Local Mom Opens School for Special-Needs Kids

Son's struggle opened doors for dozens of other families

Jillian Copeland's life changed dramatically after the birth of her third son Nicol. As a baby, Nicol began suffering from seizures, and as he grew older his learning and development abilities were impacted. "It's a really hard thing when your watch your child struggle," said Copeland.

The elementary school teacher found herself facing another set of challenges. Copeland couldn't find a school that was the right fit for her son. "I didn't want to settle; my child has one childhood," she said. "I want him to become a successful happy adult and he needs to be given all the tools that would allow him to do so. "

The uncompromising mom and educator took matters into her own hands, and with the help of her family, she designed a solution that would not only help Nicol, but dozens of local families facing similar challenges. " I decided to create a place where academics were a focus but emphasis was also placed on movement and the connection between movement and learning," she said.

The Diener School, located off of Falls Road in Potomac, Md. uses non-traditional techniques to promote multi-sensory activities for the students. Each Diener student is assessed by a learning skills specialist and is placed into small, individualized classrooms.

Janelle Wright's son Teddy is a Diener student, one of ony seven children in a class with two teachers. "He's broken into an even smaller group for reading and math," said Wright.

The Diener School uses teachers, specialists and therapists to offer a holistic approach for children. The goal is to strengthen them academically and socially. Marc Sickel is one of the school's fitness specialists. He founded his own fitness company for kids after battling learning disabilities his entire life.

"We have to learn to think out of the box. What is another way that we can get that child to understand the information and then be able to process it?" said Sickel. "That's what is really so unique and so awesome about this school."

The school opened in 2007 with five students; about 37 kids are expected next year.

"I hope that every student when they leave here feels great about all the gifts that they offer to our community all of the friendships they have made," Copeland said. "I hope they appreciate the values and virtues they bring to this world."

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