Founding of Soaring Eagle Academy
Soaring Eagle Academy was founded by licensed speech language pathologists, Linda Cervenka, Michele Ricamato and Deanna Tyrpak, with over 65 years collective experience serving children with special needs and their families. After years of providing intervention utilizing Developmental Language Models and the DIR® methodology, the merits of these methods became evident. The founders dreamed of creating a nurturing social and academic learning environment, that would integrate Developmental Language Models with DIR® Floortime principles for students diagnosed with Autism and related disorders, offering families a unique educational option to current practices. Deanna was personally faced with the challenge of educating her daughter with Autism. With no school offering a relationship-based programming, she began providing homebound instruction with the support of her school district and colleagues, Linda and Michele.
The founders came together numerous times, but actively began their journey in 2004 to create this magical place. They met initially with Jonathan Lotsoff, attorney/partner at Sidley Austin LLP, and school law attorneys from Whitted, Takiff, and Hansen, LLC to share their dream. They soon learned that much work was to be done and began by filing for incorporation and 501(c)(3) not-for-profit status. But before that could be done, this amazing school needed a name. Not just any name, but a truly symbolic name. There were many ideas, but the founders agreed on Soaring Eagle Academy after learning more about the eagle and its behavior. Specifically, they learned that the eagle never avoids a storm, but that it actually flies into the storm and uses the winds of the storm to take it to a higher level of safety. So, it seemed only fitting to have this majestic animal represent our school, our unique methods and the amazing students we set out to serve, who fly right into a “storm” and with our support, can soar to higher levels of development.
Many hours were spent completing endless paperwork and meeting requirements for incorporation and not-for-profit status. The Board of Directors was established, compiled of passionate and dedicated individuals chosen with the sole purpose of creating this one-of-a-kind school. As a result of the work of the founders, with donated services from Sidley Austin LLC, Soaring Eagle Academy was incorporated in 2004 and achieved its 501c3 not for profit status in 2005
It was then time to work with the Illinois State Board of Education and our school lawyers to determine the guidelines for opening a non-public therapeutic day school. The founders worked for years developing programming, policies, staff requirements and school curriculum, all to meet the standards set out by ISBE. During this time, the word spread about our potential school, and families began to get excited about the opportunity to have their child attend this cutting-edge school. These core families worked with the founders and the Board to raise funds to secure a lease and purchase equipment for our future home. Cresa Chicago assisted Soaring Eagle Academy in finding its first home in Burr Ridge, and the lease was signed in August 2010.
Soaring Eagle Academy was approved by ISBE as a non public therapeutic day school serving students ages 5 through 14 with Autism and related disorders, allowing school districts to choose SEA as a placement for their students. SEA officially opened its doors to 5 students ages 5 through 12 supported by 12 enthusiastic staff members on September 17, 2010. The High School Transition Program, serving students ages 15 through 21, followed with its opening in August 2011.
Linda Cervenka and Michele Ricamato serve as the DIR® Expert Clinicians, and Deanna Tyrpak serves as the Executive Director at SEA. Soaring Eagle Academy is a magical place, filled with joyful learning and interaction. It is near and dear to the hearts of the founders and always will be!
Meet The Founders
Linda is a co-founder and DIR Expert Clinician at Soaring Eagle Academy, a Director on the SEA Board and a licensed speech-language pathologist. Linda received her Bachelor’s Degree from Elmhurst College in Elmhurst, IL and her Master’s Degree in Communicative Disorders from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She has worked for 30 years with children with special needs in home-based and clinic-based therapeutic services and public and private schools providing consultation, training and support for children and families.
Linda is a developmental speech language pathologist and is certified in DIR® as a speech-language pathologist and trainer/tutor through Profectum. She a Senior Faculty member of Profectum and teaches courses to those in the certifcation process. Within her private practice in Lagrange, Linda works with children and families providing assessment, intervention and home floortime programming support.
Linda is married and resides in Riverside, IL with her husband Tom. They are the parents of two adult children.
Michele is a co-founder and DIR Expert Clinician at Soaring Eagle Academy and a licensed speech-language pathologist who works primarily with children diagnosed on the Autism spectrum. She has been in private practice since 1997 and worked in an early childhood setting prior to that.
Michele has participated in the certification process for DIR®. She is certified as an SLP and trainer/tutor for ICDL and Profectum. She is also a faculty member of Profectum, where she trains and supports those that are part of certification as well as training courses.
Michele has an interest in developmental speech and language therapeutic work and uses the science of developmental language acquisition to guide her evaluation and intervention of children with disorders in relating and communicating.
Michele has a Master’s Degree in Speech and Language Pathology from Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. She also holds an undergraduate degree in Communicative Disorders from University of the Pacific in Stockton, California.
Michele is also a mother of three children and has learned the most about development and language acquisition through her interactions and experience as a parent.
Deanna is co-founder and Executive Director of Soaring Eagle Academy, President of the SEA Board and is a licensed Speech-Language Pathologist. She received her Master’s Degree in Communicative Disorders at Northern Illinois University.
As Executive Director, Deanna plans and directs all aspects of the organization’s operations to ensure its mission, programs and services are consistently presented in a strong, positive image.
As a speech-language pathologist, Deanna has worked since 1989 with children with special needs in various settings that included both private and public school and private practice treatment at home with families for children from preschool through high school transition/young adult. She has used the DIR® Model in her treatment for the last 20 years.
Deanna is also a proud parent of a 24-year-old daughter diagnosed with Autism. She has gained extensive experience and knowledge in the area of Autism and related topics as a result of her daughter’s journey. Deanna has become a strong and skillful advocate for her daughter and other children with special needs, in the area of parent’s rights and school law. She provided a homebound instruction program for her daughter, utilizing the DIR® Model and supported by her public school district, since 2001-prior to her enrollment as a high school transition student at Soaring Eagle Academy. Dominique graduated from SEA in 2014 and has begun her journey into adulthood gaining experiences in the community driven by her interests and capacities, including volunteering at a local food pantry, providing personal shopping for neighbors and engaging in recreation/ leisure activities, which supports a meaningful purpose-driven lifestyle.
In Memory of Brooke Whitted
Soaring Eagle Academy is deeply saddened by the loss of Brooke Whitted. Brooke was a dear friend/colleague and lead school counsel to SEA. He and his firm, Whitted, Takiff and Hansen LLC, strongly believed in our mission to create a unique therapeutic day school, and were instrumental in providing legal support for the start up of SEA. SEA will be forever grateful to Brooke and his firm. He will be sorely missed.
In memory of Brooke Whitted, leader of Whitted, Takiff and Hansen LLC school law firm, a memorial plaque expressing our gratitude for his service to our school is displayed in our conference room in our new Lombard facility.