The ELIJA school for autistic children has just settled into its new home, after signing a three-year lease to rent out the 13-room Laurel Lane primary school in Levittown. On World Autism Awareness Day, April 2, ELIJA school stakeholders gathered with county, town and school officials for the ceremonial ribbon-cutting event.
“This is a fantastic use of the property,” said Hempstead Town Councilman Gary Hudes. “It involves and helps people in the community.”
ELIJA—which stands for Empowering Long Island’s Journey Through Autism—is a not-for-profit organization that was founded by two parents in the spring of 2002 and uses applied behavior analysis to keep educational programs effective, exciting, enjoyable, for children with autistic spectrum disorders.
This story originally appeared in the April 10, 2014 edition of the Levittown Tribune.
According to the ELIJA school’s executive director, Debora Thivierge, there are a total of 15 students attending the school, where they receive one-on-one lessons. For Thivierge, the decision to come to Levittown was easy one, as it is in a central enough location for parents coming from as far west as Manhattan, to all the way out on the East End.
Erected in 1956, the Laurel Lane primary school first closed its doors in 1978, after the school district found it was too small to remain an elementary school. Since then it has played home to several tenants, including a school for problem teens, the Montessori School, the Nassau-Suffolk School for Autism, and the district’s vocational, gifted and GED programs.
Most recently, the district used the facilities as an alternative education center, but when the program was relocated to the Levittown Memorial Education Center, in 2009, it left the building empty for almost five years.
“This is a home run for the community,” said Levittown Board of Education President Kevin Regan. “The building was unused for years… it’s a win-win for everyone here.”
During the ceremony, ELIJA school officials met in groups for a tour of their new home.
For Nassau County Legislator Dennis Dunne Sr., walking through the hallway inside the ELIJA school was a walk down memory lane. As a child growing up in Levittown, Dunne attended the Laurel Lane Primary school from grades 1-3. He fondly remembers performing in the school play and playing stickball with his friends in the schoolyard.
Reminiscing about Laurel Lane, Dunne fondly recalled playing outside on a particularly muddy afternoon. “My boots had gotten stuck in the mud,” Dunne laughed, “so my mom ran over and pulled me out.” Dunne said that since he lived down the street, his mother was able to come and help get him out of the mud.
After the tour, the festivities resumed inside where there were balloons and brightly colored decorations. The ELIJA school was also presented with a citation for its efforts to serve parents, professionals, and children with autism spectrum disorder on Long Island.