At Saint Coletta School in Southeast Washington, 13-year-old Zachary McFarland has a chance to put his shining personality on display.
Zachary struggled in a large public school before coming to Saint Coletta, but his parents say that after joining a classroom where teachers give invaluable life lessons to special needs students along with regular classroom instruction, his joy has returned.
"He stopped singing, stopped laughing (and) talking was very limited," Lisa McFarland, Zachary's mother, said. "(Now) he laughs and he plays and I think it has been a great return."
Saint Coletta provides personalized support for more than 400 students with intellectual and multiple disabilities, including Zachary. The charter school is also a private option for Maryland and Virginia students, but all students are publicly funded by their home school system.
Students at the Independence Avenue SE campus learn communication and computer skills, as well as lessons like growing vegetables in a garden, riding on Metro and visiting places like fire stations and grocery stores to become more engaged in their communities.
"We serve the children for whom public school does not work," Saint Coletta CEO Sharon Raimo said. "What we're really hoping is that we will have discovered something in that student that will enable them to go on and be more independent in their adult life."
For 17-year-old Hampton Pryor, who has gone to Saint Coletta for 11 years, the unique setting has helped him blossom.
"It's really a school that brings out the best in him," David Pryor, his father, said. "Whether it's laughter or singing or dancing, it's just a very special school."
Saint Coletta is open to students from ages 3 to 22, and they also put on an adult day program for those who need more help after graduation.
For more information about the school, check out their website at www.stcoletta.org.