New Classrooms, Playground at Potential Development

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – A sensory-friendly playground and four new classrooms are now part of student and faculty life at the Potential Development Elementary/Middle School

Potential Development installed a playground and completed four classrooms on the north side of the school at 2400 Market St. Board members, faculty and some students got a chance to explore the additions at a ribbon-cutting event Thursday, where Potential Development Executive Director Paul Garchar announced the building would be named after the Hine Memorial Fund, whose $330,000 donation made the project possible.

“The Hine Memorial Fund through the Youngstown Foundation originally donated $500,000,” Garchar said. “It allowed us to purchase initial renovations. Enrollment increased and we were able to show a need.” 

The new classrooms’ ratio is kept small – no more than five or six students to a room with a teacher and either one or two aids. This allows for more of a one-on-one approach with the students and their learning, Garchar said. 

The playground features slides, swings and a splash area where students can cool off. When selecting the equipment, Potential Development considered students’ sensory needs and the type of equipment to ensure students could still have fun safely, he said.

“The playground is going to provide physical activity for our kids, which is very important in their learning,” said Melissa Jupp, assistant director. “Physical activity is going to increase their ability to be in the classroom and focus more.” 

The splash area and tables with umbrellas were funded by the Handel Foundation for $8,500. The Helms Foundation provided shelving and all art supplies needed for the new classrooms. 

“Before, we kind of just went out and played basketball or drew on the parking lot with chalk,” said Katie Petridis, faculty member. “Now, for [students] to have a place to run around that’s safe and new, they love it. It’s always nice that the school is expanding.” 

Potential Development started in 1953 as a special needs preschool program offering half-day services. It added a high school in 2013, serving community students with developmental delays.

“From that point to today, it’s night and day differences for the agency,” Garchar said. “We now are a comprehensive vocational system for students with autism preschool through grade 12. Students can leave here with a high school diploma.”

The school’s reach has expanded over the years, with more than 125 faculty members working with students from every district in Mahoning County and 14 to 16 schools in Trumbull County, he said. From preschool through grade 12, enrollment is approaching 240 students this fall. 

The school has grown to not only be a city program, but a regional option for students with autism and their families, he added. It also collaborates with other organizations in the area, including the Rich Center for Autism on the campus of Youngstown State University. 

“They have different teaching methods, but as far as being a nonpublic, charter school specifically designed for students with autism, we’re one of the few in northeast Ohio and even one of the few in the state,” Garchar said. 

With the new classrooms and the playground on-site, it will allow for the students to experience what a typical school day is like, he added. 

“Even though within the classroom they may have special accommodations to meet their learning needs, we wanted to make sure they get a well rounded experience while they’re here,” he said.

Pictured: In attendance at the ribbon cutting were board members Ted Downie and Jim Houck; Paul Garchar, executive director; Ron Raubenstraw, board member; Crissi Jenkins, the Youngstown Foundation; Sue Stricklin, board president; Terri DiGennaro, HELMS Foundation chairwoman; Ken Goldsboro, Home Savings; Dave Handel, Handel Foundation; Michael Morley, Handel Foundation.

Copyright 2020 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.