Treffert Way School for Exceptional Mind charter school receives state grant

Shelly Haberman

Thanks to a Wisconsin Charter Schools Program grant from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, the North Fond du Lac School District and Agnesian HealthCare’s Treffert Center will begin work to introduce The Treffert Way School for the Exceptional Mind charter school in North Fond du Lac in fall 2019.

This public charter school will be designed for students with exceptional abilities from 5K through fifth grade. Students will learn and grow in a unique setting that focuses on each child’s unique talents, individually tailoring the students learning experience to utilize his or her strengths.

“The Treffert Way School for the Exceptional Mind is going to be a beacon of light drawing people from around the world to see great practices and people helping all our children succeed,” says Aaron Sadoff, North Fond du Lac School District superintendent. “Dr. Treffert’s name, kindness and insights will live on for generations.”

Darold Treffert, MD, is a world-renowned autism and savant syndrome expert. As a psychiatrist, he has been studying savant syndrome for more than 50 years. Dr. Treffert served as a consultant to the movie Rain Man, in which Dustin Hoffman portrayed an autistic savant. He continues to conduct research, is the author of several books, and frequently appears in national and international media. The Treffert Center continues his work in exploring the exceptional abilities within all of us.

In 2014, Agnesian HealthCare opened the Treffert Center, a comprehensive and multi-use facility that includes:

  • The Treffert Academy serving all children from ages two-and-one-half to 12.
  • The Treffert Clinic offering pediatric behavioral health medical consultations, speech/language therapy, occupational therapy, neurofeedback, psychotherapy and state-of-the-art comprehensive, multidisciplinary diagnosis and treatment of autism, behavior, and communication disorders in children and adults.
  • Agnesian Beyond Boundaries of Autism (ABBA) providing in-home, center-based and community-based autism treatment programs.
  • The Treffert Library featuring ongoing research in exceptional abilities and the life work of Dr. Treffert is located.

“What we have learned from our research and our ongoing services is that the Treffert Approach works for everyone, not just for individuals with identified needs,” according to Tom Fabricius, MD, Treffert Center medical director. “By focusing on strengths rather than limitations, we are able to capitalize on the ‘Island of Genius’ in all of us.”

Now that a $700,000, five-year grant funding is secured for the Treffert Way School for the Exceptional Mind charter school, the next year will be spent planning, developing and working to secure partners to make The Treffert Way ready for the first group of students. The location and specifics of staffing and curriculum design are evolving.

The charter school will provide students the opportunity to fully realize their potential for life success guided by a strength-based educational approach, leading to successful community engagement and employment according to Matt Doll, PhD, director of Agnesian HealthCare’s Behavioral Health Services/Autism. 

“The charter school is looking to partner with area businesses to expose students to the exceptional opportunities that Fond du Lac County has to offer from an early age and capitalize on each student’s interests and talents to match them with employer needs in our community,” Doll says. “Successful expansion grants will eventually lead to offering 5K to 12 grade classes.”

Using the Treffert Approach, “We develop relations and teach to the talent, staying strength-based with individualized care,” Doll explains. “Our approach holds the core belief that all individuals have strengths and talents, and our aim is to build upon a person’s skills, interests and talents to assist them in reaching their potential.”

 “We are incredibly blessed to have a great planning committee, led by Dr. Doll, with Karen Bartelt, Beth Dardis, Meg Puddy, Tim Williams and Debbie Ellingen,” Sadoff says. “We are also so appreciative of Dr. Treffert. This school is possible thanks to his life’s passion of helping some many people of all ages develop, grown and find understanding.”

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