South Walton Academy (SWA) will host its inaugural Color the Coast for Autism 5K and Fun Run on Saturday, April 4, 2020, at Topsail Hill Preserve State Park.
South Walton Academy, located at 305 Mack Bayou Road, is a private, non-profit school inclusion school and pediatric therapy center that is the first of its kind in the community. Due to the rapid growth of children being diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, not only in the local area but throughout the country, SWA was created to include therapies and educational tools in an effort to bridge the gap between the special needs and the neurotypical population through communication and education. With the rise of families moving to the area, South Walton Academy recently expanded to a free-standing 4,500-square foot building in order to cater to a larger student population.
South Walton Academy accommodates students of all abilities, including those on the Autism Spectrum, as well as typically developing and advanced developing students. Their school and therapy program are open to the community for therapy, as well as summer camps, aftercare programs and more. SWA works with the Florida Department of Education as well as the State of Florida to provide additional opportunities for students, including scholarship programs for low income families, children who have been bullied, those that struggle with reading, and for those with a disability. South Walton Academy is expanding to make room for the growing student population and to raise awareness for Autism, one step at a time.
Calley Middlebrooks, local resident and founder of the South Walton Academy, is determined to accommodate all abilities of current and potential students, while simultaneously educating and communicating with the neurotypical population about the rise in Autism and other learning disorders. Middlebrooks and her staff created the Color the Coast for Autism 5K and Fun Run in honor of Autism Awareness Month and to raise money for South Walton Academy’s scholarship program.
“We have several students who will not be able to return next year due to the financial strain that a private school puts on their family,” said Middlebrooks. “We know how to help them academically and socially and want to continue to provide services to these students.”
South Walton Academy currently has 55 students and 40 outside therapy clients. This summer, their roster is almost at capacity, and they plan to average 100 students a week. In order to provide excellent service and aide as many students as possible, SWA requires an enrollment fee, however many families are unable to afford the cost of private education and therapy.
“Money should never prevent a family from receiving services for their child,” said Middlebrooks. “We want to fill the gaps in scholarships and be able to continue serving all of the kids in need in our community.”
The 5K and Fun Run are open to everyone including families, pets, and runners with strollers. Check in for the 5K will begin at 8:15 a.m. at the park’s tram station and the race will start at 9 a.m. Check in for the Fun Run will begin at 9:15 a.m. at the same location and then start at 10 a.m. Runners and walkers will circle through Topsail Hill State Park Preserve back to the finish line at the tram station. After crossing the finish line, runners will enjoy a celebration from 11:30 a.m.- 2 p.m. featuring food by Back Beach Barbecue, music, and games from local vendors. The cost to run is $30 for adults, $15 for children ages 3-12, and free for children under 2 years old. All participants will receive a t-shirt upon registering. To register, visit https://www.southwaltonacademy.com/events.