SMASE was established in 1968 by Sister Marijane Ryan, a registered nurse from Boston, who had come to St. Michaels to care for another Sister with cancer. Sister Marijane Ryan was known for the brown cowboy boots protruding under her white habit and for always helping those in need. One day, Sister Marijane Ryan was wheeling around a six year old Navajo boy with polio, whom she had taken to, outside the Franciscan clinic, when she caught the attention of a Navajo Medicine Man who had been riding past in his horse-drawn wagon. Using her training in rehabilitation, Sister Marijane Ryan was working with the young boy in hopes of helping him to regain his ability to walk. Each day the pair would wander outside to continue their therapy, and everyday the Navajo Medicine Man would arrive and watch the pair in silence, no matter what time of day the therapy was occurring. Sister Marijane would try talking to the Medicine Man, using the Navajo the young boy had taught her, but she could never get any reaction from him. After four months of therapy, the boy finally stood between two chairs. Seeing this feat, the Medicine Man took off in his horse and wagon. That afternoon, he came back with his grandson, a three year old with Cerebral Palsy. Within three weeks, Sister Marijane Ryan had about fifteen children. On March 18, 1970, St. Michaels Association for Special Education was incorporated with the Arizona Corporation Commission as a 501 (c) (3) not-for-profit corporation. For more than 40 years, SMASE has been serving moderate to severely disabled children and adults from areas near and throughout the Navajo Nation.
To promote and provide a coordinated, accessible system of quality services for children and adults with developmental disabilities including their family.
The school believes that a child with disabilities is foremost an individual in his/her own right; that he/she can grow and develop throughout his/her life regardless of his/her disability. Each child is assisted to the fullness of this potential so that he/she can live a richer life and participate as completely as possible in his/her family and community. It is also the philosophy of the school to work with a family and not just a child.
The Education department here at SMASE promotes and facilitates the education of individual students ages 4-22 that have been diagnosed with physical or intellectual disabilities. Our school focuses on self-sufficiency, academic knowledge, Navajo Culture, physical fitness and meaningful participation in both community and family life. Currently, there are three classrooms, each one structured by the needs of the student; those classrooms are the Rise Classroom, our autistic support class, the Multisensory Classroom, our medically fragile class, and our Learning Support Classroom, which places a special emphasis on life skills and independent learning. Our Therapy department as well as our Nursing department also assists the classes as needed.
*As of July 2022 The Education Department has been Closed.
When clients age out of the school systems at 22, there are many options. One option is our Day Time Adult Treatment and Training Program (DTA) here at SMASE. Our DTA Program allows adults with disabilities a place continue their learning as well as socialize with peers, all while receiving the care they need. DTA clients participate in a variety of community outings, learning opportunities, and activities that are both engaging and enriching to their lives. DTA puts an emphasis on independency and life skills.
The Residential Department at SMASE provides both full-time and school-week housing for our students and clients. Currently, SMASE has 13 group homes, including 3 new homes, capable of housing three to four clients each. Licensed with Arizona Department of Economic Security/ Division of Developmental Disabilities (DES/DDD) our Residential Department promotes the safety and care of our clients.