Rockford 2

About Us

Easterseals Academy provides evidence-based, innovative educational and therapeutic services to children and adults with autism spectrum disorder and intellectual disabilities.  Easterseals has three schools located in Chicago, Rockford and Tinley Park.

Our teams of specialized staff utilize a total communication approach (i.e. augmentative communication devices, sign language, visual cues, gestures, etc.), to maximize the learning opportunities. Students participate in a wide range of activities from functional academics and life skills to vocational training and supported or independent employment. Classroom placement is determined by the age and instructional needs of students. 

At Easterseals Academy, activities are structured to prepare students for life after graduation. There is a heavy focus placed on transition planning and self-determination, with an emphasis on student involvement in decisions regarding their educational plan and post-secondary outcomes.

Easterseals Academy – Rockford

Our Rockford campus offers spacious classrooms and a large outdoor area, including a playground and several areas for students to learn and play. Students are proud to oversee an outdoor vegetable and herb garden, as well as manage a school store. The simulated apartment offers opportunities to build independent living skills.

Our gymnasium provides opportunities for  adaptive physical education for students. The computer lab is designed for students to utilize computers and technology for instructional activities and educational purposes. All students use iPads, Apple TV and other smart technologies in the classroom.

Easterseals Academy participates in the National School Lunch Program and families may apply for the free or reduced fee breakfast/lunch program. Students may also purchase meals or bring their own.

Jacque Ruch, M.Ed., LCSW, Principal

615 S. 5th Street
Rockford, IL 61104
815.965.6745 ext 125 Phone 
815.968.3247 Fax
jruch@eastersealschicago.org

Administrative Team

Our specialized and dedicated team of staff is highly regarded for their strong commitment to serving the needs our students and clients.

Cassie Wells, Director of Autism Services

As the Director of Autism Services, Ms. Cassie Wells is responsible for the development, maintenance, and evaluation of autism-focused programming at Easterseals.

Ms. Wells received her Master’s degree in Education with a concentration in Autism Spectrum Disorders and Assistive Technology from the University of Louisville and her Bachelor’s degree in Special Education from the University of Memphis. 

Since beginning her career, she has worked in a variety of settings beginning as a behavior consultant at an early intervention center and preschool, teaching staff to facilitate effective behavior change, and transitioning into the university setting with an emphasis on teaching adult learners, including both parents/guardians and professionals to use evidence based practices with individuals with autism spectrum disorder. 

After moving to Illinois, Ms. Wells’ focus shifted to school aged students, as an employee, first with the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) and then with the Chicago Public Schools (CPS). While working at ISBE, she served as a special education consultant and the state’s autism consultant, representing the agency on all committees and leadership teams designated to review the policies related to supporting students with autism spectrum disorders. As a manager with CPS, Ms. Wells redesigned the instructional unit and re-shaped the role of the educational coaches assigned to support the unit. 

In addition to her professional experience, Ms. Wells is also the sibling of a woman with Rett’s Disorder.

Allison Donnelly, Senior Manager of Post-Secondary Services

Allie Donnelly is the Senior Manager of Post-Secondary Services at Easterseals and provides direct support to all programs in the Comprehensive Autism Services division of the agency, inclusive of schools, adult programs, employment services, summer camps, and school district training and consultation services.  

Prior to joining Easterseals, Allie served as the Director of Access and Opportunities for the Office of Diverse Learner Supports and Services in Chicago Public Schools (CPS), overseeing district-wide initiatives supporting students with disabilities.  Allie has also worked for the Special Education Services Division of the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE), and as a behavioral therapist, transition coach, and special education teacher in Pennsylvania, New York City, and Cleveland. In these roles, she became familiar with the challenges students and families face when planning for life after high school and navigating unfamiliar systems of support for employment and independent living. 

Allie credits her motivation to a group of students with disabilities called the Wild Dream Team, who truly taught her the meaning of self-determination.  These students, now successful young adults, continue to serve as a source of inspiration when teaching schools to think differently about how to prepare students with disabilities for post-high school success.  Allie received a B.S. in Rehabilitation Services from Penn State University and an M.A and M.Ed in Education of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing from Teacher’s College, Columbia University, where she was triply certified as a general education, special education teacher and teacher of the Deaf.

Jacque Ruch, M.Ed, LCSW, Principal

Jacque Ruch joined Easterseals in 2009, after an extensive career in teaching, early childhood administration, special education advocacy and facilitating professional development for educators.  Mrs. Ruch holds a Bachelor’s degree in Education, a Master’s Degree in Clinical Social Work with an emphasis on children, families, and schools, and a Master’s Degree in Educational Leadership.  Mrs. Ruch has comprehensive experience in special education including family support, clinical services, social skills training, advocacy, and professional development of instructional staff.  Mrs. Ruch has presented lectures and coursework at universities and professional conferences.  In addition, Mrs. Ruch is the proud mother of a son with autism.  Mrs. Ruch is a member of the High Scope Educational foundation, National association of Social Workers and Council for Exceptional Children.   Mrs. Ruch’s educational philosophy is to ensure that every student attending Easterseals is provided every opportunity, every day.

Beth Mehlbaum, M.Ed, School Support Coordinator

Ms. Beth Mehlbaum has been with Easterseals in Rockford since 2008.  She began her career with the agency as a one-to-one paraprofessional and moved into the role of Therapeutic Crisis Intervention Trainer in 2009. In 2012, Ms. Mehlbaum moved into her current position as School Support Coordinator.
Ms. Mehlbaum holds a Bachelor's degree in Criminal Justice Sciences from Illinois State University and a Master's of Art in Teaching from Rockford University.  Ms. Mehlbaum is also currently working toward becoming a Board Certified Behavior Analyst.

Terry Brown, M.Ed, Instructional Services Coordinator

Terry Brown joined Easterseals in 2015, after an extensive career in teaching, higher education and administration.  Mr. Brown holds a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science, a Master of Art’s in Teaching with an emphasis in Secondary Education and a Master’s Degree in Educational Administration.  Mr. Brown has experience in curriculum review and implementation, alternative education and professional development of instructional staff.  Mr. Brown is a member of the Illinois Principal’s Association, the National Association of Teachers of English and the National Association of Teachers of Social Studies.  Mr. Brown is also a member of the Alumni Board of Rockford University.  Mr. Brown’s educational philosophy is to ensure that every student is treated with respect and given every opportunity to succeed.

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