Making a difference, one child and family at a time.
The Gillen Brewer School’s mission is to educate and support our students to become confident, independent and engaged learners. We do this by:
- Partnering with our families
- Providing a nurturing and supportive environment where children feel accepted and where learning is fun
- Encouraging our students to advocate for themselves while being respectful and responsible members of the community
- Engaging our students in a comprehensive 12-month academic curriculum which incorporates the Common Core New York State Standards, while addressing the individual learning needs of each child
- Providing developmentally appropriate educational opportunities and challenges for our students
- Integrating speech and language, occupational therapy and counseling services into our educational program
- Cultivating educators who value a team approach and an ongoing commitment to learning
- Moving children to a less restrictive educational setting when appropriate
The Gillen Brewer School was founded in 1992 by Laura Bilicic and Laurie Dubois as a school for children with significant learning challenges. As special education teachers, they saw the overwhelming need for a school in New York City where families with children who have significant special needs would be welcomed, educated and supported. The founders believed that a knowledgeable and informed family was invaluable to each child’s overall education. To underscore the importance of family, the school was named after the founders’ grandmothers, Mattie Gillen and Virginia Brewer. The school opened in 1992 with one student and added classed until it reached 48 students from Pre-K through second grade. Forty-eight students were housed in what had once been the servants’ quarters of a stately mansion on Park Avenue. It soon became apparent that more room was needed, not only to accommodate more students, but also to house the ever expanding academic and therapeutic programs. In 2003, under the leadership of Board Chairman Henry B. Schacht and newly appointed Head of School, Donna Kennedy, the school began a search for a new location. In August 2005, the school moved to its current location at 410 East 92nd Street. Overnight, the school nearly doubled in size, from 46 to 86 students and 22 to 50 staff.
Gillen Brewer’s facility, in The Henry B. Schacht Learning Center, provides a state-of-the-art, handicap-accessible facility. The new facility houses nine classrooms, ten therapy rooms, two sensory gyms, a quiet room, a library, a computer lab, an art studio, a music and science room, a roof top play terrace, and administrative offices. The space was designed to meet the needs of children with sensory and learning issues. Soon after moving into the new space, it was clear additional space was needed to provide our students with an appropriate sports program. Beginning in 2007, we began a partnership with Asphalt Green, a sports and fitness organization located two blocks away, which has allowed us to use their facilities and staff. Each year our students are provided with at least three different sports activities, including basketball, soccer, gymnastics, martial arts, yoga and swimming. The school also has a relationship with the Art Farm, located around the corner, to work with our full-time science teacher and supplement our science program by bringing animals into the school.
The school uses the term “community of learners” to define and reflect the culture of the school. In every aspect of the program, from staff development to parent training, the Gillen Brewer community is in a state of reflection and learning; putting what we have learned into practice. Through reflection and action, the school is able to individualize the program to meet the needs of each child and family.
Student culture is enthusiastically supported at a school-wide level. All students have the same school-wide expectations of being ready, respectful, responsible and safe. Students are encouraged to accept each other’s differences and are explicitly taught that “everyone is working on something” at Gillen Brewer. The three older classes, along with the staff, prepare and present daily announcements for the rest of the school, allowing the entire school to be aware of what is happening in the community. Individual classes organize fundraising drives for charity and engage all students in these efforts. The staff encourages students to become more engaged with their peers during community lunches and during the end of the day activities that cross classroom boundaries.
Parents are an active part of our community and culture. The Parents’ Association plays a key role in organizing the annual auction—the school’s largest fundraising event of the year. The Parents’ Association also runs the school’s book fair, held during Screen Free Week, when teachers, students and families work together to come up with fun ways to lessen our dependence on TV and other electronic devices and increase “family time.” Parents and grandparents are invited to join the classes on field trips or to come into the classroom as guest readers or project coordinators. The school hosts a variety of at-school and out-of-school events to bring the community together: Grandparents’ Day, Fall Family Fun Day, Winter Family Fun Day, VIP Day, Sibling Workshops, the annual Arts and Science Exhibits, Sports Day and various musical performances. Fundraising events for the wider community include the school’s Annual Auction, and a Sports Gala co-hosted with Autism Speaks.