Robin Church, Ed.D.
"We weren't about focusing on what the kids couldn't do; we were really focused on celebrating what they could do."
View full interview to learn more about the school's inception in a hospital and its expansion across the region to multiple campuses for grades K-12.
Robin Church is Vice President for Educational Programs at the Kennedy Krieger Institute and associate professor of education at Johns Hopkins University.
Robin Church came to the Kennedy-Krieger Institute in July 1974 to direct the Institute's preschool program. At that time, the preschool was based in the department of behavioral psychology and the ten children in the program lived at the Institute and went home on weekends.
"The preschool was like the darling of the Institute," Dr. Church says, recalling how she and her assistant "were like the mother ducks marching down the corridor of the second floor with ten of these little guys following us."
By the end of her first year, the preschool became a day school, and part of the elementary education program of 25 students headed by Dr. Michael Bender. The program grew quickly, she says, as they began serving students with special needs from the neighboring community and later all of the city and surrounding counties.
After serving as coordinator of the Institute's training program and assistant director for education, she became executive director of the Institute's school programs. Throughout those years the program mushroomed to include a middle school and high school. Today, the Kennedy Krieger education program has 650 students, grades K-12 on three different campuses, and in three public schools, as well as serving 13 local school districts in the state, as well as students in Pennsylvania, and Washington, DC.
Despite this explosive growth, the school has managed to maintain the warm family feeling that so impressed Dr. Church when she arrived on campus thirty-seven years ago. "Somehow between 1974 and 2012 we've been able to maintain that feeling even though we've grown so much," she says. "You still get the feeling that everybody here is so happy to come to work every day."
The program's success is based on the interdisciplinary model that distinguished the Institute from its founding, she says. "Most teachers don't learn how to work together with all these other disciplines -- physical therapy, occupational and speech therapy -- that make such a difference in the lives of these kids. Kennedy Krieger was absolutely committed to this and it has worked beautifully."
Visit specialeducation.kennedykrieger.org to learn more about the Institute's educational programs.