1. What makes the Sapphire Center different from other preschools?

The Sapphire Center has been created from the ground up to meet the needs of children with atypical developmental paths. Center staff are highly trained and available to meet children where they are developmentally on their own unique time line. This is in contrast to focusing on the explicit teaching of behaviors and compensatory skills that attempt to fit the child into a framework created for their chronological peers. Slow pacing, a quiet serene environment and careful adult guidance with an emphasis on developing intrinsic motivation for genuine social connection make Sapphire a true gem in early learning centers. Teachers understand the importance of developing secure relationships with each student so they may serve as trusted guides. Children are given ample time to process, act and reflect on situations creating space for their own inner drive for competence to blossom. 


2. Does the Sapphire Center offer integration opportunities with typically developing peers?  

Our childcare program is specifically designed for children with Autism Spectrum Disorders or similar challenges who require intensive adult support in a minimally stimulating environment. We serve children who are not yet developmentally ready for typical pre-school settings and who will benefit the most from a simplified social atmosphere and sensory based approach. Our goal is to foster the social, emotional and cognitive foundations necessary to help children thrive when they transition into typical educational settings.

Sapphire Center offers movement and art based small group classes open to all. Parents and siblings of Sapphire students as well as other community members are encouraged to participate. Part of Sapphire’s mission is to build community amongst families who often find themselves socially isolated and lacking natural supports.


3. How much time do you spend working individually with children?

Children spend at least half of their day with an adult in individual guided participation and play activities. In addition, children will be matched with developmentally similar peers for dyad and small group activities when possible.  These opportunities occur as children exhibit readiness rather than at pre-determined times so as to maximize each child’s availability and rhythm. When children are not directly engaged with an adult, they will have access to a variety of sensory and play materials and quiet areas where they can rest, process or explore on their own.


4. Which instructional methods do you use?

Sapphire Center is unique in that its primary goal is to promote dynamic social and emotional development in young children.This goal supersedes academic or concrete skill instruction although these areas will be embedded into many daily activities. Guided participation in dynamic and mutually regulated activity is the primary mode of instruction. How we create and act in partnership is more important than what activity we do. However, our methods are inspired by a variety of sources. Engaging with the natural world, art, music and body/self awareness permeate our methods. The education and autism intervention models that most influence our practice include: Relationship Development Intervention (RDI®), Vygotsky/Social Development Theory, Floortime/ DIR, Sensory Integration, Mindful Awareness and Montessori Method.


5. What therapies do you provide?  

The Sapphire Center provides psychological and developmentally based therapies and implements recommendations from other providers such as Speech and Language Pathologists and Occupational Therapists. Currently however, the center is not able to provide occupational, speech or physical therapy directly. We welcome professional collaboration and consultation with allied providers. Therapeutic providers are encouraged to work with children at the center and consult with staff. Center staff are trained in how to incorporate each child’s therapeutic recommendations so that these interventions can be woven into the child’s daily experience at the center. We make every effort to provide appropriate referrals when needed and to use consultants effectively.


6. What do you offer for parents?

Parent education and support is critical to Sapphire’s mission as we believe parents are the most influential people in children’s lives and should be a partner in all services. We offer several options including new parent orientation programs, ongoing classes and individual parent coaching and counseling. A monthly parent support group and lending library are also available.


7. Do you offer professional training?

Yes, another component of Sapphire’s mission is to train the next generation of professionals in the field. We are partnering with Middlebury College and Saint Michael’s College to provide internships for graduate and under-graduate students in education and human service fields.  We also offer periodic professional training seminars and host a variety of guest speakers.


8.  Can special dietary needs be accommodated for children on gluten or casein free diets?

Yes, parents are asked to send in food for their child each day.  Staff monitor meal times to ensure that children remain within their diet.  Cooking projects and group snacks are selected carefully with respect to special diets.


9.  How do you assess and track the progress of each child?

Formal assessment tools, in house progress tracking, home-school journal, portfolio of child’s projects, photos, creations are all used to track progress.


10. May I visit my child’s classroom?

Yes, we have an open door policy and parents and other providers are encouraged to visit the program. In the case that an observer’s presence would create difficulty for the child, we will gladly video-tape segments of the child’s day for later review.


11. What training is provided for staff?

In house training includes extensive reading in child development and autism research literature and demonstration of hands on skills.  All staff are supervised and trained by the director. Friday afternoons are reserved for intensive staff development activities including video review and feedback. Education and progress are documented in a portfolio for each teacher.  Staff may also be sent to local and national conferences and workshops as needed.


12.  Where do children go when they leave Sapphire?

The goal for our students is to graduate the Sapphire program and go on to typical preschool and elementary environments feeling competent and ready to learn in dynamic settings.