When Kate Matthiesen, one of Monarch’s post-graduate students, first began working with art teacher Debbie LeBlanc when she was 18, no one could have envisioned the impact it would have on Kate’s life. Born with a language learning disability that makes communication difficult, Kate longed to share joy with people, but it was difficult without adequate language. Ms. LeBlanc created an inviting art environment that encouraged Kate and several other students, who also had language issues, to have fun with art and with each other.
Relationships were at the core of the work, as they are with all of Monarch’s work. Ms. LeBlanc gently encouraged the students to explore and enjoy various art mediums. But when she first offered Kate an oversized piece of black paper and pastels, even she could not have predicted what would ensue. Kate resonated with the materials and worked for several weeks on that one piece, adding layer after layer until one day announcing that the piece was finished. She turned down offers of other materials and asked for another oversized piece of black paper and pastels. Ms. LeBlanc carefully saved these abstract art treasures, for she had already recognized that Kate had an extraordinary gift for creating meaningful art. Through art, Kate was able to express herself meaningfully for the first time. The first time she saw work by the great artist, Cy Twombley, she remarked, “He talks like me.” People who are close to her realize that her artwork is a way for the rest of the world to see a part of her that they already know so well.
Soon, Monarch’s faculty, students and parents were raving over Kate’s work—and they weren’t alone. She was chosen in a juried art competition and awarded a one-woman show at the Jung Center of Houston in April 2006. Entitled “Fresh Air,” her show set a Jung Center opening night attendance record. Her work was juried into the Greater Houston Fall Open Show through Houston Civic Art Association (Bellaire, TX), and she received two awards in 2006. The following year, she exhibited her work in Houston at The Lovett Inn Gallery and Bayou City Arts Festival. She then received an honorable mention for work submitted to the Open Door Series: Summer ’08 Juried Exhibition at The Arts Alliance Center at Clear Lake (Nassau Bay, TX). In 2009, her work was accepted into the 26th Annual Juried Open Exhibition through the Visual Arts Alliance (Houston, TX). Then in 2010, Kate was selected to exhibit in the Visual Arts Alliance 27th Annual Juried Open Exhibition, a national exhibition in which she received the First Honorable Mention Award.
People who are close to Kate realize that her artwork is a way for the rest of the world to see a part of her that they already know so well. Her work has appeared in six additional shows in 2011, and she intends to continue creating work and entering competitions. All of her work is juried into these shows anonymously and without regard to disability. Many of her pieces are in private and corporate collections.
Today, Kate is employed at The Monarch School as an intern. Her business, “Art by Kate,” employs other students in bookkeeping, public relations and packaging positions. She is living away from home in one of Monarch’s transition services homes. She volunteers for the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the YMCA and has her own studio where she continues to work and produce award-winning art.
The names for the students described below have been changed.
Randy’s progress from a frustrated, shut-down, angry young man caught in a vicious cycle of bipolar episodes to a much more emotionally self-regulated, motivated individual is typical of many students at The Monarch School.
He was truly in despair when he came to us in middle school. But it was quickly evident that Randy excelled at hands-on repair or team projects. He became the leader of the Physical Plant Committee, which is responsible for upkeep and minor repairs to the Challenger campus. Highlighting his strengths while bolstering the learning issues that caused him to shut down academically were pivotal interventions in Randy’s recovery. Slow but steady progress enabled him to graduate from Monarch in 2006 as a leader who learned to manage his emotions, set goals and make a difference in the life of our community.
Randy is currently enrolled at a local community college. The Monarch faculty has no doubt that Randy will also continue to make a difference in the larger world as an adult.
About Randy’s family: Randy’s father is an appliance salesman. His mother is a part-time nurse who is also responsible for the care of aging parents. Their family received nearly full tuition assistance every year Randy was at Monarch—a total of $132,000.
ADHD and Executive Function Issues
Elizabeth was one of our first students when we opened in 1998. Even as a 3rd-grader, she was a talented dancer and actress. But she also had severe ADHD and organizational challenges. She was at risk for making poor decisions that would impact her life forever. Her single mother had suffered several brutal financial setbacks, including divorce, a home destroyed by flood and the reality that all three of her children had neurological problems. Originally, her mother’s plan was for her to graduate from Monarch. However, Elizabeth made significant gains both academically and with her organizational and emotional challenges, and has attended a local public high school for the past three years.
After her freshman year, her principal nominated and personally endorsed Elizabeth for “Who’s Who Among American High School Students.” Her mother shared that “Her teachers have been amazed at her perseverance, her dedication and her desire, because they also see the mountains she climbs on a daily basis for each small achievement. She never gives up.” Her plans for the future include becoming an actress and a dance teacher.
About Elizabeth’s family: Elizabeth is one of three children, all with special needs. Her mother is a secretary and her father is a firefighter.
Jack is an exceptionally bright and talented student with Asperger Syndrome, a high-functioning form of autism. His parents moved his entire family from Vancouver so Jack could attend The Monarch School. Jack longed for a friend, but his behaviors alienated him from peers. He lorded his intelligence over others, further distancing himself from children his age. But at Monarch, Jack established close friendships with many of his peers, challenged himself academically and blossomed as a positive role model for the Monarch community.
Recently, Jack transitioned into a regular public school setting at small local high school. His family truly believes that his life has been transformed, and they know that this could not have happened without Monarch. Jack is very excited about making the transition and feels confident and ready to take on this challenge.
Jack, a talented writer, wrote a poem called “The Peril of the River.” In a written reflection on the poem, Jack said, “What I was trying to say here was that I used to keep trying to run and run, and that got me nowhere. I would end up helpless with a bleak future. Now I’m taking more ownership instead of ducking and weaving around obstacles.”
About Jack’s family: Jack is one of four children. His mother is a teacher and his father is a minister.
At four years old, Tommy had already been asked to leave three preschool settings. He has a single mother who was underemployed because she constantly had to leave work to respond to the school’s request to come and get her disruptive child.
Diagnosed with autism, Tommy was very gifted but his talents were masked by his rigid behavior and delayed social skills. His inflexible thinking and inability to shift led him to be to be aggressive at times. He was also very sensitive to sounds and to touch.
Tommy found a highly structured, greatly individualized program at Monarch, where interventions that increase joy in relationships are at the heart of every program. Without Monarch, Tommy’s future was bleak. With it, he had a chance. And after just four months, positive changes were already happening.
About Tommy’s family: Tommy’s single mother found it difficult to be employed because of the need to respond to Tommy’s needs.
Jim came to Monarch as a defensive 10-year-old who distrusted all teachers and resisted attending school. He had stopped trying academically and was in constant conflict with other children his age. Now, he has grown to be a capable, accomplished young man. Jim acquired the skills needed to succeed academically, organizationally and socially. He successfully transitioned from Monarch into the 8th grade at a local high school.
Today, Jim is a senior on the honor roll, is identified as gifted and talented, is making excellent scores in conduct, is well liked by his teachers and has made many new friends. He plays competitive club soccer and is taking Pre-AP Integrated Physics and Chemistry for high school credit.
About Jim’s family: Jim’s father is in marketing. His mother has become an active teacher in the National Alliance for Mental Illness program.
Scott was admitted to Monarch at age 13, upon discharge from a psychiatric inpatient treatment program after severe depression. His high school years at Monarch were punctuated with several depressions, each of which led to a more profound self-understanding of his illness and openness to help.
For his graduation gift to the school, Scott—who had recently discovered he could play piano by ear—composed and played a five-movement piano sonata, “A Tribute to Monarch,” which depicted his journey at the school. He began each movement with a brief description of the time it represented. The movements were titled Part I “The Defiant,” Part II “The Hospital Bed,” Part III “Manias,” Part IV “Overcoming the Challenges” and Part V “Every-Penultimate Utopia.”
Today, Scott is a successful college sophomore at a small private university. He wants to help others both as a psychologist and by sharing his gift of music.
About Scott’s family: Scott’s father is an attorney. His mother has become an active leader in the National Alliance for Mental Illness program.
Communication-based Disability/Emotional Regulation
Jason came to Monarch when he was eight, after being home-schooled. Although he attended preschool and kindergarten, his language learning disabilities made first grade so frustrating that his parents withdrew him from public school. They tried two private schools with the same results: good and well-meaning educators attempted to meet Jason’s needs, but he just became more anxious and disruptive.
His mother worked very hard to meet his needs at home, but she and a local developmental pediatrician both knew that what he needed was a therapeutic day school that could attend not only to his language learning needs but also to his emotional fragility.
Jason is beginning his second year at Monarch, and his parents tell us that the change is remarkable. He loves school, is learning to manage his anxiety, has made friends and is making good academic progress. He is well on the way to returning to a mainstream school.
About Jason’s family: Jason’s father is a computer technician and his mother is in sales. They have received $10,000 in financial assistance each year.
Tourette Syndrome and ADHD
At Tony’s graduation from Monarch, his parents wrote, “It is hard to finish this chapter in our lives as it has been five great years for our family and especially for Tony. What accomplishments he has made, and what a role model he has become! We all love you and The Monarch School so much and we can’t thank you enough for everything you have done for Tony and all the opportunities he was given to grow and mature. What would we have done if we hadn’t found you?”
About Tony’s family: They are a hardworking, blue-collar family. They received almost $100,000 in financial assistance over five years.
Kevin’s anxiety disorder prevented him from speaking to anyone except his parents. The specific disorder is called selective mutism, and it is recognized as a social anxiety disorder in which a person who is normally capable of speech is unable to speak in given situations.
Kevin spent three years at Monarch, during which he progressed from speaking to no one, to writing notes to one teacher, then several teachers, then a fellow student, then his class. His writing evolved into a similar methodical sequence of speaking both at school and with his extended family. As a grand finale to his work here, Kevin became the Master of Ceremonies at a school-wide talent show. Today, he is enrolled at a mainstream private school.
About Kevin’s family: Kevin’s mother just graduated from college with a master’s degree in social work. His father is a data analyst. His family received $15,000 in financial aid from Monarch during the three years Kevin attended.
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