Meet Our Students

Meet Our Students


Eric began at SEA in 2011 when our high school program first opened. Through his years at SEA, Eric has done wonderful work growing in a number of ways, becoming independent, being able to work without an 1:1 instructional assistant, becoming our first student to work outside of our facility at Walgreens and more! Eric recently transitioned back to his district school and we are so proud of all that he has accomplished and what he’ll continue to do!


High School Student Al giving the welcome speech at the SEA 2016 Gala.

My son, Al, was diagnosed with autism at the age of 22 months.  We immediately began in-home therapy through early intervention until he reached the age of 3.  He then entered the early childhood education program through our public school district.  During the school years of kindergarten through 2nd grade, he was in a general education classroom with an aide.  

Due to Al’s increasing behaviors, the district then placed Al in a self-contained classroom for 3rd, 4th, and the first semester of 5th grade.  Even in this multi-needs setting for students with special needs, the district informed me they could no longer meet Al’s needs.  That’s when we found Soaring Eagle Academy, and our lives were forever changed for the better. Al was finally in an environment where he felt like he belonged.  From the moment I toured Soaring Eagle, I felt so much love in the building and I knew Al would be accepted for the beautiful person that he is.  Al’s unique qualities are celebrated, and he is encouraged to be the best he can be every single day.  Al has been at Soaring Eagle for 5 years now, and he is a happy 16 year old boy who is thriving and achieving so much success with the help of his family at Soaring Eagle Academy.

Lisa Papadakos

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Dominique’s Story: SEA’S First Graduate

My daughter Dominique is a smart girl that has been exposed to DIR®/Floortime since the age of three. She has always presented with a complex profile evidenced in her over responsiveness to auditory and visual stimuli in her environment, difficulty comprehending others and communicating her needs and inability to make her body perform in the way she intended. This resulted in severe anxiety and inability to stay calm and regulated. These individual differences would cause her to become dysregulated and physically aggressive, often misunderstood and interpreted by others as negative behaviors that needed to be extinguished, and as a result, her behaviors escalated. She was rarely seen for her positive attributes or her significant learning challenges, just the aggressive behaviors.

After multiple failed school experiences and no school utilizing DIR® methods in Illinois, the decision was made by our district to provide a home program to meet her educational needs that would implement the DIR® philosophy and methods. My goal was to provide her with meaningful learning experiences at her level of development that would woo her back into the joy of learning while supporting her individual differences and supporting her emotionally as we encouraged her to use strategies for calming and regulation. She made amazing progress and her self-esteem and confidence began to grow. She was ready for a school that could embrace, understand, respect and support her individual differences – but there was no such school in the Midwest.

Our dreams became a reality when Soaring Eagle Academy opened in 2010 with 5 students and one elementary classroom. However, Dominique knew that she would have to wait for the “big kids” class to open as we grew. At the age of 19, Dominique’s future bloomed with the opening of our high school transition program in 2011. She was enrolled at SEA after being in homebound instruction for 9 years. Somehow knowing her day had come, she entered SEA joyfully, continuing to build on the foundation that DIR® Floortime provided her at home. Dominique and her SEA team embraced the challenge that most of her life’s learning would need to be condensed into her early 20’s, a time when others would have given up, thinking the window for learning had shut years ago. SEA staff understood her needs and empowered her to use strategies for calming and regulation, engagement, comprehension, communication and learning – all life skills preparing her for a bright future.

Today, Dominique is a happy, engaging 24-year-old young lady. And, as co-founder and executive director, I couldn’t be more proud to share that in January 2014, she became the first Soaring Eagle Academy graduate! Dominique graduated from SEA feeling competent and confident to accomplish the next steps in her journey. Perhaps the most meaningful tools that Dominique takes with her are the strategies she has learned to be calm and regulated, allowing her to be comfortable and happy in her own body. To see that she has achieved that life-long skill, and so much more, far exceeds my very high expectations for her in our school.

Dominique has genuine friends in the SEA staff and her fellow students because interaction and relationships are the foundation of the DIR® model and SEA’s philosophy. She has gained the necessary skills and with the expertise, direction and support of SEA staff, she has successfully transitioned into the “real world.”  Her time is now spent expanding leisure and recreation, interacting socially with new friends and engaging in volunteer opportunities in the community. These opportunities may lead to supported employment, driven by her desire to connect with and help others, that will pave a path for a meaningful and balanced lifestyle. Dominique is a true success story. We will be forever grateful to “eagle school” for empowering Dominique to SOAR!

Deanna Tyrpak

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Mick’s Story

Mick has been at Soaring Eagle for almost two years, and it has been so gratifying to witness the relationships he has developed with his teachers, therapists and peers. He has a true trust with each of the staff members who works with him. He feels confident and supported at school, which enables him to progress academically and to participate enthusiastically and meaningfully in activities with his peers. He looks forward to school each day, and I feel confident and happy to send him.

Libby Hafkey

Nate’s Story – Former Elementary Student Transitioned Back to Home School District

I wanted to send you an email and touch base about Nate. Today is his 10th birthday, and I was reflecting on how well he is doing and how much he has progressed. I wanted to thank everyone at SEA so much for everything you did to get him to the place he is now. Nate got all A’s and B’s last semester in his general education classes. He is in pull out for language arts, but in class for the other subjects. He plays trumpet in the school band and last December had two parts in the musical Shrek through the park district. We still have work to do, but I know that he would not be where he is now if it wasn’t for Soaring Eagle. Thank you for helping Nate gain the confidence that he needed and a safe place to learn for the years he was there.

Jill, Parent of Former SEA Elementary Student

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