EPIC began with a group of four students working out of the Brooklyn Public Library. Co-Founders Katerina Watson and Joshua Askildsen had been dissatisfied with previous experiences in special education and were determined to start a school that treated children with the dignity they deserve.
Growing up, Katerina experienced the inequities of the education system firsthand. As a child living through the effects of complex trauma, and with younger siblings on the autism spectrum, she saw the ways schools consistently excluded, stifled, and dehumanized children with special needs. She began working in New York City schools as an undergraduate education student at NYU and found she connected most easily with children who had been discounted due to their behaviors.
She continued to learn all she could—reading every book and attending every lecture on education, child development, behavioral management, and social-emotional theory—and earn two master’s degrees from Columbia Teachers College in Inclusive Education and Educating Students with Special Needs. She went on to teach and develop curriculums for several public and private special education programs in New York City.
Like Katerina, Joshua had early insight into the special education, watching his parents struggle to find resources and programs that appropriately served his brother’s special needs. After graduating from Pace University, Joshua worked for several nonprofits before settling on the cause that resonated with him most: special education. As Joshua began to work in the field, he found that pre-existing programs were failing to meet students’ needs. He also hoped to work for an institution with a different kind of staff culture, one that valued equity, transparency, and collaboration over competition.
When Joshua and Katerina met, Katerina was homeschooling a group of children who had been expelled from their previous program. The co-founders quickly discovered their philosophies aligned. Both sought a school that challenged students academically while promoting social-emotional growth through validation, empowerment, and unconditional support. It was a school they’d never seen, so they decided to start their own.
Today, EPIC has a vibrant campus in Gowanus, Brooklyn, a student population that has more than tripled in size, and a dedicated staff that works collaboratively to ensure that every student is treated with dignity.