Becoming exceptional

These schools take a little extra time for their pupils

Photos by John Hofheimer
Story be Sara Greene

___This year legislators are going to tackle Medicaid rates being paid to organizations like Lonoke Exceptional School, Inc. Despite rising costs of operations, including insurance, the reimbursement amount they get through Medicaid for children hasn't increased since 1999. The rate of reimbursement for adults hasn't changed since 1991.
___ The Lonoke Exceptional School, Inc. which has a facility in Lonoke and one in Cabot, gets most of its funding through Medicaid and some through private insurance. The school actively seeks out grants and state funding as well. "We plan to expand our services in Cabot," said Janie Sexton, the executive director of Lonoke Exceptional School, Inc. The school serves 190 clients and has 73 full-time employees, six part-time and 12 contract workers. The school serves clients from Lonoke, Prairie, White and Pulaski counties.
___ "We have an excellent, well-trained, experienced staff. Some of our therapists have been here ten years," Sexton said. The school started in 1972 with a group of concerned parents and community members who saw a need for a program to serve children who were unable to obtain educational or training programs elsewhere. The Carlisle Public School gave the school two classrooms to serve 25 students. Two years later classrooms were started at Cabot Public School at England Public School to serve 40 students. By 1975, the school started a program for pre-school children and adults at the former Stevens Funeral Home building in Lonoke. It had 53 clients enrolled and had a staff of 14.
___ "For some of our adult clients, this is the only school they've ever had," Sexton said. Adults at the school are taught work, leisure and social skills to help them fit into their homes and communities more easily. Two years later the school began its early-intervention program. Early-intervention is education for developmentally challenged children from newborn to age three.
___ That same year, the school began offering physical therapy in addition to speech. In 1978, the school consolidated all of the programs into Lonoke in the building known as the old skating rink on Hwy. 89. The school was serving 70 clients. In the years that followed, local public schools started having special education classes and the Lonoke Exceptional School, Inc. continued to serve pre-school children and adults. By 1991 the Lonoke Exceptional School, Inc. had expanded and was able to move their pre-school and adult programs into their current building at 518 NE. Front St. in Lonoke. Two years later the school began an occupational therapy program. Occupation therapy helps people with daily living and fine motor skills. Sexton was the first occupational therapist hired by the school and became executive director of the school last year.
___ "I became interested in occupational therapy through the Special Olympics. Our staff works with Special Olympics to provide our clients a strong Special Olympics program in basketball, softball, golf, swimming and bocce ball," said Sexton. In 2001, the school renovated the Bibbs' Rental building in Cabot and created a pre-school there. Wendi Bezill is director of children's services for Lonoke Exceptional School, Inc. and works at both the Lonoke and Cabot facility. "In addition to helping with curriculum, I find children in the community that need our services and get them into our program. We get a lot of word of mouth referrals and referrals from doctors," Bezill said. Bezill had worked for the school as a teacher, then taught sixth grade in public school for a year before returning to the exceptional school. "I missed working with the dedicated staff here and with the younger children. "Seeing the transformation, when they come in a little delayed and then leave, ready to go into public school," Bezill said.
___ The school also has an outreach program serving 20 children who receive services at home or at day-care facilities. "Our developmental therapists go out to homes and day-care facilities and once the children become comfortable with them, the children are then a little less anxious about coming to our schools," Bezill said. Currently the school has 190 pre-school children and 75 adults in their programs. In addition to keeping adults active through the Special Olympics, the school has a working greenhouse that sells plants year round.
___ Adult clients work in the greenhouse and get paychecks. The school touts itself as being a major employer of citizens in Lonoke and Prairie counties and having a significant economic impact on the local community through purchasing of goods and services, as well as preventing institutionalization and providing a support system for families.