Autism-focused charter school network opens West Valley campus

By Bridget Dowd
Published: Thursday, July 21, 2022 - 6:04pm

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Arizona Autism Charter Schools ribbon cutting
Bridget Dowd/KJZZ
Arizona Autism Charter Schools celebrated the opening of its new West Valley Campus with a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Thursday, July 21, 2022.

A small crowd of educators and families gathered in Peoria on Thursday morning to celebrate the opening of Arizona Autism Charter Schools' new West Valley campus.

AZACS is a tuition-free network that focuses on the educational needs of children who have autism and related disorders.

Diana Diaz-Harrison is the founder and executive director. She said one in 44 children in Arizona is diagnosed with autism.

"They really thrive in specialized environments that celebrate their differences and how they learn," Diaz-Harrison said. "Parents have been hungry for high quality autism services and an autism-focused school in this part of town."

That’s true for Avondale resident Catherine Hallam. She's been driving her 6-year-old son, Philip, to the network’s central Phoenix campus. That's an hourlong drive one way.

“The reason we chose to do that is so [Philip] could be himself versus being kind of crammed into conformity,” Hallam said.

Catherine Hallam with her son, Philip
Bridget Dowd/KJZZ
Avondale resident Catherine Hallam poses with her son, Philip. Philip has been attending Arizona Autism Charter Schools in central Phoenix but is excited to start school at the new West Valley location.

As an example, the classrooms are set up with various stations instead of rows of desks.

“There’s a lot of room for movement,” Hallam said. "When you’re talking about a neuro-typical learner, they can stay seated much longer than a neuro-diverse learner.”

Hallam said her son was two years behind in reading, but after just a year with AZACS, he was able to catch up with his grade level.

Classes at the new West Valley location begin Aug. 1.