Special education school opens in Evanston

EVANSTON — Hayden Peak Academy opened its doors at Evanston’s Youth Club this fall, and director Josh Anderson said he is thrilled to be at the helm. Anderson, along with special education paraprofessional Gina Sims, is anticipating the arrival of the school’s first students and working with partners in Evanston and neighboring communities. 

Hayden Peak, a campus of Wyoming’s Region V BOCES, is a day school for special education students in kindergarten through 12th grade. Anderson said the goal is to “provide an alternative setting for kids with disabilities who also have some social or emotional difficulties that make it difficult for them to succeed in a traditional school setting.” 

The school is one of four campuses for special education students that are part of Region V BOCES — one is a residential campus, and two others, in Rock Springs and Hudson, are day programs like Hayden Peak. The other three programs have been in operation for several years and it was determined that there was a need for a similar program in Evanston and the surrounding areas. 

Anderson explained that special education services fall along a continuum, where traditional public schooling is at one end and residential facilities or homebound placements are at the other. Hayden Peak will fall somewhere in the middle of this continuum and focus on students who need more one-on-one and individualized attention than is available in a public school. 

Hayden Peak staff is working with Uinta County School District No. 1, along with UCSD No. 4 and UCSD No. 6, as well as the Rich County (Utah) School District. Students who attend the program will need to be placed by their individualized education program team, including educators and parents. At Hayden Peak, students will receive more intensive services, including a full structured academic program, social skills instruction, outdoor recreation activities and a focus on general life skills. Additionally, older students will be able to participate in a work-study program through a partnership with the Uinta County Business Leadership Network. 

Anderson, with a bachelor’s degree in special education and a master’s in educational leadership, and Sims, with a bachelor’s in criminal justice and psychology, are currently the only two full-time staff members. Both formerly worked at Uinta Meadows Elementary and have extensive experience with special education students. 

In addition, David Peltier is a clinical psychologist who travels between Hayden Peak Academy and the day school in Rock Springs. Anderson’s vision for Hayden Peak is to have the staff grow as needed along with the number of students. 

Anderson said that individuals with UCSD No. 1 are thrilled about the new facility because it is actually less expensive to place students at Hayden Peak than some of the other alternatives, while also providing students with the needed level of services and education in their home community. Sims and Anderson both said that Evanston Mayor Kent Williams and the Evanston City Council have also been supportive. 

The school will eventually move to a new home, along with the Youth Club, and the plan is to invite partners and local community members to an open house at that time.

“The Youth Club has been just great to work with, and it works out perfectly,” Anderson said. “Our school hours are from 8 a.m. to 2:50 p.m., so we’re gone by the time the after-school programs start.” 

While awaiting the arrival of their first students, the two co-workers have been hard at work preparing and attending to details. 

“There are 10,000 things to be accomplished to start a school,” Anderson said. “Whether you have three kids or 300, a lot of the same stuff has to be done.”

Sims smiled and added, “We’re just checking them off the list.”