Published April 17, 2012
Volume 20, Number 4

School of Imagination to Hold Screening Event April 21 

Photo courtesy of: School of Imagination

Barely six months after moving into a 12,000-square-foot custom-designed permanent home in Dublin, the School of Imagination is gearing up for its sixth annual outreach screening, slated for April 21.

The School was originally established more than 10 years ago as an in-home daycare that allowed co-founder Charlene Sigman, a speech language pathologist, to spend the work day close to her newborn. Since then, it grew into a specialized program, Happy Talkers, and then into a nonprofit school providing an inclusionary educational environment “where special-needs preschool and kindergarten children learn alongside their typically developing peers.”

The outreach event assembles all the resources together to conduct comprehensive screenings for children with autism spectrum disorder and special needs. “The idea is to offer parents the chance to meet with a multitude of child development professionals in a single venue, so they can get answers to their questions in one day, instead of spending months going from one specialist appointment to another,” explains co-founder and Executive Director Mitch Sigman, who joined his wife Charlene in the School when they incorporated. “All screenings are offered at no charge.”

Last year's event saw 140 volunteers conduct 400 screenings over two days. “Every health agency in the community got on board—Kaiser, Valley Care, Palo Alto Medical --to make this happen. The Marriott in Pleasanton donated an entire floor of suites for us. We had pediatricians in one suite, occupational therapists in another, and all the social services agencies set up in the ballroom,” Sigman says.

This year, a grant from Hacienda Helping Hands is facilitating a long desired expansion in the outreach format. Sky River RV in Dublin is customizing a vehicle to take on the road for mobile screenings. Working with Alameda County Supervisor Scott Haggerty, the nonprofit will target area schools with a Head Start program. “This is a constituency that has an even greater need for help,” remarks Sigman.

For many of the children who undergo screening, the School of Imagination will become a larger part of their families' weekly routine. The demand for its unique approach to learning--”education as it is supposed to be,” Sigman comments—attracts families throughout the Bay Area. Past screenings have brought parents from as far away as Santa Rosa, Santa Cruz, and El Dorado.

What makes the program truly successful is its emphasis on inclusion and kindness.

“Kids with autism and developmental challenges need role models,” Sigman points out. “The opportunity to interact with their typically developing peers is the magic that helps them do their best.”

Not only does the interaction benefit the special needs children. “I have seen our typically developing students a few years later as teenagers, and they are the most empathetic, sweet, caring people,” he comments. “Our academic curriculum leaves them as well prepared as a traditional school, and they treat others with kindness. That is the most special thing about this place.”

For more information about the School or to register for the upcoming screening, go to www.happytalkers.org. Drop-ins will also be welcome at the event.

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