Sarah Dooley Center for Autism journeys to Washington D.C.

Our Sarah Dooley Center for Autism (SDCA) deeply believes in the transformative power of community-based instruction. By engaging with people in a variety of real-world settings like stores, museums and restaurants, students are able to build life skills that will support their independence as adults.

Teacher James Auer took this approach to a historic new level for SDCA by leading his class on their first-ever trip to our nation’s capital.

“SDCA is designed to function like a public school,” said James. “I thought, ‘Public schools can take trips like this – why can’t we?’ I knew our kids were capable, and that this would be a meaningful opportunity for them to explore and learn alongside their families.”

James and his classroom counselors Emma, Patrick and Chris spent months meticulously planning every aspect of the trip while considering the unique needs of each student. Together they navigated the intricacies of transportation, created the itinerary, and involved parents throughout the process.

“While initially hesitant at the ambitious proposal of a day in D.C., I had faith in James and the team,” said parent Megan Scoglio. “I was thrilled to be able to witness and learn from the seamless teamwork and effort involved, meeting each student at every minute with their needs, in the outside world. It was impressive how well everyone worked together and was able to switch duties on the fly. And I happily learned some tips for helping calm my Porter!”

SDCA students, parents and staff in front of the White House

After a ride on the Metro, students enjoyed a visit to the National Air and Space Museum, lunch in the museum café, and a walk down the National Mall – all activities they chose themselves. For James, the biggest highlight was seeing his students adapt to their surroundings.

“They handled the chaos of security, walked perfectly as a group, crossed loud streets, and transitioned around tons of people. It was an incredible day for our families and for our team,” he said.

Following the successful trip to Washington, SDCA staff are now exploring more opportunities to introduce students to places outside of the Richmond region. Lessons learned by James and his team will help students and their families continue to embrace these experiences with confidence, and harness them as a tool for education.

“This adventure was a confirmation of the love and devotion these amazing souls have for my daughter and her fellow students,” said Megan. “And, it reaffirmed Porter is absolutely in the right place. I’m looking forward to our next adventure together.”

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