Our Approach to Education

At Cooke, we are driven by the belief that all children deserve an education that leads to an independent future – one in which they can be included as integral members of their community.

Strength-based learning
Instructional strategies are individualized to build on students’ strengths and meet their developmental needs. This strengths-based approach supports strategies that promote self-determination and foster independence. 

Robust academics
Our instruction follows an academic sequence guided by the Next Generation Learning Standard, giving students exposure and access to age-appropriate, standards-driven content in all major subject areas.Highly qualified special education teachers create, adapt, and modify content in order to meet each student’s developmental needs in an engaging and supportive learning environment.

Integrated therapeutic services
Cooke related service providers—speech and language therapists, occupational and physical therapists and school psychologists — work with students both in the classroom and in one-on-one settings. By collaborating regularly with classroom teachers and job coaches, therapeutic services are delivered seamlessly and consistently.

Community inclusion
Beginning in kindergarten and throughout the years, students participate in real world learning experiences that strengthen their ability to generalize classroom lessons and engage in their own communities. In preparation for the world of work, students participate in service and learning projects, all of which serve to reinforce the academic, social and life skills they learn at Cooke.

Transition planning
Cooke transition specialists support each family through the complex process of creating a person-centered transition plan which will best prepare each individual student for success and independence in the world after high school.

Parents as partners
Parents are our most important partners. They are integral members of the child’s instructional team, participating in educational planning, goal setting, and reviews of their child’s progress.

Commitment to diversity
Cooke is committed to maintaining a diverse community of students and to accepting students who can benefit from our programs, regardless of the family’s financial circumstances. Our students come from every borough of the city and truly reflect New York City’s economic and cultural diversity.


In order to best meet the unique needs of every Cooke student, our approach to education relies heavily on integrated services which promote independence, while causing minimal disruption to academics.

Vocational Services and Transition Planning
Cooke’s mission is to support our students in becoming independent, contributing members of society and active participants in their community. This mission is prevalent at each stage of the comprehensive special education students receive from Kindergarten through age 21. Students at our grammar school engage in learning which is designed to promote self-determination. As students progress through their time at Cooke, they continue to develop age appropriate skills which will support their independence.

The internship program at Cooke Academy and SKILLs provides students with a guided experience into the working world. We have a variety of community and corporate partners with whom we collaborate in order to give our students a wide scope of vocational experiences. Vocational Skills classes supplement on-the-job learning, and provide added instruction on the fundamental skills necessary for success in the workplace.

Person-centered transition planning also begins in 9th grade, when families are introduced to the world of adult services. Cooke’s Transition team of social workers are experts in their field. They spend years getting to know every student and working alongside families to create a plan that matches the unique interests and abilities of each student.

Adaptive Services
The ultimate goal of Cooke’s integrated adaptive services is to prepare our students for independence in their homes, workplaces, and communities. The development of adaptive skills, or skills necessary for everyday life, is integral to promoting independence for our students. Developing adaptive skills also empowers students to develop and maintain meaningful, lasting peer relationships. Adaptive services are embedded in everyday learning in order to strengthen skills of daily living and increase independence from early childhood through adulthood.

Students of all ages receive developmentally appropriate adaptive services as part of their daily learning activities. Instruction through a multidisciplinary approach and learning in natural contexts are key components of the comprehensive adaptive services offered at Cooke. Adaptive skill development is reinforced through strategic curricular planning, integrated related services, use of assistive technology, and frequent exposure to real-life settings such as the grocery store, bank, restaurant, apartment lab, etc.  

Art Based Therapies
Cooke’s curriculum carefully integrates multiple forms of arts-based therapy to support complex learning needs while strengthening social emotional skills. Cooke students ages 5 through 21 receive art, music, and drama therapy as part of their regular curriculum. These arts-based therapies are provided in addition to traditional counseling supports, adding an additional layer of social emotional support. Licensed therapists in art, music, and drama lead age appropriate classes in each of their respective focus areas.

Art Therapy

In Art Therapy classes at Cooke, students use various tools and materials to create art in both structured and expressive ways. The art therapy program is responsive to the needs and goals of the students as they arise throughout the year. Rather than attention being focused on the art product, the therapeutic outcome is found in the exploration and utilization of creative objects, which ultimately can serve to support and stimulate the dynamics of meaningful social reciprocity.

Drama Therapy

Drama Therapy is the intentional use of theatre techniques to facilitate personal growth. Scenes, scripts, and stories are created and used to explore the roles individuals play in the different aspects of their lives in order to build confidence and a sense of identity. Social skills are practiced as students interact with one another to create, act, and direct scenes and clinical observations gathered during drama therapy groups informs the therapist’s development of comprehensive therapeutic plans.

Music Therapy

Music Therapy at Cooke exposes students to a wide variety of instruments including keyboard, drum, flute, guitar, etc. Students can try their hand at different musical instruments while identifying new outlets for self-expression. In class, students listen to and create their own music with opportunities for playing together as a group and performing independently in front of classmates. Cooke’s music therapist works collaboratively with all staff to customize class time so that it best fits the needs of every student.