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School Spotlight: Morning Star School, Pinellas Park

By Sherri Ackerman

Part of the Florida Catholic Diocese system, Morning Star School in Pinellas Park has educated students with special learning needs for 46 years. The school is one of six in a network across Florida; the first school opened in Jacksonville in 1956 to serve boys and girls with physical needs.

morning starThe model has since expanded, addressing a growing need for schools to provide more educational opportunities for students with learning disabilities and other special needs.

The Pinellas County school has about 87 students in first through 12th. Of those 17 receive the Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts (PLSA) through Step Up For Students.

The PLSA funding is directed by families so they can choose their children’s learning options, using the award to pay for approved therapists, private school tuition or technology. They can even save some of it for college.

Morning Star is a nonprofit and receives some of its funding from the diocese as well as the community. The school is accredited by the Florida Catholic Conference and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

Adam Thomas has a severe speech and language process disorder along with an auditory processing disorder, so the onsite speech and occupational therapy specialists at Morning Star School make it easier for him to have his special needs and educational needs met in one place.

Adam Thomas has a severe speech and language process disorder along with an auditory processing disorder, so the onsite speech and occupational therapy specialists at Morning Star School make it easier for him to have his special needs and educational needs met in one place.

Students receive grades based on their abilities. They also are evaluated quarterly and take annual standardized tests, including the national Iowa Tests of Standard Basic Skills (ITSBS) used by Catholic schools across the country. The curriculum is in line with national standards and benchmarks. Courses of study include language arts, math, science and social studies. Students also take part in religious education, P.E., technology, library and art. A new music therapy program started in the fall.

The school employs nine teachers, three teaching assistants and four administrators who focus on providing students with everything they need to be successful, including individual learning plans in small group settings. On average, there is one teacher per 11 students. Teachers are not only state-certified, but have additional ESE (Exceptional Student Education) credentials.

“That’s what I think really makes our school stand out,’’ said Morning Star Marketing Director Jennifer Brooks, who was so impressed by the level of professionalism that she and her husband enrolled their 10-year-old son, Adam.

Adam has a severe speech and language process disorder along with auditory processing disorder, so the onsite speech and occupational therapy specialists were other perks.

“That’s part of the tuition, so it’s not extra,’’ Brooks said.

Morning Star takes great pride in providing that value to families in addition to ensuring their children receive a quality education.

“I like to tell people, ‘We’re just a regular school that operates on a highly-specialized level,’ ’’ Brooks said.

 

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