School nearing a decade of specialized instruction
MARIETTA
The MDE School in East Cobb works with students oneon-one to hone their abilities.
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By H.M.Cauley
For the AJC
Cobb
Powder Springs, Marietta and more can get the latest on Twitter: @cobbnewsnow
Though it had been a longtime dream, Mindy Elkan didn’t start thinking seriously about opening a school until her husband passed away 10 years ago. The owner of the Greater Atlanta Speech Pathologists found in his inspiration the energy and enthusiasm to launch an institution designed to support students with a variety of special needs.

“From working in my clinic, I had seen the need for something different,” said Elkan. “The public schools, as wonderful as they are, sometimes can’t accommodate the needs of these children.”

Elkan launched MDE School, named with her husband’s initials, in East Cobb in 2009. What began with two students has since earned state accreditation, become an official nonprofit and welcomed 49 students from kindergarten through eighth grade.


As the school approaches its 10th anniversary, Elkan says the initials have taken on the additional meaning of “motivation, dedication and excellence.”

“We believe every child deserves an education that all other children receive,” said Elkan. “For our kids, it’s very difficult to function in a classroom. We have some with physical disabilities, some with cognitive, autism, cerebral palsy or Down syndrome - a wide mix of differing abilities. But we meet each child where they are.”

The school maintains a four-to-one ratio, but academics are conducted on a one-on-one basis. The curriculum includes physical education, art and music, along with social skills and enrichment programs. Every other week, about two dozen students head to the nearby YMCA for swimming lessons, and field trips to destinations such as the Atlanta Botanical Garden and the Roswell Dance Company are big hits.

“We have found the smaller setting allows them to achieve more and learn more,” said Elkan. “And they’re also learning how to be independent while the teacher is working with others.”

Students come to MDE from across the northside, having found the school through referrals from doctors, online searches or the positive stories from parents. Cara Plugge learned about MDE’s specialized programming through the school’s summer camp when she enrolled her son, Cole.

“People tell me they’ve never heard of it,” she said. “It’s definitely not a onesize-fits-all school; every student there, regardless of their challenges or abilities, fits in.”

Fitting in was key for Plugged son, who was bom with Down syndrome and never quite found a home in the public schools. At MDE, he’s had experiences never imagined he’d be capable of enjoying, including speaking on stage to his peers and teachers.

“They work with the best of their abilities,” said Plugge. “Each child has challenges, but the school can meet each child’s individual needs. They know which of their abilities will enhance their education and make them successful. If one method doesn’t work, they take the time to figure out what will work.

“They put a lot of effort into learning about each individual child and making that one-on-one connection, and not just with one person: Even the teachers who aren’t your child’s teacher know the kids. It’s very impressive.”

The school’s success allowed Elkan to move it to a roomier facility that now boasts a gym, lunch room, a playground, spaces for music and art, and a sensory room furnished with rockers and calming colors for kids who need a break. But Elkan doesn’t foresee the school itself getting much bigger.

“In our current building, we could probably house 65 comfortably,” she said. “But I don’t ever want to be a 300-person school. That’s just not our mission.”

Information about MDE School is online at mdeschool.org.

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