“Be Curious.” This is the base core belief at Humanex Academy upon which student learning is built. Humanex serves neuro-diverse students in the sixth to twelfth grade, “celebrating the human experience in education” and it begins with nurturing every student’s natural curiosity, strengths and individuality. Humanex recognizes the remarkable potential of all learners.
50% of Humanex students are on the autism spectrum, 70% have an anxiety disorder. Others have ADHD or some form of learning disability such as dyslexia and dyscalculia. As is common, many students have co-existing conditions, as well as mood disorders like depression or bipolar disorder.
Additionally, their students tend to be ‘internalizers’. Their students don’t express their feelings with big disruptive behaviors. Instead, they carry the stress and anxiety that comes with being different or challenged inside, often shutting down or becoming dissociated.
“(We) work with students on developing an emotional vocabulary to communicate (emotions) appropriately, find tools and work-arounds to be successful,’” says Kati Cahill, Humanex’s Principal. “Students who attend Humanex tend to have greater than average challenges, and our goal is to help our kids find their strengths and experience success in school.”
In fact, most have often already experienced ‘micro-traumas’, little experiences or messages from school or society-at-large that they aren’t as good, smart or as capable as ‘in-the box’ learners, and this has begun to shape their vision of school or who they are. Humanex’s first goal is to undo and heal these small traumas.
“Most students who attend Humanex weren’t well served in the public schools, and parents tended to have tried all the options, really advocated and worked hard to make other settings work, with no success.”
Humanex serves these students when other schools haven’t by first establishing strong, connected relationships between the students and staff, and meeting each student where they are.
“We do this by focusing on strengths and helping them feel successful in the world, and then building on that, so once the trust is built and that relationship is in place, we can then start to challenge them and work on those areas that are harder for them.”
There are multiple ways Humanex achieves this. They are intentionally small, classroom sizes are five to six students in middle school, up to eight in high school. This allows every teacher to get to know and understand their students' learning style, strengths, and needs. In turn, teachers can offer a very high level of differentiation in their instruction.
Most learning is student lead, classrooms don’t have rows of desks facing the front while a teacher leads a lesson. Students work on projects of their own choice in each subject, capitalizing on their own strengths and interests. Humanex normalizes the experience of differences in learning and processing.
Another way Humanex differentiates itself is its two-person leadership team. School principal Kati Cahill’s expertise is in instruction and curriculum; she taught at Humanex prior to becoming principal. The other half is Dr. Tom Welch, PsyD Licensed Child and Adolescent Psychologist. Having a mental health expert as a school leader provides heightened support for students’ mental and emotional wellness. Dr. Tom works alongside school mascot and support dog Lightning, and both are always available to students.
Smaller class sizes and a full-time focus on social-emotional growth allow immediate and direct social coaching when students struggle with a social interaction or dynamic. Additionally, this allows the teachers and staff to follow their students’ lead when it comes to identifying what they need. Humanex recognizes that their students might require more downtime, interpersonal connection, movement breaks, etc., and they allow their students to self-identify then initiate getting those needs met. This is another way they build the rapport and trust needed to bring students into a place for optimal learning.
75% of Humanex graduates pursue higher education upon graduation. Sometimes a four-year college, other times community college or trade school. A partnership with Plumb Marketing offers an internship and concurrent enrollment for students. Along with a simultaneous executive functioning class, these opportunities prepare students for the transition between the Humanex bubble and college courses.
TACT, Teaching the Autism Community Trades, allows Humanex students to attend TACT classes in high school as electives and help with job placement after graduation.
One place Humanex students excel above their peers is self-awareness and insight. The deliberate focus on meta-cognition, thinking about how you think, helps them know themselves as whole people, how they learn and feel. Because once students understand how special and unique they are, there is no limit to what they can accomplish.