An excited 16-year-old shoves a drawing of Godzilla into Lori Hanson's hands, and explains he drew it in class instead of listening to his...
An excited 16-year-old shoves a drawing of Godzilla into Lori Hanson’s hands, and explains he drew it in class instead of listening to his teacher.
Hanson, Pacific Learning Center NW’s assistant director, smiles, “So you were drawing while she was reading?” The young student shrugs sheepishly.
“Good, I’m glad,” Hanson said.
This is the type of laid-back environment that Hanson and her husband, school director Daniel Hanson, have created at Pacific Learning Center NW in Lynnwood. Parents say it’s what allows the school’s 47 students, many having struggled for years in public schools, to flourish.
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The Hansons started the private school in 2004 to help students with a broad range of learning disabilities — from Asperger’s syndrome to high-functioning autism — who floundered in the traditional school setting. Current students are in grades three through 12, and the Hansons are hoping to start a K-2 class in the fall.
With its eight-person staff, the school tries to help students make progress in academics, social skills and self-confidence so those with learning disabilities can transition back into the public-school system.
Most students are ready to transition into public school by the end of their first year at Pacific, though many decide to stay longer, said Daniel Hanson. About 19 of 70 went back to public schools during the first three years of Pacific’s operation, and so far this year, three students moved back into public school, he said.
“There has been a mutual benefit for both the center and the district,” said Edmonds School District spokeswoman Debbie Jakala. The district sends about five to six students a year to the center, with the goal that they eventually return to the district, she said.
The state’s Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction lists Pacific as one of three nonpublic agencies in Snohomish County approved to contract its services to public school districts when the districts are unable to meet a student’s special-education needs.
Little Red School House centers in Lynnwood and Everett, which both cater to a variety of special needs, also are approved.
About half of the students are sent to Pacific from local school districts, Daniel Hanson said.
In his office, his golden retriever is snuggled up in the corner, the room is softly lit by several lamps, and the school director himself is dressed in sneakers and a sweat shirt.
The students are encouraged to be comfortable, too. Some sit in their classrooms wrapped in fleece blankets; one girl brings her white kitten to school.
“We wanted to create a calm, positive, peaceful environment,” he said. The low-key and cozy atmosphere is helpful for students easily overwhelmed by stimuli, he said.
Homework that is over kids’ heads is not assigned, a hands-on approach is encouraged, and curriculum is not driven by the calendar, Daniel Hanson said. Sixty percent of the students’ grades are dictated by their ability to make progress toward personal goals.
Derek Curtner, a teacher and behavior specialist at Pacific, has attention deficit disorder and uses it as a way to connect with his students.
“I see them differently than others probably do,” he said. “I understand what they’re going through. I understand what they’re feeling.”
He said he tells them, “If I can do it, I know you can do it, too.”
The building that houses the school isn’t much to look at — the facility shows obvious wear and tear, and tired furniture sits throughout its six classrooms. But parents, many who pay $1,300 a month for their child to attend, say what goes on inside the rooms is worth it.
Some parents, like Deborah Jergensen of Camano Island, commit to long commutes so their children can attend the school. Jergenson’s son, 17-year-old Sam, started last April after struggling with poor grades and being bullied at his old schools.
“We were in a world of hurt with him, and we didn’t know what we were going to do,” she said. “Now, we couldn’t be happier.”
Christina Siderius: 425-745-7813 or firstname.lastname@example.org