Clifton High School was honored as a recognized program in the 2023 School Leader Awards for its innovative IMPACT Program. The awards honor creative and effective programs in New Jersey schools. 

The IMPACT program provides an individualized educational experience for students with disabilities between the ages of 18 and 21 to develop independent living and employment skills to prepare for adulthood. Located at Clifton High School and serving 16 students, the program focuses on communication, teamwork, networking, critical thinking and other essential skills through hands-on vocational experiences within the community.

The IMPACT program, which is an acronym that stands for Individualized, Multidisciplined Programming to Assist with Collaborative Transition, exposes students to multiple job sites and provides life skills opportunities in and around Clifton High School and the Clifton community.

The program was set for a soft opening in September 2020 but was heavily modified due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Lynn Tuorto and Bill Colligan, who both serve as transition coordinators. Its first formal year of operation was 2021.

Based on eight key pillars – communication, enthusiasm, attitude, teamwork, networking, problem solving, critical thinking and professionalism – the program allows students to practice skills in the classroom as well as via vocational experiences within the city. 

“Before graduation, we make sure that each student has applied for services with organizations, including the Division of Vocational and Rehabilitative Services and the Division of Developmental Disabilities,” Tuorto and Colligan said. “We also provide families with opportunities to gain insight into accessing services, applying for and obtaining guardianship, and supporting a level of independence for their young adult.”

The district also hosts its Planning for Adult Life Forum annually, which is held in conjunction with the ARC of New Jersey and provides families with a chance to gain essential information with the support of district support coordinators. As the program continues to mature, the district anticipates community college and trade school being viable options for students.

“The goal of the program is to set our students up with employment and daily living skills for life beyond high school,” according to the district’s application letter. 

The program recently got a boost by moving to a new location that provides state-of-the-art accommodations for students to get more hands-on daily living skills. Everything in the room is ADA compliant, and many of the supplies the school needed to enhance the program were donated by local businesses.

Clifton is working to provide more social options for students to create friendships, including trying to connect them with students in other 18-21-year-old programs, so they can enhance interpersonal communication skills.

In addition, the students participate in the school’s Project UNIFY Club, which brings young adults with and without intellectual disabilities together to participate in events. Recent activities have included giving students the opportunity to collaborate with neurotypical peers on the schoolwide talent show and lacrosse training from lacrosse team students. 

Students train with employers such as Clifton Hardware, Clifton Memorial Library, Montclair State University Arena, Ethan and the Bean, Pinot’s Palette, Pomptonian Food Service, Allwood Library, Stop and Shop, Sports Domain Academy, The Barrow House, Clifton Board of Education Schools and Properties and Clifton City Hall. Students are evaluated through individualized portfolios.

“We have a close relationship with the Passaic County Workforce Development Center and Pomptonian Food Service,” Tuorto and Colligan said. “Through this relationship, we have had several students hired in a variety of roles in the food service industry. Being that the IMPACT Program is still in its early years, we expect that employment opportunities for its students will continue to grow and diversify. Some sites, like Sports Domain Academy in Clifton, have hired students to assist with practices and parties within their facility.”

Along with the transition coordinators, collaboration occurs with the high school supervisors, such as special education and content specialists. Child Study Teams work closely with students to ensure that they are receiving services that will enable them to function in the community in the future. 

“We are thrilled that the NJSBA has recognized the hard work of our students, teachers, and staff in developing the IMPACT Program,” said Dr. Danny A. Robertozzi, district superintendent. “This program has empowered our students to make a real difference in our community through service-learning projects. We congratulate everyone involved for this distinguished honor.”

Thomas A. Parmalee is NJSBA’s manager of communications and publications.