Home > Hands-On Learning Helps Austin Engage with School

Sometimes kids just don’t like school. And when a student has been diagnosed with autism, ADHD, and depression, it can often be an impossible task for parents to get their child to even attend school, let alone be engaged in the classroom. This was the situation confronting Karen and Jeff Swoffer as their son, Austin, demonstrated frequent anger and, at times, violent outbursts. The situation was dire.

“He was in and out of placements, and we had joint guardianship with the state of Maryland for a period of time,” Karen explained.

An Epiphany at the High Road School of Cecil County

Karen and Jeff enrolled Austin, now a 10th grader, at the High Road School of Cecil County two years ago. When he arrived, he struggled academically and was disinterested in attending school. Austin had struggled with traditional classroom learning, which resulted in poor grades, frequent absences, and an uncertain future. He needed something different—something to capture his interest and unlock his learning potential.

It all changed when Austin was moved to the school’s Applied Trades Academy classroom, a unique setting that offers hands-on programs rather than traditional classroom learning. It was in this classroom that things began to click for Austin. In the Applied Trades Academy classroom, he learned culinary skills, studied horticulture, and most importantly, realized that he loved learning with his hands and that he possessed an innate curiosity about machinery and technology.

The programs within the Applied Trades Academy classroom aligned closely with Austin’s hands-on learning style, and he quickly showed some real talent for both fixing tractors and coding. These skills emerged from his natural problem-solving abilities and an eagerness to tinker with machinery and technology.

Positive Changes for Austin

Along with discovering his passions and talents, Austin’s behavior has improved with help from the staff at HRS of Cecil County, who helped him control his impulses by using coping mechanisms and simply listening to his concerns.

And though Austin may not love going to school, his parents say he is willing to go and to put in the necessary work—a huge shift from a couple of years ago. “In the past, we could not get him to go or do the assigned work,” his parents said. “But he has benefited from smaller class sizes and by being around others with similar issues.”

Not only is Austin more engaged with school, but he’s also made changes at home. He demonstrates more positive behaviors, he has eliminated violent outbursts, and he gets along well with everyone in his family. The Swoffers are thankful for the work that HRS of Cecil County has put in with Austin.

“The staff cares about the students, and they work hard to make sure the students are successful.”

High Road School of Cecil County

The High Road School of Cecil County is a non-public facility that services Cecil County Public Schools. The school is a Type I full day and partial day special education and related services program for students with autism, emotional disability, intellectual disability, multiple disabilities, and other health impairments in elementary school (Grades 1 through 8) and secondary school (Grades 9 through 12). The goal of the program is to return students to their home-school when possible. Otherwise, the staff work with students to achieve graduation through the school with a diploma from their local high school.