Not all that many companies have been in expansion mode the past few years. One exception on the Lower East Side is the Comprehensive Kids Development School, a special needs preschool which will soon open a state-of-the-art facility inside 101 Norfolk Street. It will be the fourth location in this neighborhood for Comprehensive Companies, an organization which also offers a wide range of therapy services for children and adults, as well as home care.
A couple of weeks ago, we spent the afternoon with Comprehensive Executive Director Nathan Sklar, who gave us a tour of the new 18,000 square foot school, located on three floors of a commercial building at the corner of Norfolk and Delancey streets (right next to the Blue Building).
A centerpiece of the school is a 1200 square foot “sensory gym” for children experiencing developmental delays. There’s a ball pit, swings and a pretty cool castle right in the middle of the room. Troy Pfefferle of a company called Clinic-Pros is overseeing the project. We crawled inside the castle to have a look at a special lighting system that projects colorful patterns on the ceiling and walls of the play area. It’s one tool Comprehensive teachers use to treat children with sensory issues.
The gym also includes colorful murals by Lower East Side street artist Chico, who was hired by Comprehensive to help make the school a cheerful and inviting environment for students (who are ages 3-5). This area will be able to accommodate up to 28 kids at any one time. “There’s nothing like this gym in New York City,” Sklar told me.
Comprehensive is quite a neighborhood success story. Sklar was born and raised on the Lower East Side. He began offering therapy services for children from his apartment in the Seward park Cooperative in 1999. A year or two later, he took over a doctor’s office at 460 Grand Street (inside the Grand Street Guild apartment complex). “I felt that there was a need to provide therapy services for children as well as adults in the neighborhood,” he explained.
Eventually he opened a new office to 99 Essex Street, where therapy services for children were expanded. Comprehensive Kids School was started in 2007, providing 12 students with physical, occupational and speech therapy. plus special education. Four classrooms were created at 383 Grand Street (inside the Seward Park Co-op). In the past few months, an adjacent space in the co-op was taken over by Comprehensive (there are now eight classrooms at Seward Park). The organization now serves 76 children and employees six teachers, as well as several teaching assistants and 10 therapists.
Who are the students who attend Comprehensive Kids Development School? “These are children who have been evaluated (many diagnosed with autism) and they do not fit in a mainstream preschool, who need extra services that we provide,” Sklar said. They come from all over the city and, for the most part are referred, by the Department of Education. He added, “we have a yoga therapist coming in. We have state-of-the-art equipment. Each classroom has a smart board. These children, after coming to our school, most of them go into a mainstream school through the DOE. Some will go into a special needs school age program. ”
Sklar chose to build his company on the Lower East Side, in part, because he was so familiar with the neighborhood, but also because he likes the ethnic diversity in the neighborhood. The long-term vision is to continue expanding to other areas and, possibly, to begin offering a school-age program. There’s already a school in Williamsburg. Staff was just hired to begin a vision therapy program. In the near future, the 460 Grand Street location will be renovated and expanded. The idea is to offer adult rehabilitation services on an even larger scale.
For the moment, however, Sklar is focused on opening the Norfolk Street school, which includes five classrooms and eight speech therapy rooms. There’s already a substantial waiting list. A grand opening is planned sometime in March. “I want the neighborhood to know we’re here and that we are here to service the community,” Sklar said.
You can visit the Comprehensive Kids web site for more information about the school or to schedule a tour.
Editor’s note: Comprehensive Companies is a new Lo-Down sponsor.