Desert Oasis logo


Parent / Student Handbook

Desert Oasis, a Desert Heights Academy program, was created to fill the need for all-inclusive instruction for students with mild to severe intellectual and developmental disabilities including Autism, Down Syndrome, Traumatic Brain Injury and Other Health Impairments. Under the leadership of Lindsay R. Perez, M.A., Desert Oasis is designed to meet the individual needs of each student through the use of high quality academics, community based learning experiences, positive behavior interventions, integrated transition planning, social skills development, job preparation, and independent living skills. The Desert Oasis program was designed to successfully teach students how to become more independent within their community and home environments, as well as introduce and teach replacement behaviors and effective communication in order to reduce aggressive tendencies. The Desert Oasis Program provides refreshing, all-inclusive instruction for students who may require more intensive and individualized instruction including those with Autism Spectrum Disorder, MiID, MoID, SID, Down Syndrome, Traumatic Brain Injury, Cerebral Palsy, Fragile X, and Other Health Impairments.


Our Mission: The mission of the Desert Oasis Program is to provide a highly structured, consistent, engaging learning environment that will prepare our students to successfully transition into healthy, independent, productive post school environments in all aspects of their lives. Our program is committed to the success of each student, independent of the severity of their disability. At Desert Oasis, we believe ALL STUDENTS HAVE A DESIRE TO SUCCEED.  For some students, success is right on the horizon, and for others, success may take a bit more time.  Our faculty is dedicated to promoting achievement in each student, even the seemingly hard to reach student. This handbook provides an overview of our school.  Please read carefully and let us know of any questions you may have. We look forward to working with you and your child.


Desert Oasis Programming:

Within the Desert Oasis setting there are two programs which provide specialized instruction and supplies for students who may require more intensive and individualized supports. The S.T.A.R.s and Skills Program provides individualized instruction and supplies for students with moderate or severe intellectual disabilities and Autism. A key component of this program is the application of the research-based curriculums: Strategies for Teaching based on Autism Research (S.T.A.R.) and Links. S.T.A.R. and Links are comprehensive programs that are designed to teach students critical academic, functional, and communication skills. This specialized program utilizes these curriculum packages alongside of the Structured Teaching Model in order to best serve and help promote academic, functional, and behavioral growth in our students. Additionally, S.T.A.R.s and Skills students participate in frequent community outings including grocery stores, community parks and numerous job sites in order to learn critical life skills that go beyond the classroom. The Bridge the Gap Program provides specialized instruction and supplies for students who may need more intensive support in the classroom and students with significant developmental delays and mild intellectual disabilities. This program utilizes academic intervention curriculums including Lindamood-Bell, Language! and Voyager Math as well as the Links curriculum when needed to assist in teaching routines and functional skills. These classrooms have a smaller student to staff ratio allowing for more individualized instruction throughout the day. Students in the Bridge the Gap Program also participate in numerous vocational and life skills activities in order to provide all-inclusive instruction that will best prepare them for their future ventures.


Desert Oasis Daily Routine:

The Oasis daily schedule is very structured and is consistently followed by all staff members. This ensures that students know what to expect throughout the school day and reduces anxiety and tension, promoting better opportunities for learning new skills and positive behaviors.
  • The school day starts at 8:30am, Monday through Friday.
  • Breakfast is served at 8:30am and lunch at 11:30am. Both meals are provided for all students and have a nutritional value that is in accordance with the State meal program.
  • Students are dismissed at 2:30 pm every day with the exception of Wednesdays.  Students are dismissed at 12:30pm each Wednesday to accommodate staff in-service training.  All Desert Oasis staff members will be required to participate in regular in-service trainings on these Wednesdays, discussing student needs, progress, and classroom programming.

Sensory Integration Desert Oasis students have physical activity daily. Exercise opportunities not only promote physical fitness, but also contribute to each student’s ability to process information from their sensory systems and improve self regulation. These sensory systems include the tactile system (touch), vestibular system (movement), proprioceptive system (body position), visual system (sight), olfactory system (smell) and auditory system (hearing).  Physical activity time also allows for students to practice social skills and appropriate interactions.             Desert Oasis staff are trained in identifying sensory needs and how these needs can be met both in the classroom and the sensory room. Our goal is to meet as many sensory needs as possible in the learning environment (classroom) so that students can remain engaged and progressing in their curriculum. However, we also acknowledge that some students may require more intensive sensory assistance and our sensory room is a great resource for these students. Below please see examples of some of the equipment our students can access:
  • Weighted Vest: This is a vest with weight in the pockets.  No more than 5-10% of child’s weight is used.  This is used as a calming strategy for improved attention and participation.
  • Weighted Blanket: Similar to the weighted vest, but is only laid across the lap.
  • Vestibular Wedge:  This is a blow up cushion that the student sits on during seated activities for calming, correct posture and blood flow, and attention.
  • Therapy Ball: Can be used as a seat or a deep pressure activity to bounce on/roll on.
  • Sensory Brush: This is a therapy brush that is used for consistent tactile pressure on the arms, hands, legs, and back of the neck.  It is used to improve attention and to calm during classroom activities.
  • Rocking Boards: Rocking devices provide essential vestibular movement to help children achieve normal developmental milestones, keep their bodies calm, and have fun doing it.
  • Body Sox and Therapy Bands: Increase body awareness, proprioceptive input, and help tactile defensiveness or sensory overload.
  • Therapy Swing: Swinging provides essential vestibular movement to help children achieve normal developmental milestones, calming them and letting them have fun.
The Desert Oasis Classroom:  A key component of the Desert Oasis Program is the utilization of the Structured Teaching Model.  Based on this model, four elements are considered when developing Oasis classrooms. These elements include:
  • Physical Environment is a critical element of the Structured Classroom. It is important to have defined areas in the classroom that are known to the students and visually recognizable as different. There are areas for students to complete Independent/Individual Work, Group Work, Leisure Activities, Break Areas, and Time out areas (time outs will be explained in the “Consequence Driven Approach” section of the handbook). Clear visual and physical boundaries are provided in the classroom to ensure students are aware of change in activity or work session based upon visual differences in setting. 
  • Daily Routines and Schedules are used for each individual student as well as for the overall routine of the entire classroom. Schedules are posted and visually accessible to all students, which assists students in their transition from one activity to the next. Students’ individual work schedules are developed according to developmental and academic functioning levels. Daily routines and schedules are followed consistently by all staff in order to help students understand what is expected of them and what activities need to be completed.
  • Work Systemsare developed taking into account the type and amount of work needing to be completed, the time in which the student has to complete the work and what it means or looks like to be finished. There are several types of work systems including left to right processing, matching materials, grouping, assembly, written material, and more. Work systems will be utilized in the classroom based upon individual developmental levels and abilities.  
  • Visual Structure is an important element in the areas of organization, clarity, and instruction when creating a classroom. Activities and schedules are created and prepared in a way that visually represents what is to be completed and what steps are to be followed to complete the task or activity. Containers may be used with some activities to ensure organization and help to focus the student’s attention on the task. Visual structure helps to clarify what is to be expected of the students in terms of work completion and following proper steps.

The Desert Oasis Curriculum:

The Desert Oasis curriculum is tailored to address the unique needs of each student as outlined in their IEP (Individual Education Plan). The Desert Oasis curriculum is a real world application of skills that assists students in transitioning between school, home, community and vocational settings.
    • Classrooms are structured in a way that accommodates the needs of a variety of different abilities and levels.
    • Students’ various levels of functioning will be addressed through the use of multiple activities and techniques.
A key component of the Desert Oasis curriculum utilizes the Strategies for Teaching based on Autism Research (S.T.A.R.) Curriculum and the Links Curriculum. S.T.A.R. and Links are comprehensive programs that are designed to teach children with developmental disabilities critical academic, functional, and communication skills. Desert Oasis uses these curriculum packages alongside of the Structured Teaching Model in order to best serve and help promote growth in our students functionally, behaviorally and academically.
  • Independent Work Skills and Activities:
    • Students will have independent work stations in which they will work on developing critical functional academic skills that are outlined in the student’s IEP.  Some examples are defined below (activities are tailored to the specific level and independent functioning needs of each student):
      • Applied Math: working with money, banking, budgeting, sorting, matching, counting objects, comparing less and more, use of time, measurements
      • Reading: reading independently, groups stories, letter and number recognition, use of picture icons, survival sight words, safety signs, days and months
      • Writing: independent writing tasks, hand over hand writing, modeled writing, tracing letters, proper use of picture icons and communication devices
      • Pre-Vocational Tasks: clerical and basic office skills such as photocopying or alphabetizing, classroom maintenance and clean up, kitchen skills such as clearing the table or making place settings and preparing and serving simple meals, filing
      • Recreation and Leisure: selecting hobbies, looking at and reading books and magazines, assembling and disassembling puzzles, computer games and activities
      • Domestic Maintenance: preparing meals, simple housekeeping, sweeping, wiping tables, taking out the trash, laundry
      • Personal Maintenance: proper hygiene, eating habits, toileting needs, proper dressing, grooming, brushing teeth, washing face
  • Group Work and Social Interaction:
    • Students have the opportunity to work in small group settings to help develop social skills while continuing to work on functional, academic and independent living skills. These small group settings will focus on communication, awareness of self and others, self regulation of behaviors and actions, self advocacy and transitions. 
    • Students participate in numerous activities that allow for interactions with staff and peers to promote positive social skills and appropriate behavioral responses. These activities involve cooking, reading, story telling, sensory activities, board games, and much more.  Some examples of the skills that will be focused on in these group settings include:
      • Relating to others
      • Taking turns
      • Adjusting to new environments
      • Initiating communication with others
      • Anticipating change in activity
      • Following directions
      • Self calming techniques
      • Applying behavior appropriate to the setting
      • Indicate preferences
      • Seek or request help
      • Express needs and wants
      • Tolerance of others
      • Ability to get involved in new activities and challenges
      • Responding appropriately to others


  • Community Based Integration Opportunities:

Oasis students participate in weekly field trips to develop appropriate social emotional skills, social skills, vocational skills and provide structured opportunities for community participation.  Field trips in the community are key components that give students the opportunity to practice functional life skills in real world environments. These field trips will include but are not limited to:

      • Restaurants                            
      • Grocery Stores
      • Shopping Centers
      • Bowling Alleys
      • Recreational Centers
      • Recreation and Games in The Park
      • Museums
      • Volunteer Locations

    • Vocational Opportunities:
    In addition to the above community based learning locations, Desert Heights Academy’s Transition Coordinator works with Oasis students to set up off-campus job preparation sites. Many of our students are able to gain meaningful employment in a community setting and we strive to help our students make these connections before they leave our program.  High school students who are looking to gain meaningful employment will typically be placed in these transitional opportunities once or twice a week for 1 hour at a time. Some of these vocational locations include:
      • Thrift Stores
      • Restaurants
      • Grocery Stores
      • Tire Shops
      • Office Max
      • FIBCO
      • Adult Learning Centers

Consequence Driven Approach

            Consequences are routinely used to provide feedback to students regarding their behavior. Our consequence driven approach emphasizes accountability, responsible decision making, and prosocial behavior.  It parallels real world practices by teaching students that there is a consequence for every action – be it positive or negative.  Positive Behavior Management Model Our staff target positive student behaviors, identifying how such behavior helps them transition toward success.  Positive reinforcement is frequently used to support students practicing prosocial behaviors.  All Desert Oasis staff receive ongoing training in Positive Behavior Management techniques and approaches.  Our interventions are developmentally sensitive, recognizing effective approaches for each age and ability group.
  • Desert Dollars are an important part to our positive reinforcement model. When students demonstrate positive and appropriate behaviors, they are awarded Desert Dollars which can be redeemed in our school store.  The store has a diverse assortment of treats, toys, books and other ‘cool stuff’ that makes earning Desert Dollars a rewarding experience.
    • Some of the more common rewarded behaviors include:
  • Self-control (physical and verbal)
  • Using positive words
  • Respect towards peers and staff
  • On task behavior and work completion
  • Cooperative behavior in the class
  • Encouragement towards fellow classmates
  • Behaviors that reflect student is following school rules
  • Consistent with our focus on transitioning students toward success, students operate the school store, learning how to inventory, manage the store budget, handle money and provide customer service.
  • Field Trips are a frequent reward for Desert Oasis students and include locations such as the Arizona Science Center, movie theaters, bowling, splash pads,  Phoenix or Wildlife Zoo, museums, Amazing Jakes and school barbeques
  • School Jobs: students may also apply for and work a school job. These jobs include lunch assistant, individual student assistant, P.E. coordinator, teacher assistant and computer lab technician. Students are paid cash for their time and work when given a school job.
            In the same manner as our Positive Behavior Management model, when students exhibit negative or inappropriate behavior, negative consequences are applied.  Our model does not punish nor shame students.  We encourage students to not make it personal when we set limits and apply consequences.  We explain to students that it is our job is to teach them responsible ways of handling various academic and relational situations and stressors.  We teach students that mistakes can offer valuable learning experiences. Some of the common negative consequences might include:
  • Time Outs are used to help students calm their emotions and regain their focus on appropriate and positive behavior. When asked to take a time out, students are placed in a low stimulation area, without significant visual or auditory distractions.  A quiet, calm environment is key in supporting a student towards self-regulation. Staff members monitor students while in Time Out and help the students transition back to class when they are ready.
    • Time out is NOT a punishment. Most people make use of time outs no matter their age or occupation. Therefore, at Desert Oasis, we see the effective use of a time out as a positive development for the student.
  • Removal from class: Many of our students may have a difficult time making connections between their behaviors and consequences unless this connection is made immediately. If a student is refusing to take a time out or is causing disruption in the classroom, the student may be removed to take their time out and calm down in a separate area. This area might be another classroom, outside, the sensory room or any other location that will allow the student a space in which they can re-gain their self-control and talk with a staff member about their actions before they come back into the classroom.
    • In some cases, students might be referred to our Behavior Intervention Program (BIP) where they will need to complete a “think sheet” and process their behavior with a clinician before returning to class.
  • Paying restitution to others is a key part of learning to grow up. In cases where students damage property of the school or other students, they may be asked to fix, repair, or replace this property when appropriate.

Stages of Transition:

At Desert Oasis we strive to provide a positive structure that will allow our students to track their success. For some students this may be a chart in the classroom or specific behavior goals they are working on. For other students, our “stage” system is a great way to encourage positive behaviors and track progress. The “stage” system is used with all Desert Oasis students who demonstrate understanding of how to earn points and advance through the model. The model may be individualized for each student in order to ensure comprehension – some students may use visual point sheets or earn tokens instead of points throughout the day.             The process of pursuing success is broken down into five different stages; Rookie, Apprentice, Starter, Veteran and Mentor. These stages offer students clear feedback on their progress.  Stage 1:  Rookie Stage
  • The Rookie stage is characterized by a student who is getting to know our program. As with most Rookies, they need time ‘to learn the system.’ Rookies tend to make more mistakes than the Veterans and therefore are given less privileges. In order for Rookies to progress to Stage 2, the Apprentice stage, they need to complete the following tasks for 10 days:
  • Attend school on daily basis
  • Earn 80 percent of their daily points
  • Complete 80 percent of their assignments
  • Receive passing grades in all classes
  • Practice self-control as evidenced by no aggressive behavior
Privileges include:  School store purchases.  Stage 2:  Apprentice Stage
  • The Apprentice stage is characterized by a student who has demonstrated the knowledge of how to navigate the system successfully. At this stage, they are confronted with the challenge of practicing their skills more consistently to enjoy the benefit of greater independence.  In order for Apprentices to successfully complete this stage and advance to stage 3, the Starter stage, students need to complete the following tasks for 15 days:
  • Attend school on daily basis
  • Earn 85 percent of their daily points
  • Complete 85 percent of their assignments
  • Receive passing grades in all classes
  • Practice self-control as evidenced by no aggressive behavior
Privileges include:  School store purchases, opportunity to shadow a veteran and observe the process of running the school store. Stage 3:  Starter Stage
  • The Starter stage is characterized by a student who has demonstrated the knowledge and consistent practice of the basic skills for continued academic success.   As the name implies, the student has shown the ability and earned the right to ‘start the game.’  At this stage, the student has earned the trust of the staff that they can behave responsibly and appropriately.  In order for Starters to successfully complete this stage and advance to stage 4, the Veteran stage, students need to complete the following tasks for 15 days:
  • Attend school on daily basis
  • Earn 90 percent of their daily points
  • Complete 90 percent of their assignments
  • Receive passing grades in all classes
  • Practice self-control as evidenced by no aggressive behavior
Privileges include:  School store purchases, opportunity to work a school job, and teaching assistantship. Stage 4:  Veteran Stage
  • The Veteran stage is characterized by a student who has demonstrated knowledge and success in their ability to perform their academic responsibilities.  The Veteran student has shown through their daily behavior that they understand what it takes ‘to get the job done.’  The Veteran’s transition skills have been tested and proven.  They understand through experience the challenges of staying focused on their goals and ambitions.  The Veteran has earned the trust of the staff to accept and handle more independent activities.  In order for Veterans to successfully complete this stage and advance to stage 5, the Mentor stage, students need to complete the following tasks for 15 days:
  • Attend school on daily basis
  • Earn 95 percent of their daily points
  • Complete 95 percent of their assignments
  • Receive passing grades in all classes
  • Practice self-control as evidenced by no aggressive behavior
  • Establish contact with home district school and explore options for transition
Privileges include:  School store purchases, opportunity for school jobs, employment opportunities (High School students), help run the school store, teaching assistantship Stage 5:  Mentor Stage
  • As a Mentor, the student has arrived!  They have shown themselves and others they have achieved success in our program.  Mentors consistently practice transition skills necessary for academic and vocational success beyond Desert Oasis.  As the name implies, Mentors lead by example.  Through their positive behavior, they strengthen those around them.  They provide encouragement to Rookies and guidance to Apprentices, Starters and Veterans.  Mentors have earned the trust of staff to accept and handle independent activities.  In order to maintain at this stage, students need to complete the following tasks on a day to day basis:
  • Attend school on daily basis
  • Earn 95 percent of their points
  • Complete 100 percent of their assignments
  • Receive passing grades in all classes
  • Practice self-control as evidenced by no aggressive behavior
  • Establish contact with home district school and explore options for transition
  • Identify a concrete plan for success beyond Desert Oasis
Privileges include:  School store purchases, opportunity for school jobs, employment opportunities (High School students), teaching assistantship, bathroom and hall passes, opportunity to help with orientation of new students, opportunity to mentor a Rookie, Apprentice, Starter, or Veteran. 

Progress Monitoring and Parent/Guardian Communication: 

Individual Education Program: Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) are essential for students who receive special education services.  These plans are designed to meet the unique learning and behavioral needs of students. Desert Oasis take an active part in creating an IEP that is appropriate and accurate based upon the needs of each individual student in the program. Desert Oasis staff will monitor each student’s progress toward accomplishing the goals stated in the IEP. His or her parents/guardians are regularly informed of their student’s progress and whether that progress is enough for the student to achieve the goals by the end of the year. The progress reports will be given to parents at least quarterly.
  • Student Progress is monitored through the use of both academic and behavioral tracking formats developed by Desert Oasis and supported by each staff member.
 Communication Effective instruction and behavioral intervention is enhanced through consistent communication between the school and home. Therefore, students receive a Daily Activity Log that is sent home detailing the events of the student’s day, and rating the students’ academics and behavior on and off campus. There is a section of the communication log that will be left for parent comments or concerns, and we would like to encourage any and all feedback that you can give. As a parent or legal guardian of a Desert Oasis student, you are always welcome to come to the school for visits.  Often times, the students are engaged in various activities in and out of class.  In efforts to not disrupt such activities, we ask that you call ahead to arrange your visit.  We also ask that you support our efforts and maintaining a positive school culture.

Student Safety and Incident Reporting:

Desert Oasis is committed to providing your child with a safe, healthy and productive learning community. If a student is ever injured during school hours, parents and guardians will be notified immediately. An administrator will call and discuss the matter detailing the situation as well as answer questions concerning the incident. Documentation will always be completed when an incident occurs. These forms will be kept in the student’s file. Physical Management: In order to maintain a safe and positive learning environment, we practice physical management in situations where students are behaving in an unsafe manner.  All staff are trained in the non-violent physical management techniques. It is our focus to promote and reinforce self-control.  However, if a student is demonstrating unsafe and out of control behavior, we will engage the student in physical management to ensure the students, staff, and fellow classmates’ safety.  The physical management procedure used at Desert Heights Academy involves a 3 step procedure.  The stepwise format allows for the student to have psychological control over the procedure.  Student behavior determines how restrictive the physical management needs to be.  In efforts to ensure student safety, a minimum of two staff participate in the physical management procedure. 
  • Step 1 (Arm Hold):  Two staff, standing to the side of the student, secure both arms of the student by holding the student’s wrist and upper arm (above elbow).
  • Step 2 (Standing Hold):  Lead staff moves behind student, securing student’s arm across their body while assist staff remains holding student’s arm around wrist and upper arm (above elbow).
  • Step 3 CPI team control position: The CPI Team Control Position is used to manage individuals who have become dangerous to themselves or others. Two staff members hold the individual as the auxiliary team member(s) continually assess the safety of all involved and assist, if needed. During the intervention, staff members who are holding the individual will
    • Face the same direction as the acting-out person while adjusting, as necessary, to maintain close body contact with the individual.
    • Keep their inside legs in front of the individual.
    • Bring the individual’s arms across their bodies, securing them to their hip areas.
    • Place the hands closest to the individual’s shoulders in a C-shape position to direct the shoulders forward.
All staff involved in the physical management (PM) process are required to complete individual documentation following each PM.  A designated administrator will phone the student’s parent / guardian to notify them about the PM incident anytime it involves deviations from the documented steps. The CPI Children’s Control Position is designed to be used with small children. Desert Oasis may use this position with students smaller than staff, and only when one staff is available. Desert Oasis will primarily use theCPI Team Control Position and the CPI Children’s Control Position as a last resort in cases of physically dangerous behaviors presented by students. However, there may be cases where a student may require a more restrictive physical intervention for safety. In that instance DHA staff will use a four step model that continues to allow for the student to have psychological control over the procedure. 

Medication, Medical Concerns and Dietary Needs:

If your child takes any form of medication, it is essential that this information be addressed during the intake meeting. Please inform us of what type of medication your child takes and the times that the medication is to be given. In efforts to ensure safe distribution, medications will not be accepted by Desert Oasis if they are not in the appropriate, labeled prescription bottles.  Medications must be brought in by the parent or guardian and are never to be sent in with the students due to safety and health concerns. Parents/guardians will be notified when their child’s medications are getting low and require refilling.  Please inform us of any medical concerns or health related issues to better assist us in caring for your child. It is important for us to be aware of medical conditions such as food allergies, seizure disorders, medication side effects, previous surgeries and/or previous injuries. Such information helps our school nurse and all of the staff at Desert Oasis to better provide for your child in a safe and healthy manner.  If your child requires a special diet for medical or personal reasons, please inform us at the time of the intake. If the dietary concerns are a medical matter, please provide us with documentation from your child’s doctor. If your child requires a specific diet, and must eat meals from home, please feel free to let us know. If your child has specific foods that are NOT to be consumed at any time, please inform us immediately so that we can relay this information to all of the staff.


Confidentiality and Privacy:

At Desert Oasis, we respect the privacy of our students and their families.  Ethical and legal guidelines indicate that minor students and their legal guardians have the right to have their records remain confidential.  With the exception of the referring school district representative, we do not discuss student matters with others who are not the student’s legal parent or guardians.  A release form is typically signed to permit information exchange with others who are not legal guardians of the student.


Contact Information:


Desert Oasis Program Director
Lindsay R. Perez, M.A.
(602) 574-2976

Director of Operations
Samuel L. Wright, Jr. M.Ed.
(602) 740-3000

Transition Specialist
Yosef Rodel
(602) 277-4482

Executive Director
Michael J. Redivo, Ph.D.
(602) 743-2956

Clinical Director
Lynn Nunemacher, Psy.D.
(602) 277-4482


Desert Heights Academy
921 W Camelback Rd
Phoenix, AZ 85013
Phone: (602) 277-4482
Fax: (602) 277-4483


PowerSchool Access: