By Janee Law
Alternatives For Children in Dix Hills provides children ages 6 weeks through 5 years old quality programs in special education, with experienced and credentialed professionals for preschoolers with disabilities.
“There was a great need at the time for children with special needs and disabilities,” said Therese Blanton, development coordinator for AFC. “There wasn’t anything for them so we started this program to be able to provide the opportunity for families to have a local school where their children could be educated.”
While infants and toddlers 6 weeks through 3 years old are placed in developing classroom environments, parents of children 3 years and older have the option of enrolling their child in an integrated classroom environment.
“A dynamic early childhood environment is one in which children are encouraged to be creative, explore and experiment in order to meet or exceed the criteria established for their age,” stated Marie Ficano, AFC executive director.
Aligned with New York State P-12 Common Core Learning Standards, AFC’s half- or full-day child day care center and preschool program both incorporate the Creative Curriculum, which is designed to foster children’s social/emotional, physical, cognitive and language development, along with studies in literacy, math, social studies, the arts and technology.
Classes are taught by state dually special education/early childhood teachers working in collaboration with certified teaching assistants.
AFC also offers an early intervention program that includes services like family training and counseling, assistive technology devices/services, health services, physical and occupational therapy, service coordination and more.
“Children who graduate from our program are given the tools they need to be ready to learn and be successful as they transition to the kindergarten environment,” stated Ficano, who was recognized and named a 2008 Woman of Distinction by the New York State Senate.
Since its inception in 1988 as St. Charles Educational and Therapeutic Center in Port Jefferson at St. Charles Hospital, the nonprofit school became Alternatives For Children in 2003 and has expanded to four different locations.
Currently serving around 500 students a year, AFC opened its Southampton location in 1995, its Aquebogue location in 1998, East Setauket location in 2004, and its Dix Hills location in 2014, which was previously the Chestnut Hill Elementary School in the Half Hollow Hills School District.
Starting with only two classrooms at the 600 South Service Road location, AFC now uses 11 classrooms, servicing approximately 130 children, from daycare to preschool.
Blanton’s 15-year-old son, Luke, who has down syndrome, is an AFC graduate.
“He didn’t walk until he was 2 years old, but the reason he walked was because he had a physical therapist,” Blanton said. “He is who he is today because of the services he received at Alternatives For Children and, not only for him, but what it taught me as a parent, how to be an advocate for my child and that it’s not the end of the world having a child with a disability.”
With several services including assistive technology/alternative and augmentative communication, occupational therapy, physical therapy, play therapy, and speech and language therapy, AFC utilizes experienced and credentialed professionals.
“I’m proud to say that because of the dedication through the years of our administration and our education and therapeutic staff, Alternatives For Children has become a leader in providing quality care to all children, but especially to those who need it most, at the most critical time in their development,” Ficano stated.
Blanton added, “The tools that we give, not just the children, but the families, to be able to work with what the child has, to be able to develop, to be able to grow. Without these services, it’s not going to happen.
“I know what this program did for my son so I’m forever grateful for that.”
Alternatives for Children
600 South Service Road, Dix Hills