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Updated Aug 3, 2014 - 7:09 pm

Gilbert gets new school for students with autism

Parent Ashley Nicoll speaks at a Pieceful Solutions event. Her son, Timber, has high-functioning autism. (Facebook Photo)

PHOENIX -- This year, dozens of junior high and high school students with autism will have a new school of their own.

Pieceful Solutions, Arizona's first and fastest-growing K-12 school for children with autism spectrum disorders, is opening its newest campus on Higley and Ray roads in Gilbert, Ariz.

The first day of classes is Wednesday, July 22, and Ashley Nicoll is just as excited as her son, Timber, is to have a program designed for his special needs.

Up until last year, Timber attended a public school, but Nicoll said it was not working for him.

"They had great teachers in the public school, and they tried so hard and did so much, but they aren't trained to help him," she said.

Timber was 9 when he was finally diagnosed with high-functioning autism, but Nicoll said she already knew by then something was different about her son.

"He would tell me, 'I don't understand why I can't make friends with the kids at school,' and it's heartbreaking," she said.

She enrolled him in Pieceful Solutions program last year at its Chandler location.

"It was really incredible," she stated. "The difference in the size of classroom (and) the teachers and the staff have tremendous training."

She especially liked that each classroom had no more than 20 students and four teachers to help divide and focus on the students' individual needs.

At the new Gilbert campus, Pieceful Solutions founder Kami Cothrun said that class size is capped at 14.

"It keeps the noise and the chaos to a minimum, and we have one certified special education teacher with up to four assistants, depending on the need in each class," she explained.

Inside the new school, several rooms look more like home, only with more space for students to work. One room has a perfectly made bed with dresser drawers where, a tour guide explained, students will learn how to make their bed, fold their clothes and prepare for the beginning of their day.

The next room has a washer and dryer, as well as a "To Do" list mapping out responsibilities.

"Their needs are very different from elementary students," explained Cothrun. "We are teaching them life skills that are crucial...We have many, many students who will be college bound."

They will do that she said, "as they learn social, self-advocacy and study skills to prepare them for college."

"This campus is 30 minutes each way from our home," Nicoll explained. "I would drive twice that or more, because it has really been a miracle in our lives."

The Gilbert Pieceful Solutions campus will open its doors to 80 students. As of July 16, there were still seats available for more students.

About the Author

Holliday Moore is a Phoenix native with more than 25 years experience in the local and national broadcast and media industry. A graduate of ASU's journalism program, with a second major in Marketing & Management, she considers herself one of the lucky few to be doing exactly what she loves, writing and producing news.

In 2012, she won a prestigious Edward R. Murrow award for a light feature radio story on snakes. For the record, snakes do not say much! She is also honored to be one of two nominees this year for a Mark Twain Award involving her series on Arizona drowning cases.

Among her career accomplishments, Moore has taken home a television Emmy for Cultural Issues Reporting on the Navajo/Hopi Partition Land Act. She has also won numerous Emmy nominations for hard, soft and even sports reporting. However, Moore considers her highest achievement was on the day she received the prestigious Walter Cronkite Political Excellence Award for developing the Scripps Television stations' Democracy 2000 & 2002 program. Bob Morford, ABC 15's News Director at the time, asked Moore to head the project with one wish, "Try not to lose ratings," he said. "We not only did not lose ratings," says Moore, "We actually improved ratings between the coveted 5:00-6:30pm news block."

"She created, designed and executed the award winning program," recalls Morford, "Her efforts brought a great deal of notice and credit to our station."

Moore loves a challenge and is an adrenaline junky by nature. She ran 400 hurdles in college and more recently half marathons to raise thousands of dollars for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. She works part time for KTAR Radio while volunteering for her young son's elementary school and running a freelance media services business.


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