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HOME AWAY FROM HOME: Parents Brand Autism Academy as Second Family

By Anthony KaDarrell Thigpen

AUTISM ACADEMY – Since 2013, the Autism Academy gains parent support from a dedicated group of volunteers.

This passionate group of hardworking helpers at our autism schools are called the Parent Partnership Program (P3), which is similar to the Parent and Teacher Organization (PTO) in public schools.

Each campus, Gilbert, Peoria, and Tempe is comprised of parents who invest their time, talents, and treasures to strengthen the success of the Autism Academy, a school for children with autism.

The goal of the P3 association is to listen, support, and help carry out the mission of the school.

Each campus has a P3 president responsible for encouraging other parents to support students and staff academically and socially.

The program is successfully encouraging progress and branding the Autism Academy as a home away from home.

Former Tempe A+ Academy P3 president Laurie Hopkins has been impacting lives for the past four years through the program.

“Our goal is to support the school all around,” she said. “I do this because I’m really happy we’ve found a place our son can thrive.”

The school has become a second family to the Hopkins.

Currently, she’s reassessing her availability and role with the group, but plans to maintain some involvement despite her anticipated work schedule.

It’s been 18-years since she married Adam, a Chandler police officer, and former member of U.S. Coast Guard.

They have two sons, 16-year-old Zack, and 13-year-old Danny.

Hopkins worked as a medical secretary and dental assistant prior to dedicating her time as a full-time stay-at-home mom.

She’s a native of Bourne, Massachusetts that relocated to Arizona after marrying the love of her life.

“I am one of four children,” Hopkins said. “And my mom is one of ten.”

Family has always meant everything to her, she says.

Upon reminiscing, she described her favorite childhood memory as making a Mother’s Day basket for her grandmother.

“We called it a May Basket,” she said. “We filled it with crackers, tea, candy, and various treats.”

Nearly 15 of her 29 cousins delivered the basket and knocked on her grandmother’s door annually.

“She’d act surprised and this tiny little woman would chase us around and try to tag us,” Hopkins recalled.

Her huge festive family would celebrate Christmas and birthdays together.

Now Hopkins is adding the same strong sense of family to the school environment at the Autism Academy.

With movie nights, Halloween parties, February friendship dances, school wide pizza parties, teacher appreciation celebrations, and fundraisers that keep her schedule full.

Fundraisers include candle sales, collecting coins in the classroom, raffles, glitter T-shirt sales, and much more.

“However we are able to help, we do,” she said. “We invite parents every month because we’re always looking for more volunteers.”

About seven parents participate regularly, but Hopkins hopes to help P3 gain even more support during the 2017-18 school year.

Students value parent support.

“Mom, you should work at the school because you always do fun things for us,” Danny said.

Currently, P3 volunteers are communicating with Autism Academy administrators and coordinating calendars for the upcoming school year.

“I’ve discovered that food and coffee are really big incentives for teachers,” she said.

P3 adds all the special ingredients that make the Autism Academy a home away from home for students, teachers, and staff.