Vista Del Mar Child and Family Services, a forward-looking social, educational, and mental health services provider in the Los Angeles area, has served as a trusted presence among often-neglected communities for more than 100 years. Originally founded as a home for Jewish orphans, the organization has expanded its reach over the generations to offer broad-based assistance to people from all backgrounds. 

Basing its work in a trauma-informed approach that uplifts the dignity and value of every individual, Vista Del Mar today offers access to counseling, adoption services, intensive-treatment foster care, psychological and educational assessment, parenting education, and more. It also offers one of the best school programs for youth from kindergarten to age 22 who need special support for cognitive, social, behavioral, or emotional challenges. 

Individualized goals for learning

Situated on an 18-acre campus and accredited by the Western States Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC), the Vista School works closely with students and families with a variety of special needs to build Individual Education Plans (IEPs). These state-mandated learning plans are designed to foster optimal academic, emotional, and social growth for students with special needs, such as severe emotional and behavioral issues, intellectual and learning disabilities, and other challenges. The school has established particular expertise and a lengthy track record of working with young people on the autism spectrum. 

Enriching curricula

For elementary school students, the Baron School Program offers high teacher-student ratios in smaller classes, with individual attention paid to each student’s learning style. Activities include music lessons focused on a chosen instrument, art and enrichment programming, and physical education programs centered on tennis, basketball, and swimming in the school’s heated indoor pool. 

Continued growth

Older students in the Vista School’s middle and high school programs also receive education and support services geared to the social and behavioral needs of their age groups.

Vista School maintains smaller class sizes into these older grades as an additional way of providing individualized instruction and guidance. At the same time, the school works to bolster tweens’ and teens’ self-confidence and sense of independence through the use of elective classes and greater room for self-directed scheduling. 

Assisted by extensively trained academic and clinical staff, middle and high school students learn science concepts in the school’s new state-of-the-art laboratory and participate in the full range of other required courses. They can choose from among electives like gardening, woodworking, sports, ceramics, and the performing arts. 

Building secure adult lives

The Vista School is proud of the fact that 65 percent of the students who graduate from its high school program go on to further their academic or vocational education. The school’s efforts to prepare students in its young adult division for academic and social success include added courses to support vocational training and independent living skills. The eBay program is a flagship real-world learning track for transitional students, and the school also offers other employment and volunteer work opportunities. 

The value of special education programs

Special education as we know it today developed in the 1960s with the strong support of the Kennedy Administration. This administration declared, for the first time in American history, that young people with disabilities have the same right to a full education as their non-disabled peers.

As educators and the public gained more understanding of the needs of youth with disabilities and challenges, the 1975 Education for All Handicapped Children Act and the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act further codified these principles into law. Students with disabilities were required to be offered an education equivalent to that of non-disabled students, and to have access to full participation in all aspects of society. 

Today’s quality special education programs, as exemplified by those at the Vista School, are tailored to the distinct needs of each student with a disability. Through IEPs as individual as each student is, schools like the Vista School work to provide early intervention programs and adaptive technology support designed to bring out optimum development of students’ physical and intellectual abilities. 

A recent study, conducted by researchers at the University of California, Davis, and Cornell University in New York, showed that even students with mild-to-moderate learning disabilities who lose access to special education programs are at higher risk of being thrown off-track in achieving their life goals.

The study’s cohort of Texas students were 52 percent less likely to complete high school and 38 percent less likely to enter college than peers with ongoing access to special education. This study also revealed significant equity issues: students of color and those from lower-income backgrounds suffered the most drastically from loss of special education programs, since their parents often did not have the resources needed to offset these service losses. 

High-quality special education programs like those at the Vista School bring students into contact with peers and instructors who form a supportive community, helping them to make the transition to adulthood with as many tools as possible to pursue further education, thrive on their chosen career paths, and meet positive, self-set goals. 

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