Monarch School and Institute – Houston, TX

We’re excited to do our first ever check in with a wonderful partner of ours, the Monarch School and Institute in Houston, TX. 

“We started in early February and some of our students couldn’t bounce and catch the ball but today, I was teaching them to serve,” Jeff Thomas, who implements ACEing Autism along with three other teachers, said when asked about the improvements he’s seen. “I’ve seen a lot of their confidence get built along with their self esteem, which puts a smile on their faces,” he continued.

From an administrative perspective, Patti Pace, who is the Head of Monarch School and Institute, always looks for clarity and ways to implement a partner’s program with fidelity, which she felt she found with ACEing Autism. “They are organized, they have very high standards, and they came and trained the entire staff,” she said. “But what I really loved is that they tied it to sensory needs, they tied it to autism, to neurological differences and why this is very important for the kids,” she explained.

Jeff then expands that, “the training was fantastic. I don’t think I would have been able to do the class without the training videos,” he acknowledges. “They went into detail from the introduction to the warm up, and they showed me the 9-step program with the hand-eye coordination, the racquet skills, and socializing with the kids,” he laughed. “And that’s helped me keep it on track! But also my past teaching came in handy and so far it’s been great, and the teachers have been fabulous, I couldn’t do it without them.”

In addition to the training, Jeff has loved all the materials provided by ACEing Autism. “We have all the materials we need, all the tennis racquets, tennis balls, ball holders, game material so on their end they really stepped up and made sure we had everything we needed for the class.”

As we switched the conversation to the potential improvements they’ve seen in their students, Jeff happily jumps in.”What I’ve seen in them from the first day, some of them couldn’t bounce a ball and catch it with their hand but now they’re catching the ball hand to hand,” Jeff, who has played tennis on and off for 45 years, proudly tells us while mimicking the motions of catching the ball with his hands. 

“It used to go everywhere but we showed them coordination skills, we started off small, we showed them how to bounce the ball, how to hold the racquet, how to bounce it off the racquet and today – this interview was made on April 30 – I was teaching them how to serve,” the substitute teacher energetically said as he made a serving motion.

As he passionately continues to talk about his students’ improvements, Jeff mentions that they’ve worked on their groundstrokes as well. “Some of them have had fast improvements, before they used to swing and miss and now they’re making good contact and I see a lot of their confidence build a lot, it puts a smile on their faces when they can hit the ball back to me and in the court,” he stated with a big smile on his face himself. 

Patti then joined in on that conversation saying that “the kids love it, we do tennis on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and when it’s tennis day, the kids will start talking about tennis in the morning,” she said as she smiled looking at Jeff. “They really love it! We haven’t had other organized sports before so this was a huge opportunity for us and they love it.”

As we wrap our interview, Patti admits that she wasn’t sure how her students would do when she started planning for the program. “They can get dysregulated quickly, and to be outside on this open field – they use a basketball court as tennis courts – there are a lot of places for them to run,” she said with a chuckle. “But we wanted to give everybody the opportunity because so often people put a cap on the potential of individuals with neurological differences and they don’t think they can do certain things. I don’t ever want to be that person,” she stated. “The key is that it’s inclusive, everybody gets at least one day and next year we’re hoping to add more days because as Jeff was saying, some are really excelling. So we want them to have the opportunity and ACEing Autism has all of the equipment, the expertise, the training which has made a world of a difference and our parents are so grateful.”

As she continues to expand on what the program has meant to her community, Patti explains that the faculty has been enjoying it as well. Jeff then quickly jumps in, “a lot of them are getting into it, they’re picking up tennis too,” as he modeled a forehand.

“I’ll sometimes watch from my window and start giggling because I see Jeff and the teachers modeling for the students and having a great time, so it’s really great,” Patti added. But the Head of the School isn’t done yet, as she said that “when opportunity knocks, you open the door.” Because of that she is looking at the fall and hoping to make tennis an elective. “Now that we know how it’s working, it may become an elective where someone can take it every day during their elective period or just more days for kids who really love it. It now becomes a logistical and budgeting plan I have to think through but everybody agrees that we would love to have more.”

We want to thank the whole Monarch School and Institute staff for a wonderful partnership that we look forward to continuing for years to come.

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