Darren (from left), Piper and Sophia work the We Kneed Kindness Dough in Every Bite bakery cart. The microbusiness is run by the students at Bloom360 Learning Community.

Kids at Bloom360 are back in the classroom

By Tracy Ouellette

SLN Staff

Getting the kids safely back to school is a challenge this year as the coronavirus pandemic rages on in the United States and across the world. School districts around the globe are struggling with how to keep the teachers, staff and children safe and adopting split schedules, mandatory mask wearing and other social distancing measures in the hope of mitigating the spread of the virus.

While public schools are facing hurdles with large numbers of students, prep sports and providing virtual options for families who want it, some small, private schools are facing different challenges.

Bloom360 Learning Community in East Troy is a non-profit special education school that teaches kids age 5 to 18 with neuro-diverse needs.

Bloom has six students enrolled at the moment and a large enough facility to accommodate them, so they were able to open for in-person learning at the end of August.

“The kids started this past week; the younger group started first and the older group will begin next week,” Blooom360 President and Founder Laura Rauman said in the beginning of September. “We’re back in-person and hopefully we can stay in-person.”

Rauman said the kids have been doing well with the new rules of mask wearing and social distancing. They took their guidance for the new school year from the Centers for Disease Control and took extra steps to keep the kiddos as well as staff safe.

“We installed some UV lights on the furnace and air system,” Rauman said. “And we had all the air ducts cleaned. One family donated Plexiglass dividers on the work desks, too. And we’ve spread things out more.”

She said they added visual aids for the kids with arrows on the floors and other reminders.

“The kids are adapting really well. They’re wearing their masks; they’ve been amazing,” Rauman said adding that she believes it was the trust the students had in their teachers that made the difference.

Eleven-year-old Piper works on a painting; she has been a student at Bloom360 Learning Community in East Troy since the beginning. Piper has big plans for her future and wants to be a doctor.

Telling stories

Another tool used to prep the kids for school was “Social Stories” so the students could see how things would be different this year.

“A Social Story is like a Power Point that looks like a book with pictures of what to expect. We tried to use familiar faces and took pictures of actual spaces so they could see the difference,” Rauman said. “We had one for temperature check when they first come in that showed how to stand on the blue line and had a picture of what that would look like.”

She said they’ve been using Social Stories for a while for things like introducing new students and families to the staff and other kids before they start classes.

“So far, so good; it’s all been going well. We’ll just be flexible because we don’t know the future. In fact, the first theme of the year is ‘flexibility.’ We’re doing all sorts of projects and activities around that,” Rauman said.

She said they’ve had to learn to be more flexible and with the kids, it can be a sticking point.

“We’re trying to make it fun with hands-on projects to help them understand the concept because we may need to transition to virtual learning aging. While it went well in the spring, clearly in-person learning is best in our opinion,” she said.

For many special needs kids, social emotional learning is a major portion of their education and Rauman said that’s harder to do virtually.

“Given our relationship with the kids, when we transitioned to virtual in the spring, it went really well compared to how it could have gone, but it’s not ideal,” she said.

Bloom360 student Darren bakes brookies – brownies with cookies on top – for the microbusiness bakery cart.

Teaching and more

Bloom360 focuses on social-emotional learning and utilizes project-based learning as its main curriculum, according to school officials.

One of the ways the school uses PBL is with its microbusiness project that began this past winter.

“We have a bakery cart that has all the makings of a little business,” Rauman said. “The kids had to plan it out, raise funds, buy ingredients and each week the kids took turns at choosing what to make and with different parts of the business.”

She said the kids sold their bakery items to parents and staff, in the community and at events.

“The idea is to continue to build that into something more,” Rauman said. “To teach them, at a young age, the business aspects of working the cart, marketing their business and financing it.”

The kids chose to donate a large portion of the profits from the cart to the Lakeland Animal Shelter, Rauman said.

“The picked the charity they wanted to donate to. They really connected with it. They went over the shelter’s wish list and bought a lot of supplies on it and then went over to donate everything they bought in person,” she said.

The school also has the first and only two practitioners in Wisconsin certified in The Greenspan Floortime Approach. This licensing is the highest of its kind in the world involving the DIR Model and Floortime Therapy, is a proven method and key to Bloom’s developmental approach.

Bloom360 is also adding a program for home-school families, according to Rauman. The goal is to provide kids with neuro-diverse needs a place for social interaction they might not have access to once they are out of the school system.

“We created the program, called ‘Roots,’ over the summer and with all the COVID-19 protocols, we’re not rolling it out all the way this semester, but if someone is interested, they should call the school because we’ll work with them,” Rauman said. “It’s just another way to help the kids and the program is very aligned with out beliefs, which is at the root of Bloom is the social-emotional piece and we want to help supplement that for home-schooled families.”

For more information, visit thefloortimecenter.com.

How to help

As with many non-profit organizations, COVID-19 has changed the way Bloom360 is fundraising.

This year the Sept. 21 Big Dreams Virtual Fundraiser will replace the Bloom Social Sips and Bites event they held last fall, which raised more than $30,000 in funding for the school. Bloom relies on fundraising and donations for 30% of its budget.

This year’s virtual fundraiser has sponsorship opportunities and a cash raffle with a $3,000 grand prize. Tickets start at $10 each, three for $25, 15 for $100 or 40 for $250; they can be purchased by emailing Patrick at info@bloom360.org.

The drawing will be at 1 p.m. Monday, Sept. 21, which is World Gratitude Day.

For more info on the Big Dreams fundraiser, go to bloom360.org/events.

Scholarships available

Bloom360 welcomes students from all over southeast Wisconsin and scholarships are available to help families with tuition.

“When the kids graduate from here, they receive a high school diploma. We believe that’s very important to be able to go on to a tech school or apprenticeship,” Rauman said.

“There’s a misunderstanding out there about the how intelligent these kids are and about the social differences. Lots of training and understanding needs to happen in the world, this is no different than employing someone in a wheelchair. Those with invisible disabilities might need some accommodations, but they are capable of doing some really amazing things,” she said.

Bloom 360 Learning Community is at N8921 Stone School Road, East Troy. For more information, visit bloom360.org.


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