Working at Shriner’s Hospital in the 1950s, Dr. Leslie Meyer saw children he knew should be in school, but their disabilities led others to believe they were ineducable. He looked beyond the obstacles to create a small school in 1954 with an appropriate environment for them to learn. Today, the Meyer Center for Special Children makes use of advances in therapy and technologies unheard of at that time, while remaining a place where children are celebrated for what they can do, rather than defined by what they can’t.
In 2018, the Meyer Center served 96 students ages 6 months to 8 years, with disabilities related to Down syndrome, spina bifida, cerebral palsy, premature birth, accidents, or illness. The school provides a uniquely integrated approach to early childhood education and intensive therapy, offering physical, occupational, speech, and music therapy. Students are grouped by their developmental age and specific needs across nine classrooms, with each child working toward individualized educational goals. Five curricula are utilized to meet the varying needs of each classroom.
According to Meta Bowers, who became executive director in January, intensive therapy and education interventions provided early and all in one place make the greatest impact on narrowing the gap between Meyer Center students and their typical peers.
“Over half of our students are nonverbal. Our teachers and speech therapists use a variety of therapeutic techniques and tools — ranging from traditional communication boards to advanced retinal scanners for those students who cannot isolate their fingers to point — to facilitate learning and communication,” Bowers said.
Shannon Spurrier, director of development, relayed the story of a nonverbal student who, knowing Spurrier’s tendency to get excited when she sees her young friends, used her device to signal “Uh-oh!” repeatedly when she saw Spurrier coming toward her. Her expression made it clear she was teasing, using the technology to show her unique personality.
“One reason our program is so successful is the way we work as a team, with everything under one roof,” Spurrier said. “If a child learns something new, other staff members will know it, and at the end of the day the parent will know it, so it can be reinforced at home.”
Meyer, who volunteered as the school’s medical director for more than 20 years, also served from 1974–76 as board chair of the Community Foundation, which has supported the Meyer Center through the years, including with two Margaret Linder Southern Endowment Fund grants totaling $87,390, according to Bob Morris, president.
“The Meyer Center’s mission aligns perfectly with what Mrs. Southern wanted to accomplish,” Morris said. “Providing the best education and therapy for children with developmental challenges is so important that some families move to Greenville so their children can attend the Meyer Center. But tuition, therapy, and medical expenses can be a financial catastrophe, so the funds were used to provide financial assistance for families.”
The Meyer Center has also received capacity-building grants of $9,700 for a strategic plan and $6,000 toward a new outreach video reflecting its renovated facility and current students. To highlight the long-term impact of early intervention on students’ lives, the video features a former student who recently graduated from high school and is now working at South State Bank in Greenville.
The Meyer Center is a nonprofit, public charter school serving children from all socioeconomic groups. Although no child is turned away due to an inability to pay, 68 remain on the waiting list, Bowers said.
“Our vision is to enrich the lives of children with disabilities so they reach their maximum potential,” Bowers said. “We need the community’s continued support so that the Meyer Center can also meet its potential.”