In partnership with ASAH, the New Jersey School Boards Association is proud to celebrate Special Education Week in New Jersey while recognizing four imaginative programs that are helping some of the state’s 250,000 special needs students.

As part of its celebration of Special Education Week, the NJSBA and ASAH, since 2002, have sponsored an “Innovations in Special Education” program that has drawn wide interest from the state’s special education community.  For this year’s award program, public and private schools from across New Jersey submitted 41 eligible entries.

The programs will be part of a special 10 a.m. Facebook Live broadcast on Tuesday, May 11 on the NJSBA’s Facebook channel.

The broadcast will include comments from state Senate President Steve Sweeney; Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin; Acting Commissioner of Education Dr. Angelica Allen-McMillan; and State Board of Education President Kathy Goldenberg.

NJSBA Executive Director Dr. Lawrence S. Feinsod, who will speak during the broadcast, said he was pleased to take part in the 36th annual Special Education Week, which will be celebrated from May 9 through May 15 this year.

“In my 40-plus years as an educator, I have always kept children who face learning challenges close to my heart,” Feinsod said. “As a former special education teacher, I know that, with the proper support, every student can achieve his or her potential. We need to ensure that all students have access to the most appropriate, high-quality special education services—whether they are provided in-district or in a separate setting.”

During the broadcast, NJSBA President Mike McClure and William Weiss, president of ASAH, will recognize the following programs:

The 2021 Innovations in Special Education Award Honorees

Bergenfield School District, Bergenfield Public School
College and Careers for All

Contact: Dr. Christopher Tully, Superintendent of Schools, Bergenfield School District

The goal of the Bergenfield School District’s College and Careers for All program is to increase the number of students with disabilities who are prepared for the transition from school to adult life. Bergenfield created the IEP for Life Project to target a cadre of 20 students in grades nine through 12-plus.  Objectives include increasing the number of students graduating with a completed vocational profile, résumé, and summary of academic and functional performance. To date, 20 students have met all established goals as documented through program data and anecdotal summaries in student profiles collected monthly.  Data documents that Bergenfield has reached its objectives. As a result of Bergenfield’s efforts, three New Jersey universities are now considering creating post-secondary learning opportunities on campus for students with severe learning disabilities. The IEP for Life program is unique in that all schools complete IEPs for students with special needs, but person-centered planning assumes all people have real strengths and gifts that are of value and are needed by communities. To be “person-centered” means to actively strive to acquire a deep understanding of each person and plan accordingly. The uniqueness of the program also lies in the concerted effort to include college as an option for post-secondary education, as well as vocational training, and the development of a résumé.  It also actively engages parents in post-secondary school planning for their children, preparing all students for both college and careers.  One mother, participating in her son’s person-centered planning, began weeping. When she could speak, she said, “This is the first time anyone ever asked me about what my son wanted to do after high school. It makes me feel, finally, that we’re included.”

Morris-Union Jointure Commission, Developmental Learning Center-New Providence
Salt Brook Buddies

Contact: Denise Smallacomb, Assistant Superintendent, Morris-Union Jointure Commission, Developmental Learning Center-New Providence

The Salt Brook Buddies program is a collaborative social skills program between two schools, the Developmental Learning Center (DLC) and Salt Brook Elementary School in New Providence. Teachers and administrators from both schools work together in planning. The program started with students from both sites being pen pals. Each year, additional activities and events have been added. Interactions among students and their level of comfort with one another continued to grow with each event. During 2020, the program grew to include DLC students attending monthly lunch and recess at Salt Brook Elementary School, providing students with a typical cafeteria and recess experience including learning how to appropriately play on the playground equipment, interact with peers, respond to the recess bell, navigate playground etiquette, and follow  directions. The program is about fostering positive relationships and accepting differences among peers. It puts social-emotional learning skills into real life practice.

The uniqueness of the program lies in the detailed level of implementation, and number of activities providing students with disabilities opportunities to interact and form friendships with typical developing peers.

Vineland School District, Vineland High School
Beautifying Batsto: A Community Partnership

Contact: Therese Godlewski, Director of Special Services, Vineland School District

A 2016 field trip to Batsto Village, a nationally recognized historic site located in Wharton State Forest in southern New Jersey, and a conversation with Alicia Bjornson, park historian, was the beginning of a multi-year partnership between the state park and the students from the Vineland High School Life Skills Transition Program. This program serves the 18- to 21-year-old students who have returned to Vineland High School for further vocational training and real-world work experiences per their Individualized Education Program. During a field trip with students, David Orlandini, a special education teacher at Vineland High School, started a conversation with Ms. Bjornson regarding the need and desire for students to assist in the landscaping and beautification endeavors at Batsto Village. As a result, the students in the Life Skills program visit the park four times a year as a culmination of a skill that was learned or a project being done within the classroom setting. There are many goals and outcomes to this community-based instruction or internship opportunity. Aside from the obvious, such as giving students the hands-on opportunity to cultivate plants in a controlled setting of the classroom, the program introduces the history of Batsto and the vegetation (specifically herbs) of what would have been found during the 1700s and 1800s.  The students also are able to transplant the classroom-grown herbs into the landscape of the Village allowing for not only a vocational experience but also a recreational experience, as many students have started their own home gardens. Since this program has become a highlight of the Life Skills Transition program, the concept has expanded and the class is now working with other area facilities such as the New Jersey Veterans Home in Vineland, and The United Methodist Home in Pitman, on collaborative efforts for facility beautification. This continued partnership with Batsto, as well as the additional sites, shows the effectiveness and validity of the program. The true measure of success comes in the pride the students experience for their work.

Westwood Regional School District, Westfield Junior & Senior High Schools
T.E.A.M. Therapeutic Day School (Targeting Emotional Aptitude Mindfully)

Contact: Ray Renshaw, Director of Special Services, Westwood Regional School District

The T.E.A.M. (Targeting Emotional Aptitude Mindfully) program takes a team approach to effectively educate students with significant mental health challenges as it places an emphasis on educating the “whole” child. The program uses a therapeutic approach to address the individual needs of each student by appropriately supporting students to meet their academic goals, and help them reach their full potential to become successful members within society. This program has been extremely effective as evidenced by each student’s significant improvements in attendance, work completion and report card grades, and a reduction in anxiety. In addition to the students’ academic and emotional successes, this program has also reduced costs in the areas of legal fees and transportation. In summary, all students within this program are coming to school regularly, completing their assigned tasks, and learning coping strategies to use when they are feeling anxious. There are a variety of unique and innovative features that make this program special and successful. The program is remarkable for the number of programs offered, the extensive amount of measurable data collected, and a tri-annual  assessment score that highlights the increase in student achievement and attendance, and the decrease in reported levels of anxiety and district expenses.

Two other districts received honorable mention for their programs. They are:

2021 Innovations in Special Education Award Honorable Mention

East Hanover Township Board of Education
iCan IEP

Contact: Alexis Piombino, Director of Special Services, East Hanover Township Board of Education

High Bridge School District, High Bridge Middle School
Unified Club

Contact: Gregory Hobaugh, High Bridge School District

In addition to the Facebook Live event, recognized programs will receive plaques and an Innovations Award Winner or Honorable Mention emblem to post on their district or school website.