Potential Development School for Autism Grows With Record Enrollment

By Lori A. Factor
Director of Communications, Potential Development School

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Potential Development School for Students with Autism began in one building 69 years ago as a preschool for children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Over nearly seven decades of service to the community, Potential Development has increased in scope and size to provide a comprehensive education in pre-K through 12th grade with a record number of children in three buildings.

A preschool, elementary/middle school and high school comprise the Potential Development campus in Youngstown, where 231 students from Mahoning, Columbiana and Trumbull counties were enrolled in 2022. Thirteen students earned their high school diplomas in 2022, following multiple pathways to graduation.

Responding to the continued surge in the number of families seeking services, there was a significant investment in the faculty and staff in 2022.

A licensed full-time social worker was hired to organize and conduct parent groups and to link parents and families to community resources, while a guidance counselor has been added to the staff to work with students individually and in small groups.

The success of last year’s enhanced workforce development program saw the newly created position of a transition coordinator to work with students on pre-employment skills, exploring vocational interests and helping families plan for their children’s futures.

Continued improvements in campuswide technology created a need for a dedicated IT position, which was filled with a full-time director.

Collaboration with community groups to offer robust extracurricular and co-curricular activities returned post-pandemic and strengthened existing partnerships.

Students benefited from physical fitness classes at the Jewish Community Center of Youngstown and the YMCA of Youngstown, while Smarts offered a regular visual and music arts program. In addition, a new art therapy program was established under the auspices of the Helms  Foundation. 

“The COVID pandemic forced us to set aside many face-to-face and extracurricular activities. In 2022,
we were committed to returning those opportunities as well as offering innovative plans to better serve our students and families,” says CEO Paul Garchar. “As we move toward our 70th year, we are more than poised to ensure an even greater impact for the future.”

Potential Development student-athletes not only competed on the athletics field, track and court, but also honed their computer skills through the newly created E-sports
program. This enabled students to improve life skills learned in all sports activities.

A key initiative in 2022 centered on providing enhanced and appropriate mental health care to our students. This was realized when Easterseals of Mahoning, Trumbull, and Columbiana Counties began offering on-site mental health services at the elementary and high schools.

Returning to signature in-person events such as Mahoning Valley Trivia with a Twist, Bill Roux Memorial Scholarship Golf Outing and the Mahoning Valley Pizza Cook-off has offered the community multiple ways to support Potential Development.

Coupling those events with a vigorous grant and development plan brought physical and programmatic improvements at all three school buildings. Planned improvements include an outdoor fitness space at the high school, a life skills lab at the elementary/middle school and an outdoor sensory space scheduled for the preschool.

Approaching its 70th anniversary in 2023, Potential Development will continue to invest in the quality education and support services for children with autism that parents and the community have relied on for decades.