We like to call the Community School of Cleburne County one of the shining gems of our area, and that distinction is as true now as when they were featured on the front page of our paper, and in our magazine, over three years ago. Since that time, the school has grown in stature, and attendance, making it one of the greatest resources in our region for developmentally delayed and disabled persons. 

"Our mission statement is to provide services to mentally disabled individuals in this area so that families do have to go out of the area for those services or to institutionalize their developmentally and mentally disabled family members," said Assistant Executive Director Michelle Edwards. 

The school provides developmental day treatment programs and services for pre-school children, from infants to school age children. They also provide programs for adults who have been diagnosed with a developmental disability. 

"We have a lot of kids who have difficulties with social interactions and working appropriately with adults," said Edwards. "It all looks like play in our pre-school program because that's how kids learn. So we provide them an atmosphere where they're able to play and learn these skills." 

Ascertaining the specific needs for each child can oftentimes prove challenging for parents who have developmentally delayed children, as well as teachers trying to service those needs. 

"Every child learns differently," said Edwards. "A lot of times you have a three year old and the expectation is that a three year old should be able to do this, this, and this. But when you have a three year old who is developmentally delayed, who hasn't learned those skills yet, and isn't doing those skills that you would expect from a three year old, it can be really frustrating. You have to take a step back and start where they're at and help them progress to what they should be doing at that age." 

"You have to be creative about the ways that they learn," she continued. "You have to figure out the best way for them to learn because it might not be the same way as other children you're familiar with. We do see a lot of children who aren't able to communicate their needs effectively. A lot of times you see behavioral issues stem from that." 

Edwards said those communication issues can be the root of many social interaction difficulties these children have with adults and their peers. She likened it to being in a foreign country, where you don't speak the language, and you're desperately attempting to communicate, creating frustration for all involved. 

Since the last story we did on the Community School, they have seen astounding growth in attendance.

The school is now servicing 153 people, more than it ever has, and is utilizing every available space in the building. 

"We're pretty much at capacity," said Edwards. "There is tremendous need in this area." 

The school has also grown in staff certifications, which increases training potential for all the staff. They are also certified through Better Beginnings, a program through the Arkansas Department of Human Services, at the first level and currently working on their second level certification.

The school serves not only Cleburne residents, but also those in need from surrounding areas.

"We have kids and adults from Bradford all the way up to the outskirts Mountain View, Greers Ferry, Searcy, all over the area," said Edwards.

Despite some of the challenges and difficulties in working with developmentally delayed and disabled children, the joys of success make the endeavor worth the effort.

"The coolest thing is seeing them finally get that skill they've been working at for so long," she said. "They have that moment when they finally get it and you can see that excitement on their face. And when they come off that bus and they are so excited to see our workers and to be here, it really does make it all worth it."

As with any organization of this nature, there is always a need for resources, including donations.

"Donations are always a major thing" said Edwards. "We have grants that we need to get matching donations to receive. We are always in need of toys. Kids go through so many toys. They are used all day, every day, so toys are definitely something we can always use. "

Any monetary donations can be general use donations, or can be specified for certain programs in the school.

After over thirty years, the Community School of Cleburne County is going strong and as we move into the future, it will continue to shine bright as a Cleburne County gem.

If you are interested in making a donation or want more information, give them a call at 501-362-0943 or visit their website at www.communityschoolhebersprings.com.