ACCEL (Arizona Centers for Comprehensive Education and Life Skills) originally opened in 1980 as LATCH School to provide highly structured and individualized educational and therapeutic services to meet the needs of Phoenix area students and local school districts. Seven classrooms serving 49 students in the first year demonstrated that previously struggling and developmentally challenged students could be successful and progress significantly in learning new skills. Motivating vocational programs were developed specifically for students with severe disabilities. By the end of the first decade, the program was serving 134 students from 23 Phoenix area school districts, including districts as far away as Casa Grande, Payson and Kingman. Additionally, the program was among the first businesses in Arizona to offer on-site staff childcare.
ACCEL’s impact on the community continued to grow in the second decade. The childcare center grew into a community preschool, expanding services for the surrounding community with side-by-side preschool services for Phoenix area children with severe disabilities. The program founded the first public/private consortium in Arizona between a private school and a public school district to provide special education services on a district site.
New programs continued to be developed. As parents expressed heart-wrenching concerns that they struggled to care for children at home, intensive programming in life skills was provided to increase student independence in the home setting and promote successful participation in family life. In keeping with the program’s mission of meeting the needs of the community, an East valley campus was opened in Tempe. ACCEL moved ahead of the curve in providing intensive behavioral services and striving to meet evidenced based educational standards.
By the end of the second decade, the program was providing services to over 200 students with special needs for 30 different public school districts.
The early years of the school’s third decade were very exciting. A new Metro Campus site was purchased and extensively renovated to provide an optimal setting for functional curriculum implementation, as well as, to provide an environment tailored to the needs of children with autism and other developmental disabilities. Innovative integrative outdoor learning environments were completed on Metro Campus through a large grant from the Arizona Diamondbacks.
The program was renamed ACCEL (Arizona Centers for Comprehensive Education and Life Skills) to better represent the excellence and variety of services the program was offering. Further innovations included a new functional curriculum and the introduction of the Model Classroom Program, an evidenced based assessment and intervention protocol for teachers incorporating effective teaching strategies and methodologies, such as, structured teaching and applied behavior analysis. Additionally, ACCEL developed a partnership with the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore, Maryland, an affiliate of Johns Hopkins University, to extend the Model Classroom program to other programs nationally.
ACCEL Adult Services, a job training and employment program for Phoenix area adults with disabilities, was opened to serve ACCEL graduates and other Phoenix area adults with special needs. ACCEL expanded its vocational and transition-to-work programs at all of its locations and began to provide intensive work training opportunities in a variety of school- based and off-campus settings. Both the adult program and the vocational and transition-to-work programs are enterprise based. Artisans create products that are sold nationally, as well as in ACCEL’s Gifted Hands Boutique in Scottsdale, Arizona.
ACCEL also opened the BISTA Center, a behavioral health program that provides behavioral services to children with autism and other developmental disabilities in home-based and clinic and early intervention programs. In both our clinic and school programs, ACCEL provides highly trained professionals in the field of applied behavior analysis (ABA) and employs more Board Certified Behavior Analysts than any school district or private school in Arizona.
ACCEL is the first private, special education program in Arizona to attain national accreditation from the National Commission for the Accreditation of Special Education Services.