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Article updated: 1/7/2013 1:07 PM

Therapeutic school opens in new Lombard location

By Marie Wilson

The SEAL Sabres of Lombard are about to gain a true home court Monday as the School of Expressive Arts and Learning holds its first day of classes in a new $5.5 million facility.

The therapeutic day school, which provides education through expressive therapy in art, music and recreation, is moving from 15,000 square feet inside a Lombard industrial park to a 26,000-square-foot space of its own.

The building has 11 classrooms, a cafeteria, an art room and a music room, several smaller offices for counselors and social workers and even a regulation-sized gym.

"This is our 'wow' factor that a lot of (therapeutic day) schools don't have," said Karen Larson, one of the school's founders, about the gym where the SEAL Sabres will face other teams in the Chicago Area Alternative Education League. "Now we can truly have home games, which is outstanding."

About 80 students from kindergarten to age 22 will begin classes Monday at the new school, atop a hill among wetlands at 240 E. Progress Road in Lombard. The new location, which can accommodate up to 100 students, will provide a better environment for SEAL students to learn through music, art, physical activity and traditional classroom studies.

Larson said she and co-founders Patty Hotz and Cindy Nudd formed the School of Expressive Arts and Learning to teach children who may have learning disabilities, emotional disturbances or anxiety.

"Our program is geared toward those students who need additional support," Larson said. "Being in the public setting, for whatever reason, is not the most appropriate place for them to receive an education."

The school is private and for-profit, but it gets most of its students through placements from public schools. When staff members at a public school decide a student needs an individual education plan, placing the student at an outside therapeutic day school, such as SEAL, becomes an option.

Larson said staff members at both schools work with the student and parents to determine which outside placement would be appropriate.

"Part of where the success can come from is the ability to provide these services in a different sort of venue that's experiential and hands-on," she said. "There is just a tremendous difference between this and the space we were in."

SEAL students spend their full day at the school and learn a curriculum that includes reading, spelling, math, science and social studies in addition to the expressive elements of art, music and recreation. Occupational therapy and speech and language therapy are available for those who need it.

The village of Lombard approved construction of the school in September 2011 by giving it the go-ahead to build on a property originally zoned for light industrial use, said Bill Heniff, community development director.

"This is an opportunity for them to actually have their own facility separate from the industrial park," he said, "so they can enhance their mission."

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