Fort Myers Florida Weekly

High school for students with autism opens in Cape Coral



Family Initiative Inc. has opened Thrive Academy, a private high school for students on the autism spectrum.

Family Initiative, a nonprofit serving children on the autism spectrum and their families since 2015, recently received $5 million in state funding thanks to the efforts of local and state officials.

State Rep. Jenna Persons-Mulicka and State Sen. Jonathan Martin supported the bill to acquire the funding to help fill a gap in special education in Southwest Florida. This bill was passed and signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis to fund a world-class, scalable education model for teens and young adults on the autism spectrum.

The state funding is to acquire a school facility and further develop an integrated curriculum/therapy program to include grade appropriate classes, workforce training as well as on-site Applied Behavior Analysis and Occupational Therapy therapy.

Thrive Academy will build on the micro school Family Initiative piloted during the 2022 school year where 10 high school students on the autism spectrum were enrolled in a specialized educational, vocational, and clinical program to prove concept and collect data on student outcomes.

High school for students with autism opens in Cape Coral

High school for students with autism opens in Cape Coral

The newly opened Thrive Academy will enroll 50 students in this 2023-24 school year with the goal to increase enrollment to 200 within the next two years.

Additionally, as part of the school campus, Family Initiative plans to partner with Lee County to integrate one of the buildings to also serve as a special needs emergency shelter to support children and their families in the event of a natural disaster.

“Family Initiative has many people to thank including Speaker of the Florida House Paul Renner, Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, Gov. Ron DeSantis, the local legislative delegation,” said Family Initiative Co-Founder and President David Brown. “But mostly we thank the parents of our teens and young adults who fight tirelessly as warriors for the battle of acceptance and inclusion for their children on the autism spectrum.”

Elizabeth “Lisa” Cannon is the inaugural principal for the school.

Cannon was an educational consultant for Thrive Academy responsible for training instructional faculty and staff in the best way to educate students on the autism spectrum. She also researched and implements curriculum for students of ranging cognitive abilities to further enhance their life skills.

Cannon became trained this year in Youth Mental Health First Aid through Lee Health.

“Providing a quality education for our students is a top priority at Family Initiative,” Brown said. “We are honored to introduce Lisa Cannon as our first principal at Thrive Academy and grateful for the leadership and expertise that she brings to our school, our students and their families.”

Prior to joining Family Initiative, Cannon was an assistant principal at Cape Coral Charter School Authority and previously served as a teacher.

Cannon is also the recipient of several awards and acknowledgements and was a 2017 nominee and a 2018 winner of the Lighthouse Award for Teacher of the Year by the City of Cape Coral Charter School Foundation.

Cannon is an alumna of Barry University, Florida Gulf Coast University and Florida SouthWestern State College. She earned her Associate of Arts from FSW in 2006 and graduated with her Bachelor of Arts in secondary social sciences education in 2008. In 2019, Cannon graduated with her Master of Science in education leadership from Barry University.

For more information, see www. or call 239-910-0712. For more information on Thrive Academy, see ¦

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