New Autism School

Centra Health Group wants to turn the old Piggly Wiggly grocery store on Riverland Road into a school specializing in instruction for students with autism.

Centra Health plans to open its second Roanoke school for students with special needs next month.

The Centra Rivermont School will be located at 1314 Riverland Road S.E., in a building that previously housed a grocery store.

Opening Aug. 19, the private school will serve students with autism and other developmental disabilities.

Brian Summo, the school’s principal, said about 35 students will enroll initially. Most of the students, 25, will transfer from the health care center’s other private special education day center in the city, the Rivermont School Roanoke Valley, in the Wasena neighborhood.

The other students were referred by area school divisions, Summo said. Centra Rivermont School leaders then met with the students’ parents and Individualized Education Program teams before enrollment, Summo said.

The new school will have five classrooms and five teachers. Students will also receive support from 20 mental health associates, said Summo, who spent the past 12 years as principal of another Centra Rivermont school in Covington.

Centra is based in Lynchburg and operates 12 other Rivermont campuses across the state, with the first opening in 1986.

Students between the ages of 6 and 22 with special needs are eligible for the program. Each receives academic and behavioral services focused on “family-centered, evidence-based treatments with a foundation in Applied Behavioral Analysis and Verbal Behavior,” according to Centra.

In addition to traditional classrooms, the new school in southeast Roanoke will have a speech, physical and occupational therapy room, activity room and sensory room along with an independent living apartment designed for older students. An outdoor playground should be completed within the next two months, Summo said.

The program will include board certified behavior analysts and board certified assistant behavior analysts, along with special education teachers and mental health associates to ensure applied behavior analysis techniques are incorporated throughout the individualized programs, according to Centra.

Centra gained city approval to use the Riverland Road building as a school in August following a zoning adjustment request, and spent most of the past year renovating the structure. The building was previously home to a Piggly Wiggly and other grocery stores for more than 25 years.

Centra sought to expand its autism program offering based on a need for more space. The current Rivermont school will continue to serve local students.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, about one in 59 children are identified with autism spectrum disorder.

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