In one program, at Point Pleasant Borough High School, advanced software engineering students work with their special education peers to develop apps to meet their needs. In the process of developing things such as a school map tool and a supermarket shopping simulator, the two groups become friends.

In another program, at Irvington High School, special needs students learn workplace readiness skills. Through a website, a class, and by shadowing workers in industry, they learn what they need to succeed after high school.

Ten special education programs from schools across New Jersey were recognized during the 16th annual Innovations in Special Education Awards, presented during the state’s annual Celebration of Special Education in May.

Using music, technology, books, and other teaching tools, in grades from preschool to high school, the programs were selected for making a difference for children with special education.

“The ten programs being honored today represent the high quality of special education programming in our state,” said New Jersey School Boards Association president Don Webster Jr., who presented awards during the celebration held at the Princeton Marriott at Forrestal.

More than 150 students, teachers, parents, school board members and others were on hand for the awards ceremony and luncheon, which was organized by the NJSBA and ASAH, a non-profit that represents private special education schools.

Educators and students, who proudly displayed their programs, said being recognized was an honor. And along with collecting their accolades, many took the opportunity to network and share ideas during the celebration.

“It’s almost like a think tank,” said Denise Scairpon, of the Washington Township School District, in Morris County, whose school was honored for a program using reading, combining fifth-graders and preschoolers. “I got some ideas I want to try, moving forward, just by coming here.”

The winning programs were among 48 nominated for the awards.

The programs selected as Innovation Award winners for 2016 are:

Chapel Hill Academy – Lincoln Park

Arts For the 21st Century

At the Chapel Hill Academy, students use music to explore their creativity, help develop their skills in advanced mathematical concepts, and overcome various stressors. Working with the music director, students write their own songs, organize musical arrangements, record and edit their music. In conjunction with the school graphics design staff, students also design CD covers and artwork for their song lists.

The comprehensive program strives to be on the cutting edge of creative and technological advances, to prepare students to achieve and maintain the skills needed to become professionals in the 21st century. For more information contact Diane Somers, school director, at [email protected].

West Orange High School – West Orange

Adaptive iSTEM

This program at West Orange High School gives students with intellectual disabilities a comprehensive understanding of technology and engineering in a least-restrictive environment. The program was adapted from the general education curriculum, with modifications to pace, complexity and assessment, as determined by students’ needs and IEP goals and objectives.

Within the iSTEM classroom setting, students are introduced to technology and engineering skills, with a focus on critical thinking and problem solving. Specific topics studied include photography, electricity, structural design and roller coaster physics. Students learn to work in cooperative groups, developing social skills that are critical for future success. The program was featured recently on the NJEA television show, “Classroom Close-Up.” For more information, contact Debra Coen, technology and education teacher, at [email protected].

Benedict A. Cucinella School – Washington Township, Morris County

Fluency, Focus and Solving Story Clues

This program began with a smaller and simple idea: reading stories. Fifth graders who are classified as learning disabled, at this school, have always read to preschool students, to enhance their fluency. This program took the idea a step further, creating a Reader’s Theater, where fifth-graders in the resource program in the Washington Township School District read to classified students in the district’s Preschool Disabled Program.

The fifth-grade students each work for about two weeks to prepare their piece, working on their lines and using expressive language to convey the feelings and mood of their character. They also create clues, to allow the preschoolers to guess what the “play” will be.

Both preschoolers and fifth graders benefit from this program. For more information, contact Stacy Davies, special education teacher, at [email protected].

Carteret Middle School – Carteret


The goal of CFS@CMS – Carteret Friendship Skills at Carteret Middle School – is to develop socialization skills. Students in the middle school language learning disability (LLD) class, and general education students, invite each other to their classes. The students work in small groups, perhaps four general education students to one LLD student, on projects such as Halloween safety tips, or “What I Am Thankful For” at Thanksgiving. General education students help their special education peers learn public speaking and presentation skills, and both groups forge friendships and benefit from greater understanding of diversity. The program began with a small handful of students, and has grown as more and more students want to join in. For more information, contact Susan Cherney, supervisor of special and related services, at [email protected].

P.G. Chambers School – Cedar Knolls

The ATEAM Approach: Assistive Technology-Linking Education, Access and Movement

An increasing amount of research documents a strong connection between movement, body position and learning in early childhood education. In this program, educators at P.G. Chambers School conducted a small study to determine the effects of body position on learning.

Over an eight-week period, multiply-disabled students took part in lessons while seated, standing and lying on the floor. Staff members recorded observations, and the results were significant: Students were better able to pay attention and participate in lessons in certain positions. Increases in attentiveness, and in motivation to learn, were reported. As a result, recommendations were developed for the optimal positions for learning, for the students. Annual re-assessments will be used to demonstrate student progress. For more information, contact, Andrea Quigley, director of development, at [email protected].

Point Pleasant Borough High School – Point Pleasant

Panther Assisted Learning Software (PALS)

This program brings together multiply-disabled high school and transition students, with students in Point Pleasant Borough’s Advanced Software Engineering Topics class, to develop applications with assistive technologies that meet the disabled students’ varied educational needs.

Students in the software engineering classes work in professional project management teams to design and develop the applications. The true magic happens, though, when the engineering students meet and work with the transition class. Over several weeks, the two groups get to know one another, and the programmers understand the transition students’ needs. Applications that have been developed through PALS include a money-changing application; as well as PALS Find, a navigational tool that helps students find their way through the high school; and a supermarket shopping simulator. For more information, contact Rita Miller, supervisor of pupil personal services, at  [email protected].

The Matheny School – Peapack, NJ

Peace of Mind Preschool Program

It is challenging for medically-fragile children to take part in activities and therapies in school due to their unique limitations. This program addresses that problem by embedding a registered nurse full-time in the preschool program.

Having an RN as part of the classroom staff, who is also focused on helping with educational activities, allows children’s medical needs to be met, while providing an optimal learning environment. Parents are able to collaborate with the classroom nurse regarding their children’s changing medical needs. The community is able to volunteer in the classroom, and support the program and children. Staffing the program with an RN provides the children an unequaled level of safety and quality early childhood education. For more information, contact James Hintenach, supervisor of instruction, at [email protected].

Irvington High School – Irvington

Career Advancement and Transition

This program prepares students for post-secondary experiences by developing communication and work-readiness skills needed to be an independent and productive adult. Students use a free website,, to create an online portfolio of interests, career research and resumes, that they will have access to through high school and beyond. Through a full-year elective course, they learn the importance of self-advocacy, and gain work habits, attitudes and cognitive skills. They also develop and explore career opportunities by shadowing workers in industry, and by staffing the school store. For more information, contact Patricia Dowd, director of special servicees, at [email protected].

Dumont High School, Dumont

Mental Health Awareness Wellness Program

Depression, suicide, drug and alcohol awareness, careers in mental health, guided meditation and mindfulness, and “finding one’s Zen” were all among the topics covered by the Mental Health Awareness Program. An annual program, held in the high school and offered to all Dumont High School students, the program involved various activities, designed to provide outreach on mental health topics. Student organizations created artwork for each of the displays, and Google Doc surveys were provided to all student participants. Results of that survey were used to help develop further training and workshops for students. For further information, contact Dr. Paul F. Barbato, director of special services, at [email protected].

The Bridge Academy – Lawrenceville

Social House Program

This program was created to develop students’ transition and social skills, by helping others through community service. The program divides the entire student body into six “social houses,” which allow for student leadership, teamwork and communication skills. The social houses take part in community service programs such as collecting items and packing Thanksgiving food baskets; making scarves for a winter clothing drive; sending cards, letters and donated items to troops overseas; supplying sporting and music materials to a special education school impacted by Hurricane Irene; creating natural birdfeeders; and more. For further information, contact Susan Morris, principal, at [email protected].