School for Students with Autism and Developmental Disabilities Opens on St. Croix

School for Students with Autism and Developmental Disabilities Opens on St. Croix

Pictured outside Coral Reef Academy (left to right) are Director James Osgood, Ed.S., a Nationally Certified School Psychologist; Andrea Shillingford, Special Education Teacher; Allison Buchanan, Special Education Teacher; Lisa Westcott, Lead Behavior Technician; and Delyla Ulm, Board Certified Behavior Analyst.

The 2019-2020 school year is underway with a new option on St. Croix for students with autism and developmental disabilities. Coral Reef Academy opened the doors of their new Gallows Bay building in late August. To learn more, we talked with Director James Osgood, Ed.S., a Nationally Certified School Psychologist by training. The school will host their First Family Fun-Rayser on Saturday, November 2 beginning at noon at Leatherback Brewery.

For parents whose children are on the autism spectrum, the opening of Coral Reef Academy is hugely significant, as the island’s first and only school of its kind. Serving students with autism and those with other developmental disabilities, the team focuses on those with moderate to severe needs which other schools may not be able to safely or appropriately serve. Osgood credits a highly trained staff with abilities in a diverse range of specialized areas. This multi-disciplinary approach works with each individual child with small class sizes and lots of one-on-one attention.

According to Osgood, the first few months of the school year have been productive. A newcomer to St. Croix from Maryland, he has found the island to be warm and welcoming. Osgood’s transition to the USVI was set into motion by a professional connection to Dr. Lindsy Wagner, who leads the Island Therapy Solutions team. Most recently, he worked in an early education center with more than 400 students ages two to five years old.

The methodology in use at Coral Reef Academy is a comprehensive approach of Evidence Based Practices (EBP). In part, it is based on the principles of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) and the Treatment and Education of Autistic and Communication related handicap Children (TEACHH) model to structure classroom routines, schedules, visual supports, and to reinforce desirable behaviors.

Osgood says that a typical day for a Coral Reef student largely mirrors that of a public school student, but may be completely customized to the individual. Children learn in classrooms of five to six students, with a special education teacher and registered behavioral technicians. They open each day with circle time as a group with songs, greetings, and information about the day, then break into individual learning environments for writing, reading and math. Recess follows facilitated by physical and occupational therapists, then lunch outdoors. [When we visited the school, clowns were there for a special occasion, creating balloon art for the kids and painting faces].

The main goal for Coral Reef Academy students, Osgood says, is to help them become as independent as possible and for them to potentially gain access to general education. Teachers at Coral Reef work with children to increase desirable behaviors, with a focus on social interactions and communication. Ultimately, outside of school they hope for students to be included socially.

At present, the building which Coral Reef Academy just opened in late August is already nearing maximum capacity for students. In the future, Osgood shared the hopeful expansion to serve pre-school students as well as other islands, including St. Thomas and St. Lucia. The hiring of additional team members would follow growth of the school, including hiring more special education teachers, behavior specialists, speech and language pathologists, and occupational therapists.

Parents interested in applying for their child to attend Coral Reef Academy can call or inquire online at to begin the process of potential enrollment. While the school is currently a private pay organization, they do offer financial aid opportunities.

In closing, Osgood commented that the Coral Reef Academy team aspires to plant seeds in the St. Croix community, to help the general public better understand students with special needs. “The hope is for these kids to be embraced,” said Osgood. “They, like any other children, desire to have friends and be socially accepted.”

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