Each year, the New Jersey School Boards Association, along with ASAH, an organization which serves private special education schools, conducts the “Innovations in Special Education” awards program to recognize imaginative and valuable programs for special needs students.

This year, four programs will be honored during Special Education Week at 10 a.m. on May 17 at The Westin Princeton at Forrestal Village in Princeton.

The winners are the Warren County Special Services School District; the Hazlet Middle School; the Gramon Family of Schools and the New Road School of Ocean County.

Isaac Smith, a student from the Holmstead School in Ridgewood, Bergen County, won the art contest to create a poster promoting Special Education Week In New Jersey (May 12 – 18, 2019).

Below are details on the winning school entries.

Warren County Special Services School District: The H.I.L.L.S. House 

Age Group Served: Three to 21
Number of Students:  More than 40

The Helping Individuals Learn Life Skills (H.I.L.L.S.) program at Centenary University is located in a house, providing an opportunity for students with special needs to foster independence and build self-esteem. Students learn life skills, such as independent living, social, household and community skills. The success of the H.I.L.L.S. House is measured in skills taught. For example, one student was learning to make a bed. At first, it took him 45 minutes with a staff member modeling on another bed. The student came every other week and after many practices, was able to make the bed in three minutes.

Hazlet Middle School: Academic and Career Exploration

Age Group Served: Seven to Eight
Number of Students: 11

The Academic and Career Exploration program is a collaboration between the Hazlet Township public schools and the New Jersey Department of Fish and Wildlife. Students learn skills throughout the semester and then apply what they learn during a three-day, two-night excursion to the Sedge Islands, one of the most ecologically diverse and pristine marine habitats on the east coast, in the center of Barnegat Bay.

Gramon Family of Schools: Knight Court 

Age Group Served: 14 – 21
Number of Students: 85

The basketball program provides a good example of how the Gramon Schools modify a sport to meet the needs of students while encouraging participation by parents and members of the community. Knowing that not all students enjoy sports, the Gramon schools added cheerleading, a pom-pom squad, baton twirling and parent participation at halftime events to make the program rewarding and fun.  Physical therapists pair with gym teachers to assess the abilities of students and to find ways they can successfully participate in events.

New Road School of Ocean County: Operation Honor Our Heroes

Age Group Served: 18 – 21
Number of Students: 32

Although special education students often experience isolation and disconnection from their communities, New Road students learn to bridge the gap by providing badly needed services. They have made nearly 1,000 full-course meals for homeless veterans in Atlantic City. Administrators say New Road students have found that by providing services to others, their own self-esteem has improved, and they have learned skills that can help them succeed in the workforce and in life.