The History of HMS School for Children with Cerebral Palsy

The History of HMS School for Children with Cerebral Palsy
Posted on Fri 29 Apr 2022

The CPARF team connected with the team at HMS School over our shared goal to change what’s possible for people with cerebral palsy. We’re proud and grateful that HMS is a CPARF nonprofit partner and we’ll be sharing a series of posts over the next few weeks about the school and some of the clinicians and staff who bring their talent and expertise to its halls every day.

In their first entry, the HMS team shares their origin story and what they’re about.

When, how, and why did HMS School start working with kids with CP?
Founded in 1882, near our current location in West Philadelphia, HMS School — previously known as the Home of the Merciful Savior for Crippled Children — was founded by Helen Innes and her husband, an Episcopal minister. In fact, the Home’s original charter pledged, “the care, support, and maintenance of children crippled by disease, accident, or in other ways.”

Renown for our care of children and young people with polio during the 1940s, HMS established itself as a state-of-the-art treatment center. As the Salk vaccine came to eliminate the polio endemic, HMS began to focus on children with cerebral palsy in the 1950s. Shortly thereafter, the Pennsylvania Department of Education designated HMS as an Approved Private School in the 1960s, allowing the school to flourish in its excellence in caring for children with disabilities.
As time has gone on, HMS’ expertise and reputation has only grown and strengthened. Known for our innovative communication programs and exploration of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) approaches, cutting-edge power wheelchairs and technology, and interdisciplinary team model and individualized programming, HMS remains true to its original mission of being the go-to resource and leading educational center for children and young adults with cerebral palsy.

Tell us more about your students.
HMS School cares for children and young adults with complex physical disabilities resulting from cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injury, or other neurological impairments, with the goal of enabling each to reach his or her maximum potential.

Currently, HMS School students range in age from 5 to 21 and have come from across the country. While the majority of our students are from the Pennsylvania and surrounding tri-state area on the East Coast, we have hosted students from California, Virginia, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and many other states. We’ve even seen international students join us from Puerto Rico and Venezuela. More specifically, our current class for the 2021-2022 school year has children from more than 20 school districts. HMS is dedicated to promoting independence and improving the quality of life for our students in a safe and secure environment so that each of our students can achieve their potential.

What types of programs do you have?
HMS School offers a variety of programs and services for our school population and larger community, including a Residential Program, Day Program, and Extended School Year (ESY) Program. HMS prides itself on offering a robust portfolio of educational programming, therapies, health services, social work and transition services, and consultation services. In addition to our focus on education and student care, our programs and services also focus on socialization, celebration, and having fun. 

We rarely pass up an opportunity to take part in a special celebration! From annual events including Prom, Winter Showcase, and Graduation, to regularly planned activities and field trips in honor of our students’ hobbies and interests, and so much more, we’re always eager to find ways for our students to experience their lives to the fullest!

What makes HMS special?
We often hear from visitors that there’s a magic to HMS that you can’t quite put your finger on, but a spirit you can feel. HMS is a school that runs on joy, passion, and thoughtfulness. Our students are the focus of our work and what motivates our team each day. We have the opportunity to see our students grow and thrive over the course of their time with us — sometimes up to 15 years, even — and that is something truly inspiring.

“Our students learn to communicate with us, and for some families it may be the first time their child says ‘hello’ or ‘I love you.’ To be a part of this process is powerful and humbling for our staff. Laughter is a huge part of our lives at HMS and the pride our students feel as they learn to advocate for themselves fills our school with joy.” - Tom Quinn, HMS President

What should everyone know about HMS?
HMS School is made up of an exceptionally talented group of more than 120 staff members, many of whom have more than 20 years of experience working with students and young adults with cerebral palsy. Due to this unparalleled expertise and training of our staff in education, student care, feeding, therapies, and more, HMS is the choice resource for school districts around the country. HMS brings more than 140 years of care and service to children and families around the country. There is no better place and no staff more qualified and dedicated than the HMS team here in Philadelphia.

Our Q&A with Chad reveals some personal reflections and achievements as runner with cerebral palsy. 

Learn more about Alexa and her CP origin story. Follow her on Instagram