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August 2011

Comfort Zone

You might think that a celebratory Christmas stage production in California cast with sensitive, creative children would be the last place a kid would have to worry about getting bullied.

Tell that to Nick Gere. Then nine years old, the other players teased him so relentlessly about his quirkiness that he broke down the day after the production ended. He lapsed into such a post-traumatic funk that he was afraid to attend his school on the central coast of California. “He was severely traumatized—he barely left the house for several years—and his school wouldn’t do anything other than provide tutoring for an hour a day,” says Nick’s mother, Cia Perlman-Gere.

Nick visited therapists and underwent testing that finally revealed the likely source of his offbeat mannerisms: the autism spectrum disorder Asperger’s syndrome. Getting no help from his school in dealing with this, the Gere family searched in vain for an alternative near home.

Finally, some friends from Denver mentioned a private school, Denver Academy, that specialized in teaching kids with learning differences. After extensive interviews, phone calls, and emails with the DA staff—Nick even visited the school for a week—the Geres short-sold their house and moved to the Front Range. “It didn’t feel like any school I’ve gone to before,” Nick says. “I don’t know if it’s Denver, or how the school is set up, but I didn’t feel anxious.”

Now 15 and entering his junior year, and despite always being the youngest member of his class, Nick has a 3.8 GPA and hopes to study filmmaking in college. (He was a finalist in DA’s annual statewide film competition this spring.) He and his family attribute his rejuvenation to the inclusive, supportive environment DA has created—the school has strictly enforced anti-bullying practices, its administrators have an open-door policy for all students, and they set up new students like Nick with “shadow buddies” who help them get acclimated. “It hasn’t been 100 percent smooth sailing, but I didn’t really expect it to be,” Nick says. “Nothing is perfect, but this place is as close to perfect as anything I’ve ever seen.”

-Luc Hatlestad