Some spark learning by tapping into students’ love of animals and pets.

Others use small businesses to help special education students develop “real world” skills in daily living and working. And still others combine musical instruments, and technology, to give youngsters the experience of working in groups.

Ten special education programs from around the state, offered in schools from Salem to Bergen counties, have been recognized this year with the “Innovations in Special Education” awards, presented in May as part of Special Education Week.

The New Jersey School Boards Association and ASAH, an organization which represents private special education schools, began sponsoring Special Education Week in 1985 as a way to recognize special-needs students and educators.

The Innovations awards were presented at an awards luncheon at the Westin Princeton, attended by more than 200 school officials, teachers, parents and students. Special education students from around the state displayed their work, while teachers proudly showed off programs and shared ideas with other educators.

“Teachers always want to collaborate and make things better for our students. The ability to meet other people in the field is fantastic,” said Jessica Sears, a teacher at the Daretown School, in the Salem County Special Services School District, whose Project R.E.A.C.H. received an Innovations award.

Project R.E.A.C.H. teaches students about responsible pet ownership, as well as research, work and other skills, by partnering them with a local no-kill animal shelter where they work alongside volunteers.

Music teacher Steve Palmieri also attended the awards luncheon with his students, who performed as a bell choir using a system he devised that cues each student musician to play by displaying a picture of each on a laptop. The program, “Innovations Rings at ECLC of New Jersey – Ho-Ho-Kus Campus,” also received an Innovations Award.

The students, all dressed in black and white, beamed as they performed to a great round of applause.

“I’m very proud of them and they’re very proud to be here,” Palmieri said.

Dr. Lawrence S. Feinsod, executive director of the NJSBA; Dr. Dorothy K. Van Horn, president of ASAH; and Assemblywoman Mila Jasey all spoke at the event. Also in attendance were NJSBA President Don Webster and Past-President John Bulina; 2015 New Jersey Teacher of the Year Mark Mautone (who teaches autistic students in Hoboken); and numerous other school officials.

The programs that received Innovations in Special Education Awards for 2015 are as follows:

  • Daretown School, Salem County Special Services School District – Project R.E.A.C.H. (Research, Educate, Act, Create, Help)
  • Grice Middle School, Hamilton Township School District – Colorful Transformations, Fusing Glass and Education
  • Hainesport Township School District – Hainesport Interactive Program (HIP)
  • Holland Township School – Life Skills Program
  • Marlboro High School, Freehold Regional High School District – Regional Assistance Program (RAP)
  • Paramus Public Schools – LEAP
  • Rancocas Valley Regional High School – Functional Life Skills Integrated Program (FLIP)
  • ECLC of New Jersey – Ho-Ho-Kus Campus – Innovation Rings at ECLC of New Jersey – Ho-Ho-Kus campus
  • The Calais School – Gifted & Talented “Twice Exceptional” Program
  • The Children’s Institute High School – TCI Film School Production

Daretown School, Salem County Special Services School District – Project R.E.A.C.H.

The purpose of Project R.E.A.C.H., (Research, Educate, Act, Create, Help), is to assist students in developing confidence in their own abilities to serve as a positive force in their communities and to promote pro-social interactions with humans and animals alike. Special needs students learn about responsible pet ownership, ways to help animals in the community, and the importance of standing up against animal cruelty. Students work in partnership with the local no-kill animal shelter to assist the volunteers who keep the donation-based establishment up and running. Examples of student assistance include: Completing research projects about their favorite animals; participating in pet adoption activities; visiting and interacting with adoptable pups; spearheading successful donation drives; creating banners for Salem County Humane Society fundraisers; and using social media to advertise and network for animals in need. By learning through real-world applications, students are empowered to become engaged members of society, and to contribute to their community in productive, meaningful ways.

For more information, contact Jessica Sears, secondary English/language arts literacy/special education teacher, [email protected]

Grice Middle School, Hamilton Township School District (Mercer) – Colorful Transformations: Fusing Glass and Education

Glass fusing is the art of melting layers of glass by placing them in a kiln and heating them until the glass is fused.

Students begin the program by reading an information text and completing a written assessment to show comprehension. They learn the tools of the trade and safety rules. Working in teams, with each other and supervising adults, students begin cutting glass and, while doing so, learn about the properties of glass such as efficiency of expansion. They also learn the process of creating aesthetically pleasing design, which includes learning measurements to fit glass pieces together. Students make necklaces, earrings, bookmarks and bracelets, and sell them at a sale day, three to four times a year. Five to 10 percent of proceeds from “sale day” are donated to a worthy cause. Fusing glass is a powerful, creative experience that increases self-esteem. Colorful Transformations teaches students to transform glass and in the process, they transform themselves.

For more information, contact Kimberley DiMezza, teacher, [email protected]

Hainesport Township School District – Hainesport Interactive Program (H.I.P.)

The goal of H.I.P. is to address socialization as an essential life skill for both special education and general education students. H.I.P. employs the concept of reverse inclusion for typically developing students in seventh and eighth grade, and 11-14 year old students in the multiple disabilities class. General education students are invited into the multiple disabilities classroom. This allows a social time for all students and facilitates interactions with special education students in their academic setting. During these interactions, the students with multiple disabilities educate their general education peers on life skills that the general education students might not have developed at this time. This program also provides identified special-needs students with the appropriate language, social and play models of same-age peers, and provides all students the opportunity to forge friendships. All students involved benefit from a greater understanding of human diversity. Students are afforded the opportunity to effectively socialize with peers that they might not ordinarily interact with, which will then help them facilitate new, positive social interactions as they transition to other school environments.

For more information, contact Christopher Giannotti, assistant principal of special services, [email protected]

Holland Township School, Holland Township School District – Life Skills Program

The Holland Township School’s Life Skills Program includes four components: A kids café, a school store, a recycling student team, and “the buddy bench.” In the kids café, students learn how to cook simple, nutritional recipes which encourages independence and allows them to become more self-sufficient. Students learn how to run a business from filling food orders to packaging and delivery of the goods.

The recycling team collects recyclable products from elementary and middle school classrooms. The experience teaches them a work ethic, how to engage in social situations with the teachers, and it makes them aware of how to protect our environment.

In the school store, students sell school supplies and trinkets to elementary and middle school students. The students display the items, provide change when needed, and invite their peers to buy and assist them with their purchases. The goal is to teach them how to run a business, maintain inventory, and manage money.

The Buddy Bench is a place in the school yard where students can sit to let others know they want to talk or play. It encourages students to foster friendships, kindness, and self-esteem.

For more information, contact Sandy Phillips, special education teacher, [email protected]

Marlboro High School, Freehold Regional High School District – Regional Assistance Program (R.A.P.)

Students with emotional challenges enrolled in R.A.P. receive support as they begin their school day to assist with their transition into school. Students receive daily support through a special education teacher and school psychologist/board-certified behavior analyst. The students are provided therapeutic support and skills instruction during first period before starting their academics for the day. At the conclusion of the therapeutic course, students navigate the hallways with the mainstream population and follow their individual schedules as determined by their IEPs. A full continuum of related services is provided based on student needs. The program and student needs are closely monitored and supervised by the supervisor of special education. The ultimate goal of R.A.P. is to assist students in progressing academically, socially, and emotionally so students may successfully transition to post-secondary options such as attending college, vocational programs, other postsecondary training programs, and/or gaining employment.

For additional information, contact Renee Davis, director of special services, [email protected]

Paramus Public School District – L.E.A.P.

Paramus Public School’s Life Skills Education Achievement Program (L.E.A.P.) is innovative in its small business concept units and its aspirations to improve and develop meaningful education experiences for students with multiple abilities. Students in the L.E.A.P. program have created a number of small businesses in order to develop real world, daily-living and job skills. Examples include a “Floral and Favors” business, where students create centerpieces, floral arrangements and favors for events. Students take orders, price items according to a pre-established budget, fill the order and make arrangements for delivery. Mentorship opportunities with local business are available, giving students the chance to apply their learned knowledge.

Another example of a community-based small business involvement is a mentorship with Oradell Animal Hospital, where students help support the hospital by making dog biscuits. Students also bag these treats during the holiday season to sell and donate the profits as a community service project.

The L.E.A.P. program also provides opportunities for students to learn office skills such as clerical/computer skills, filing, creating PowerPoints, designing pamphlets and business cards, and data processing in the school offices.

The goal of L.E.A.P. is to enable students to develop daily living skills that are essential for adult independent living, as well as allow them to meet their full potential as contributing members of society.

For more information, contact Karen Peterson, supervisor of special education, [email protected]

Rancocas Valley Regional High School – Functional Life Skills Integrated program (F.L.I.P.)

F.L.I.P. addresses the various skills frequently demanded in natural domestic, vocational, and community environments, which are essential to the students’ performance and active participation at school, work, home and in the community. Innovative in its approach, F.L.I.P. offers a completely furnished one-bedroom apartment, green house facility, classrooms, and a fully equipped workshop. The program’s pride and joy, however, is the Bru Crew Coffee Shop.

Items from the Bru Crew Coffee Shop can be purchased in-person, ordered by phone, or pre-ordered before the shop opens in the morning. F.L.I.P. students are responsible for counting and tracking inventory, stocking supplies, answering phones, taking orders, preparing coffee, and delivering orders. Bru Crew students build math skills when working the register or counting inventory, communication skills when answering the phone or taking orders in-person, and navigational skills when they deliver orders.

Students create their own advertisements and post interesting facts in the coffee shop. Each month a different student is responsible for writing a “spotlight,” used as a conversation starter, on any topic they choose. The student must research the topic and write facts, which are posted in the shop for all patrons to see.

Senior-year F.L.I.P. students spend half of their day in the classroom, and half of their day working in various on-campus jobs in a simulated work environment. F.L.I.P. also offers a post-graduate structured learning experience off-campus. Students spend half of their day at school taking classes, and during the afternoon they are bussed to local businesses to work.

For more information, contact Christopher Myers, assistant principal, curriculum and instruction, [email protected]

The Calais School – “Twice Exceptional Gifted and Talented Program”

The goal of the Twice Exceptional program is to cultivate the strengths of students by developing programming skills using a professional-grade app design software suite.

The course is designed to teach students the basics in game development. Students are taught basic programming by using simple “if-then” statements. All aspects of the game, including sound effects, background design, level design, and the behavior of obstacles and hazards are programmed by students. The Twice Exceptional Program is an opportunity for special needs students, who often excel at video games and technology while they are challenged socially or emotionally, to learn skills in the competitive and emerging industries such as video games and app design.

For more information, contact Steve Sokolewicz, assistant principal, [email protected]

The Children’s Institute High School – TCI Film School Productions

In 2011 Ernst and Young released a study showing that media and entertainment, including interactive media, will be a growth industry for the foreseeable future. Jobs will be created for those who have the technical ability and visual aptitude to animate, edit and produce visual content. The goal of the TCI Film School Productions program is to give students with autism an opportunity to explore potential career options while empowering them with new technologies to give them a meaningful voice and expand their inclusion in the community. Students learn key elements of film and video production using a hands-on approach to technical and visual training. They learn the three phases of the production process; pre-production, production and post-production. Social skills are infused in the group project work during the whole production process. Graduates of TCI Film School Productions have gone on to the work at the TV production department of Bergen County Community College, have won the Governor’s Arts Excellence award for Film and Video, participated in local film festivals, and had internships at local TV broadcasters and area production companies that service broadcasters including ESPN.

For more information, contact David Di Ianni, teacher of TV broadcasting, [email protected]

ECLC of New Jersey, Ho-Ho-Kus Campus – “Innovation Rings at ECLC of New Jersey”

The ability to stay together in time is difficult in musical performances, but is especially challenging for students with special needs. At ECLC of New Jersey’s Ho-Ho-Kus campus, music/technology teacher Steven Palmieri found an innovative way for students with multiple, severe learning disabilities to play together in a bell choir and experience the joys of making music. He combined old-fashioned hand chimes with computer technology. By creating arrangements for each piece of music using PowerPoint slides with photographs of the students’ faces, the students were prompted to ring their chimes when they saw the slide with their photograph. The result was miraculous. This innovative use of picture supports in music instruction allowed students to enjoy all the benefits of music-making, while teaching them how technology can play a problem-solving role in their lives.

For more information, contact Steven Palmieri, music teacher, [email protected]