Home Articles New High School uses H.E.A.R.T and Horses to reimagine Special Education

New High School uses H.E.A.R.T and Horses to reimagine Special Education

Remembering school before COVID-19 can oftentimes leave parents feeling wistful. Rightfully so. The reality of education today is daunting: children forced to sit in front of computer screens, struggling to focus, and isolated from their peers. What if we could go back in time? Even further, to the old one-room school house where students have the opportunity to learn while being surrounded by nature. Imagine bringing it into the modern era, adding horses, yoga, and vocational training. Welcome to the H.E.A.R.T. Center private school.

Nestled at the base of Rose Garden Mountain in Phoenix, the H.E.A.R.T Center School gives students a feeling of freedom as soon as they walk onto campus. What first started as a therapeutic riding program in 2014, organically turned into a school in 2020 alongside the pandemic. “With many of our riders choosing to homeschool out with our horses, we knew the next step was to become who we are today,” says Chelsea Harden, founder and executive director.

A first of its kind, The H.E.A.R.T Center School is an equine assisted and recreation based learning program, incorporating horses, horseback riding and other recreation therapy activities into traditional academics; serving 8th-12th graders living with social, emotional, and behavioral needs. In addition to traditional core subject and equine classes, students take classes that focus on their future: job skills, vocational training, and healthy living are an integral part of the program. “Beyond anything academic and vocational, the most important skills we teach our students are how to take care of themselves,” program director Regan Mays explains, “Given the year we all just experienced, this style of holistic teaching is more important now than ever.”

Connection and friendship are prioritized too. All of the programming begins foundationally with social emotional learning and blends seamlessly with the horses and academics. “Horses create space for us to let our guard down and be ourselves in a very authentic way,” Chelsea explains, “They support the students in breaking down barriers to connect with peers; to decompress between classes, and to have a recreation activity that can continue from high school through life, including job opportunities.”

Preparing students for what comes next after high school, whether it’s college or career, is next to impossible with virtual learning. The H.E.A.R.T Center gives students the opportunity to do both. “We teach kids what they need to know, in a way that is purposeful and meaningful for them.” It might sound too good to be true, especially for parents worried about finances, but many of the families at the H.E.A.R.T Center are utilizing the Empowerment Scholarship Account to pay for their student’s tuition. ‘ESA’ is a program unique to Arizona’s Department of Education, and gives eligible parents public funding for customizing their child’s learning path. “It’s an amazing program, and we’ve seen some incredible growth from the opportunities it’s afforded our students,” Mays shares, “We feel very lucky to be in a state that’s created something as innovative and progressive as ESA.”

Both Chelsea and Regan emphasize that the goal of the school is to make sure that everyone who attends feels seen, heard, and understood. “To work and walk with our students and their families is something special,” says Chelsea, “it’s really always been about them.” Regan agrees, adding “The H.E.A.R.T Center is for families that are looking for a collaborative and cooperative education experience. It’s important to us that we work closely with them, and with the therapists that are supporting their kids. We want to be a part of that team. We want to see their kid find success in the ways that work best for them and their family.”

RELATED: Special Needs Resources in Arizona

The H.E.A.R.T Center is currently enrolling students at limited capacity. If you’re interested in your child attending, please reach out.

Email: hello@theheart-center.com
Phone Number: (480)-452-8606
Address: 21152 N 22nd Street, Phoenix Arizona 85024

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