On the first day of school at Cook Children’s Jane Justin School in downtown Fort Worth, smiles, laughter and a whole lot of hugs filled the school’s classrooms and hallways.

Tears are generally expected for a school that enrolls students as young as 3, but there wasn’t a single wet eye the entire morning.

The Jane Justin School celebrated its 61st first day of school Aug. 14, as parents took pictures with their students and walked them through the school’s automatic sliding doors, bidding them goodbye. 

The school, which enrolls students with developmental and learning disabilities and related behavior disorders, has more programs to add this year, said Head of School Tracie Mann, and students are excited for the additions. 

What is Cook Children’s Jane Justin School?

WHAT: Jane Justin School “fosters the knowledge and life skills necessary for students to achieve productive and meaningful lives while respecting and embracing the individuality of each child. To achieve this mission, Jane Justin School responds to the changing needs of students and their families with compassion and educational excellence.”

WHY: Jane Justin School “enrolls students between the ages of 3 and 21 with developmental and learning disabilities and related behavior disorders.”

HOW TO ENROLL: Jane Justin School “encourages families to apply online as it simplifies submission and provides parents the ability to track the status of their child’s application.”

LINK TO APPLICATION: https://csc-tx.client.renweb.com/oa/?memberid=15203

Source: Cook Children’s Jane Justin School

Wyatt Merchant, 13, a student at the school, said he’s amped for the school’s new music program. He found out about the new music classes on a family vacation in Utah and couldn’t stop talking about it. 

“I’m so excited,” Wyatt said. “I’ve been waiting all summer!”

The excitement that Wyatt exhibited isn’t dissimilar to the anticipation every student walking through those automatic doors feels, Mann said. 

“There’s new classrooms, new teachers and everyone is always really excited,” Mann said. “And, it’s really exciting to see them. They all look taller, they all look tan, they have fresh haircuts.”

Mann attributed the happy, hug-filled environment seen at the school on its first day to how the school approaches students’ education.

Each student learns better when teachers make frequent contact with them, Mann said. 

The school has two teachers and only 12 students in each classroom.

“We offer a one-on-one, individualized education for all of our students,” Mann said. “And, that really furthers their learning.”

Walking into the school’s purple classroom, the attention each teacher gives each student is evident, and students responded to it well.

Nestled in the school are classrooms divided by colors of the rainbow — yellow, green, purple, red and blue. To most people touring, it looks like a fun space for children. To staff at the Jane Justin School, it identifies the progress of students and the kind of instruction they need. 

After asking each other how their summers went, what they did and where they went, students of varying ages sat around a table and colored. One quietly sat at a computer, playing a game, and another sat in a bean-bag with a “Where’s Waldo?” book.

Once a timer sounded, students sat on a colored mat, in their own squares, and shared their names and birth months. They had to remember the previous student’s name before moving on to the next. 

Both teachers made sure each student was addressed, individually.

“The kids really thrive with that one-on-one learning,” Mann said. “That really is at the heart of what we do and why we’re able to get the outcomes that we do year to year.” 

Last year, students gained on average 13.6 months in a nine-month span, meaning students learned 13.6 months of content during the school year, according to outcome data compiled by Cook Children’s and the school. 

With looser restrictions on COVID-19 this year, the school is 100% back to what it was pre-pandemic in terms of activities and those outcomes could improve, Mann said.

“This year we’ve got some yoga happening after school, some Mad Science, and the Special Olympics is kicking off this year at school,” Mann said.

Wyatt is especially excited to learn and play with his friends, all while reading books like “Goosebumps,” painting, drawing and doing math activities. 

Mann assured him, with a hug and a pat on the back, that he’d be doing all that and more this school year. 

Matthew Sgroi is a reporting fellow for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at matthew.sgroi@fortworthreport.org. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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Matthew Sgroi is the 2022-23 Fort Worth Report multimedia fellow. He can be reached at matthew.sgroi@fortworthreport.com or (503)-828-4063. Sgroi is a current senior at Texas Christian University, majoring...