Proposed charter school serving northwest Houston area would offer tuition-free, autism-focused services at future Magnolia campus

From left to right: Director of Community Relations Stacy Grimes, founder and President Elizabeth Goldsmith, and Licensed Behavior Analyst Adrienne Sodemann help lead Thrive with Autism. (Adriana Rezal/Community Impact Newspaper)
From left to right: Director of Community Relations Stacy Grimes, founder and President Elizabeth Goldsmith, and Licensed Behavior Analyst Adrienne Sodemann help lead Thrive with Autism. (Adriana Rezal/Community Impact Newspaper)

From left to right: Director of Community Relations Stacy Grimes, founder and President Elizabeth Goldsmith, and Licensed Behavior Analyst Adrienne Sodemann help lead Thrive with Autism. (Adriana Rezal/Community Impact Newspaper)

Elizabeth Goldsmith founded Thrive with Autism two years ago with the goal of establishing an autism-focused, tuition-free charter school for students to receive academics and therapeutic services. Goldsmith said the one-stop model of the proposed school was inspired by The Els for Autism Foundation facility in Jupiter, Florida.

Goldsmith, the president and founder of the Magnolia-based nonprofit, said families often struggle to find autism-focused programs offering high-quality education and therapy at an affordable price. Goldsmith said she experienced this issue with her 8-year-old son, who has autism.

“We want to give families hope and know that something’s coming to help them meet their needs for their children,” Goldsmith said. “They have so much potential inside them; we just have to find a way to get in and unlock that potential.”

The organization plans to build a school facility off of FM 1488 between Sierra Woods and Superior Road in Magnolia and is slated to welcome students in fall 2022. The campus will accept students residing in seven local school districts, including Conroe, Klein, Magnolia, Montgomery, Spring, Tomball and Waller ISDs.

“This is where we first saw the need,” Goldsmith said. “Most of us reside in this area, and we saw the kids struggling and we wanted to help.”

While the school will start by offering multiage classes of kindergarten to fifth grade, grade levels will be added each year until accommodating students ages 3-21.

Adrienne Sodemann, a charter board and application team member with Thrive with Autism, said higher grade-level support for autism is unique to the school.

“We want to get a good model that works, and we can’t accommodate every grade level right away,” Sodemann said. “We need more support at the younger ages, but it just kind of fizzles out.”

According to Sodemann, the school plans to offer applied behavior analysis treatment to students in an academic setting. As a public school, the charter school will receive state and federal funding, allowing tuition to be free.

“This [school] gives [families] the opportunity to have access to the insurance-based therapists without having insurance or having to go broke trying to pay for it,” Sodemann said.

To satisfy the school’s foreign language requirement, Sodemann said American Sign Language will be offered to students.

“One of the stumbling blocks for children that have autism is communication,” Sodemann said. “They struggle with being able to speak; some are nonverbal, and so what sign language does is it gives them another avenue to communicate with their peers, with their teachers and everyone.”

Making plans

Goldsmith said Thrive with Autism submitted a 500-page charter school application in late January to the state and expects a decision later this summer.

In the meantime, the nonprofit is currently fundraising for a $1.5 million down payment on the land on which the facility will be built. The organization currently has a $200,000 pledge from nonprofit The Brown Foundation and has applied for a $900,000 grant offered by the Public Charter Startup Program, according to Goldsmith.

“[We’ve been] building our team, making connections, fundraising [and] reaching out to families to see what they would like to see in a school like ours and getting community support,” Goldsmith said.

Sodemann said the organization has been connecting with the community to get feedback from residents on what the school should look like. When the coronavirus pandemic made it difficult to conduct community outreach meetings in person, the nonprofit went virtual instead.

“Those [meetings] were so valuable to us because [families] ... were so honest with what their struggles were and giving us ideas of what worked and what they want to see,” Sodemann said.

Looking ahead, Thrive with Autism plans to open a second charter school in the Houston area by fall 2025. Sodemann said while the Houston campus will mirror the Magnolia campus model, it will start with a younger pool of students in kindergarten to fourth grade and service Alief, Fort Bend, Houston, Pasadena, Pearland and Spring Branch ISDs.

“There’s a greater need out there, and there’s ... greater struggles in general for families, so we want to get a good model going strong in Magnolia and then start small in Houston and just grow and build and make it as successful as we can,” Sodemann said.

Thrive with Autism



The Electric Reliability Council of Texas said power outages are not expected April 13, while requesting energy conservation. (Iain Oldman/Community Impact Newspaper)
UPDATE: ERCOT call for energy conservation ends April 13 without need for power outages

An ERCOT official said "tight" supply and demand conditions arose on the state's electric grid April 13 due to forecasting issues amid planned, seasonal maintenance outages by some power generators.

Spearheaded by state Rep. Gene Wu, D-Houston, the new court, if established, would expand the capacity of the county's criminal court system in hopes of reducing its backlog, which stood at 70,951 total cases pending before criminal district courts in Harris County as of April 8. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Harris County supports creation of new criminal district court to tackle case backlog

If the efforts are successful, this would be Harris County's first new criminal district court since 1984 when the 351st District Court was created.

Northwest Harris County Municipal Utility District No. 5 covers 22 communities and roughly 2,800 acres around the border of Cy-Fair and Tomball. (Courtesy Northwest Harris County MUD No. 5)
Northwest Harris County MUD pitches bond referendums to keep up with growth, bolster trail system

Northwest Harris County MUD No. 5—which caters to 22 subdivisions around the border of Cy-Fair and Tomball—is seeking voter approval on bond referendums that officials said will help maintain aging utility infrastructure, launch a water reclamation project and bring new trails to the community.

Montgomery County Judge Mark Keough speaks during a budget presentation April 13. (Screenshot via Montgomery County livestream)
Montgomery County commissioners begin FY 2021-22 budget talks

Budget talks have begun at the county level, with a workshop scheduled for late July.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommended health providers pause distribution of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine April 13. (Olivia Aldridge/Community Impact Newspaper)
State, federal health authorities recommend pause of Johnson & Johnson vaccine after 6 rare, severe blood clots

Hub providers in Dallas, Harris and Travis counties have all announced they will follow the recommendations and pause distribution of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Hackberry Plaza to bring 15,000 square feet of space along FM 1488 this summer

The plaza includes two 7,500-square-foot buildings with approximately six tenants slated for each.

Armored Sports camps feature basketball, flag football and more. (Courtesy Pexels)
Armored Sports camps to launch in venues across Greater Houston

A new Christian sports camp for youth is launching this summer in churches across the Greater Houston area.

Montgomery County's active COVID-19 case count was 1,692 as of April 9. (Community Impact staff)
Montgomery County active COVID-19 case count drops below 1,700 as of April 9

The active COVID-19 case count in Montgomery County is the lowest it has been since October.

"Breaking Strongholds" is a faith-based, eight-episode series that explores topics such as suicide and depression. (Courtesy Terry Weaver)
Series shot in Montgomery County aiming for Hulu, Netflix deal and more Houston-area news

Read the latest business and community news from the Houston area.

Construction on Creekside Court, a KB Home community, is underway in Magnolia on Carraway Lane near FM 2978. (Courtesy KB Home)
97-homesite Creekside Court under construction at Carraway Lane, FM 2978

Construction on Creekside Court, a KB Home community, is underway in Magnolia on Carraway Lane near FM 2978.

Mental health services have seen an increased demand through 2020 and early 2021. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Q&A: Tri-County Behavioral Healthcare director speaks on increased demands from pandemic

Evan Roberson spoke on the demand for mental health services as well as what his organization has seen over the past year.

The temporary waiver covering initial vehicle registration, vehicle registration renewal, vehicle titling, renewal of permanent disabled parking placards and 30-day temporary permits will end April 14. (Hannah Zedaker/Community Impact Newspaper)
DMV officials say no grace period following waiver of car title, registration; new housing set for Magnolia, Cypress

Read the top business and community news from the past week from the Houston area.