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Today's Family Magazine

Rising Star Academy empowers kids with cerebral palsy

Jeremiah Salinas, 13, has blossomed in just a few months at Rising Star Academy.

By Mary Flenner

In 2001 Erin and Tony DeCarlo’s fourth child, Thomas, was born during a difficult delivery and was later diagnosed with cerebral palsy. 

Despite the severity of Thomas’s condition, Erin and Tony always believed Thomas could do so much more.  Frustrated by the slow progress of the traditional therapy model, they enrolled Thomas in a conductive education program in Cleveland.

“I knew there had to be something more to offer him.  I felt like we were holding him back with traditional therapies.  Within six weeks, he was doing things that I don’t even think doctors would have predicted he could be doing.  Holding his head up and even standing,” says Erin.

Thomas quickly gained strength, and was thriving and showing motivation like never before.  Unfortunately the program folded not long after, but the experience not only had changed Thomas’s life, but Erin and Tony’s vision for what could become of his life.
In 2005, Erin and Tony founded Rising Star in hopes to not only help Thomas continue to thrive, but to help so many other children.

“Rising Star teaches purposeful movement.  Every minute of the program is spent working in a meaningful and productive way.  Whether it’s physical exercise, academic learning, social programs, or practicing daily living skills like eating, dressing, and toileting, the goal of every day is to help our students practice and learn the skills to reach their optimal level of independence for that child.”

Rising Star began with temporary summer camps, grew to locations within schools such as Broadmoor, and is now located in what was formerly the parish of St. John of the Cross in Euclid, with 14 total classrooms available.  The academy recruits many teachers from Hungary, which is where conductive education was founded.

Katie Churchin’s son Will has been with Rising Star since their opening and says, “Rising Star helps the kids to understand their bodies and understand themselves with other kids so they know they’re not in this alone.”

There are only 42 conductive education centers in the US, and Rising Star has seen families travel from Columbus, Wooster and Rittman, Ohio over the last 13 years.

“We’re really lucky to have one here in Cleveland,” says Katie.  “I’d drive to Pittsburgh if I had to!” 

Rising Star also offers a more intense program than typical therapy. Some insurance only covers one hour of therapy per week, which isn’t adequate for most children with cerebral palsy.  And many special education teachers are dealing with a wide range of disabilities, from mental to physical, while the conductors at Rising Star are experts in working with motor disabilities.

“It’s all abut the motivation and empowering that makes us so successful and our students so successful.  And that’s why so many parents leave their school districts to come to us,” Erin continues.

Phylicia Salinas’s 13 year-old son, Jeremiah has attended Rising Star Academy for five months and says, “He’s already able to take a few steps which is huge.  He’s now able to climb into a chair… and this is all just within a few months.  I can’t wait to see his progress in a year!” Phylicia says.

“They integrate academics and the therapy while practicing life skills where most schools focus on occupational or physical therapy.  Even his social skills have improved.  He’s more talkative and he’s so excited when he comes home to share what he did at school.  He’s made friends. He feels included.  His personality has really blossomed,” she continues.  

“The staff is truly welcoming and so kind.  They’re very accommodating; very kind people, which is very important when you have a child with special needs.  To know that your child is safe.  We’ve only been there a few months but it already feels like family.”

Katie Churchin says Rising Star Academy is also a great support system for families.  “You have somebody else who understands what you’re going through,” she explains. “I think my son is physically stronger because of Rising Star but also happier. They always think about what these kids are going through.”

“Our biggest challenge is to raise enough dollars to sustain the academy and eventually expand the programs,” says Erin. 

On November 9, Rising Star Academy is hosting their 13th Annual Gala, “A Sky Full of Stars,” at Windows on the River.   Guests will enjoy an open bar, live and silent auctions, raffles and more.  Tickets are available for both corporate and private sponsorship and an individual ticket costs $100.  Find more information about the gala on their Facebook page. 

Parents interested in Rising Star Academy should contact Executive Director Erin DeCarlo at 440-454-2898 or erin@gorisingstar to learn more and to schedule a free assessment to ensure the program is a good fit. 

More information about their mission and innovative approach is available online at