From admissions director to school founder

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By Elizabeth Rose, Contributing Writer

Christine Ozahowski started a school for children with learning challenges.
Christine Ozahowski

Hamilton – Like many magical tales, this one begins with a child. 

Christine Ozahowski had three daughters. Over 20 years ago they attended a beloved elementary school where Ozahowski was the Director of Admission. 

“What I loved about the school was that it valued the whole child, the child’s well-being, the out of doors, community and the infusion of music and art in their school life,” she said.

The older daughters did well at school, but her youngest wasn’t learning. She complained of stomach aches and many days she begged off from school.

“By third grade it became clear my youngest child was learning differently. I had her evaluated and found out she had learning difficulties that made the instruction in that school not appropriate for her or other kids with learning disabilities,” said Ozahowski.

 

Searching leads to a new personal direction 

Ozahowski began a quest for a school that could educate her youngest daughter. During her search for the right school, she transitioned in her own career to a school where the curriculum was designed specifically for kids with learning challenges and disabilities. While there, she travelled and visited more than 100 schools across the country. 

“I began to dream of starting a school,” she recalled. 

And at age 60, she decided she wanted to study for a master’s degree. Many of her friends and associates were skeptical.

“They said, ‘Why go to school now? You’re already a success in your field.’ But I had this strong feeling I wasn’t finished yet. I had more to do in life and I wanted to learn more.” 

Despite resistance, she pursued a degree in Educational Counseling at Burlington College in Vermont, writing her thesis about “resilient students” or those with significant learning challenges who achieved personal growth beyond their predicted capacities.

 

A dream is realized 

Windham middle school student in the school garden.
Windham middle school student in the school garden.

Ozahowski dreamed of a school where students were excited to attend every morning, and every child had the opportunity to learn by meeting their learning challenges in ways that would help them thrive.

“What if I could just start an excellent school? I shared my dream of starting a school with friends and people I was meeting for the first time.”

One day, she unwittingly shared her dream with the head of an educational foundation.  This eventually led to an offer to a small group of educators to start a new school. 

“We were fortunate to encounter someone who had an extraordinary 250-acre property, three miles of trails, and a gorgeous 20,000 square foot green energy building. For me, that opportunity arose out of having a vision and articulating it. It was a 20-year vision,” said Ozahowski. 

In July 2019, Ozahowski, as one of a group of five founders, began a new job as the Director of Admissions of , a school for students with learning challenges. They began with 48 students and 17 faculty and staff in September 2019. The school has grown so quickly that an addition was added in the spring of 2020 and the school is now on its way to enrolling 110 students. 

Like many magical tales, this one ends with children. Ozahowski enjoys sharing stories about the students at Windham Woods School as well as their growth. 

Ryder is joyful at the Windham Woods School.
Ryder is joyful at the Windham Woods School.

One example is Ryder, a student who was not thriving in school and needed a different approach to learning. During the summer of 2020 he toured Windham Woods School with his parents.  He arrived reluctant to leave his parents’ car. An hour later, Ozahowski accepted him. 

“If you want to come to Windham Woods School, we would love to have you!” she told him. 

He jumped with joy, leaping off the school steps that first day. His mother captured the image in a photo and sent it to Ozahowski. When he was asked recently what he liked about the school, he said, “I know how to learn here.”

Windham Woods upper school student works on an essay.
Windham Woods upper school student works on an essay.

“Take the next step and do the next possible thing that allows you to feel passionate about your life. Believe in yourself at any age,” Ozahowski said.

To learn more about the Windham Woods School visit https://www.windhamwoodsschool.org/

Photos/submitted