly. One teacher persuaded me to let her find and buy the song I wanted to sing on iTunes, and since I wasn't violently opposed to it, I agreed. During the rehearsal, though, I learned that although I could easily sing all three verses and choruses in three minutes, the iTunes version was too long. So I told my teacher that I wasn't going to use it. I then had to watch her being comforted by the other teachers, who told me that I had badly hurt her feelings. I suspect they wanted to make it into a teachable moment. Instead I was angry. I hadn't asked her to buy the song for me, and I had been polite in telling her why I wasn't going to use it. When I was forced to apologize to her, I was enraged. But I kept it down and threw things when I went home.
The level of academic rigor was absurdly low. Teachers in the Upper School knew no more about their subjects than the students, and in some cases they knew less. One of my teachers was a English major, and although they shuffled teachers frequently from subject to subject, she spent very little time actually teaching English.
Students who sit quietly and refuse to leave the classroom when they are told to "take space" are forcibly restrained and carried to isolation rooms. I was kept in an isolation room the entire school day for two days in a row because I refused to take my novels out of my hoodie pocket. No accommodations were made in the rules, and academics weren't even a second priority. Later, at a different school, my therapist commented scornfully that she had never seen an IEP so full of buzzwords as the one written there. I didn't know, because policy was that I wasn't allowed in the meeting and was never shown the IEP. While at Manville I felt had no more dignity and no more control over my life than a dog in a shelter.
At the time one of my problems was that sometimes I would get a "thing" about a person, where being close to to them caused me psychological agony. There was a certain staff member, the head of the Upper School. I got that way about him, very badly. When he was nearby, I was visibly in distress. I had a lot of nightmares, and dreaded going to school. I jumped when the classroom door opened. I wondered why I saw him so much, why he was always nearby, but dismissed it as paranoia.
Long story short, he admitted to my parents and team he had been following me around while I reacted that way. He claimed he had been trying to get me accustomed to him. I was visibly getting worse, and he didn't quit. And he didn't tell anyone. No one on my team, none of the other teachers. He kept it a secret. Once this was out in the open, he came in for no censure, and the last I heard he'd been promoted.
Thank G-d, I got out. I left after that one year, and in the six years since I've recovered a lot. With the help of therapists and the better environment at a different school, I fought my way back to the level of health I had been at before going to Manville, and then fought more until I had conquered most of my issues. I eventually got back to public school, and I’m now at university, majoring in psychology. Ironically, this has only highlighted the abuses at Manville, because now I know how far from “best practices” their policies are. As I write this, my heart is pounding and I’m shaking. Even now I haven’t forgiven that man, and I’m furious still at the people who stood by and said nothing and did nothing.
This school is horrible. Staff are not well trained, students are taught material that is 3-4 years below their grade level, and behavior methods include locking children up in isolation rooms. Children are also allowed to punch, kick, and attack other children.
Our son is a student in the Lower School and is finally thriving after flailing around in the public school system in our town. We are extremely happy with his progress as our son finishes his first year there this week.