The Burlington County Special Services School District’s (BCSSSD) Transitions program, which relies heavily on hands-on experiences provided on-campus, shifted to a remote platform during the pandemic. The temporary change was a success for the 18- to 21-year old young adults in the special education program.

Participants were encouraged to participate virtually with the class whenever possible to practice job and life skills, physical fitness, and social-emotional learning. But the pandemic gave families a chance to modify activities in the home, which let them see their child’s abilities first hand.

“When one parent could not get her son to do some of his physical therapy (PT) stretching and balance exercises, she discussed alternatives with his team and ended up combining his PT with tasks practiced through his Transitions curriculum,” said Christine Jenter, a district spokesperson. “He began reaching and standing on his toes to stock shelves high up in his kitchen, and he consistently worked on balance and coordination in the daily tasks he performed in his home.”

One family created fake gift cards so the student could sort them, while another family gathered CDs and DVDs so their student could practice cleaning and sorting them, resembling a library task.

“The consistency of the weekly schedule established by each teacher helped students settle into a new routine and realize new expectations. Some parents even remarked that their student was demonstrating new levels of independence and responsibility as a result of having more authority over managing his or her day,” Jenter said.

“There were many young adults who had skills that the school staff was aware of, but their families could not believe the young adult had, and vice versa,” she says.

Shifting the Curriculum The campus offers a variety of work-based learning resources including hands-on experiences provided by local businesses. When the school closed in March, the program serving 107 special education young adults from more than 40 sending districts was forced to adapt to remote learning.

The staff and parents sprang into action to discuss individual needs. Teachers compiled personalized worksheets, internet-based activities and pre-vocational skills kits to accommodate the students’ technology access, abilities, at-home support system, and Individualized Education Program (IEP) goals.

Staff monitored academics using tools such as Brainpop, Khan Academy and Google Classroom. They used photos and video conference to observe students, while increasing communication with parents and caregivers to make adjustments as needed. A website devoted to remote learning cultivated more frequent dialog, and was recognized by the N.J. School Public Relations Association.

Mental, Physical Wellness a Focus “Mental health concerns became a factor for our young adults, as well for some of our families. Maintaining regular communication during and beyond school hours allowed us to support our families when needed to provide them guidance on available community resources and to direct services to their homes when needed,” Jenter explained.

Daily exercise including yoga and dance was infused into the curriculum and delivered via video. For those who did better with less screentime, physical activity at home in the form of chores was integrated into the daily curriculum.

Back to School In the fall of 2020, participants were offered the option to stay in the program fully on site or fully remote. After the holidays, Jenter said 55% of families chose to be fully on site, five days per week.

“Overall, our young adults are doing well during both on-site and remote instruction,” Jenter said. Students are excited to be back on campus, she added.

“I am proud to see that our efforts over the past three years after creating a Transitions Campus have come to fruition to provide a robust program that supports workplace skill development, life skills, postsecondary college experiences, and social and emotional support, while providing creative ways to service our students whether in person or all remote during this pandemic,” said Dr. Christopher Nagy, the district’s superintendent.

Transitions Recognized for Pandemic Success The Transitions program was honored in October 2020 with a School Leader Award. This year the awards, which showcase creative initiatives in New Jersey schools, focused on programs that address the challenges of remote learning.

Kristen Fischer is a contributing editor to School Leader magazine.