ABOUT PERSPECTIVES PREPARATORY ACADEMY
A History about our Founders, Josh and Courtney Ungaro
Josh Ungaro’s son Noah used to love the PBS kid’s show, It’s All How You Look at It. He’d walk through the house saying it over and over, requesting it so much that it became the inspiration for the private school, Perspectives Preparatory Academy, that his parents founded. The staff at PPA desires to change the perspectives of the Springfield community and beyond about children with differing abilities while also offering support to those children.
Noah is 13, and he was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder when he was 18 months old. Courtney Ungaro says she and her husband saw a need in the public school system for an inclusive model after starting a summer camp for Noah and three other kids. “Two of the students had an Individualized Education Plan, and the others were gifted,” Ungaro says. “The gains we saw with our students on an IEP were insane: increase in speech, increase in social skills, interest in other peers, willing to try new adventures. That got us thinking, could this be a model for our school?”
PPA boasts a diverse population of students, with half of those accepted qualifying for a disability through Missouri’s Child Find policy. Nacy Ryerson, the Dean of Schools, says the staff wants to maintain that balance to duplicate the results of the Ungaros’ three-year camp. “Since it’s an inclusive school, we want a variety of students so they can support each other’s strengths,” Ryerson says. “We are not a special education school; therefore, we want a diverse student population so students can learn from one another.”
It was important to the Ungaro's to create an environment that caters to a wide range of students at no cost to their families. “The No. 1 goal as a parent is to get your child an education they deserve,” Ungaro says. “You shouldn’t have to worry about how to pay for it.”
To Ryerson, every student—regardless of their learning capabilities—has a strength to offer to the community and to the world. To foster these talents and encourage educational development, each classroom focuses on 12 students with a 4:1 ratio building wide.
PPA is also doing away with traditional grade levels, allowing its students to complete their work at their own pace. Whether a student is above or below their specific age group, they have the opportunity to develop their personal strengths this way. In her experience, Ryerson has found that paying more attention to students on an individual basis engages them in their education. “Every student is different with unique needs, interests, likes and dislikes,” Ryerson says. “I have seen much more success in identifying student strengths and interests to drive learning.”