MACHESNEY PARK (WREX) — The old JCPenny building at the Machesney Park Mall is set to be the new home of The Menta Academy.
Teachers work-shopped on Tuesday in preparation for the the school aimed toward children with disabilities to open its doors in one week. When 13 News first covered the school back in July, we showed empty rooms under construction with plenty of work to go. But classrooms are now completed and ready for learning.
“This is an incredible addition to the Machesney Park area and actually to the Rockford region seeing as Menta will serve more than just the Machesney area,” Machesney Park’s Community Development Director James Richter II said.
The school is geared toward students with disabilities from Rockford, Pecatonica and South Beloit. Dr. Elizabeth Conran, the CEO of The Menta Group, says she and her team have also had meetings with officials from Belvidere, Loves Park and Roscoe.
There will be one teacher and one aid for every 10 children. Therapists, clinical staff and crisis-intervention personnel will also be on-hand to provide additional services for children who need a higher level of care.
“This program will serve children with autism, intellectual disabilities and mental health issues,” Dr. Conran explains.
The academy’s open-concept design makes Menta look more like a Starbucks than a traditional school, let alone one for children with disabilities. Dr. Conran says that’s the point.
“We believe in what’s called a personalized learning environment,” Dr. Conran says. “We set the environment to meet the child’s needs rather than forcing the child to fit into an arbitrary environment like we see in most schools.”
Dr. Conran says The Menta Academy is specifically designed to be aesthetically pleasing to children with autism to avoid causing a sensory overland. It also is designed to be more professional to prepare students for life after they leave Menta.
“What are they going to do when they graduate?” Dr. Conran asks rhetorically. “We don’t want these children going back home and sitting on their parents couches. We want these children out working in gainful employment.”
The Menta Academy partners with community outreach specialists and job-hunting officials designated by Menta to place kids in jobs that are suitable for what Menta has identified as workable for their particular skill-set.
In a lot of ways, Dr. Conran says, the real goal of Menta is to teach kids independence.