Sarah Kim is a junior in the . She was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy at birth, after her mother passed away due to complications of birth.
"My life has been filled with obstacles, but somehow I always overcome them," she said.
Kim pushed past teachers who didn't think she could succeed, past administrators in different districts telling her she needed rehab over academics, straight to high school honors classes and a spot on the National Honors Society. Kim said her inclusion into the general education population wasn't enough, she wanted the challenge of honors. Today, she dreams of a spot at Columbia University in New York.
Kim's story acts as a testament to the special education program in the Freehold Regional High School District, which serves 1,800 students in the program. Administrative professionals and faculty in the district's special education program presented an overview of their work at this week's Board of Education meeting.
The special education program is divided in some area throughout the six schools in the district, acting on the same core standard principals set federally and by the state.
The district acts on the standard of a "least restrictive education," attempting to bring students into the general population as quickly and often as possible. This could mean inclusion into general classrooms with a teacher's aide, to resource room individualized education.
"Our teachers are using functional academics in the curriculum," said Rosalia Minervini, Supervisor of Special Education at .
Each school building has a full child study team, according to Assistant Superintendent Dr. Renee Davis, but some schools have specialized programs to fit individual student populations, such as those on the autism spectrum.
Autism Specialty at Howell High School
houses the district's autism program, where it has a Board Certified Behavior Analyst who provides case management and behavioral support.
The program is looking into new initiative to boost communication skills and reading comprehension, according to Colleen Canto, Supervisor of Special Education at Howell High School.
The district is introducing a research program called Lindamood Bell, which enhances reading comprehension through visual and verbal recognition. The school is also tapping into technology, through an iPad application called "Proloquo 2 Go."
The app lets students verbalize their thoughts, while thinking and visualizing through touch screen animation and sound.
"This would give students the ability to communicate, and reduce frustration" Canto said.
Student Employment Programs
The district special education program is working to build real life social and practical skills within its students, and one way of doing so is through real work experience programs in the schools and community.
The Student Transition Employment Program (STEP) places students into a real working environment in the community, through structured learning experiences for ages 16 to 21.
The program offers eight to ten week-long job experiences, some of which last beyond the school year.
"It's a shift in philosophy from seat time in a structured classroom," Kelly Fitzhenry, Supervisor of Special Education at .
The Workplace Training Program is a full immersion program which includes classroom instruction with community based, supervised internships.
The program works with Centrastate Hospital, which allows students use of the gym once a week, and employment throughout the hospital. The program encourages social integration in a real setting.
The Regional Learning Academy
Last year, the district implemented the Regional Learning Academy, fostering behavioral and learning disabilities and acting as a tool to keep students in district rather than .
The school currently has 18 students, but Carolle Moorfield, Supervisor of Special Education at , said the program will most likely max out at 30 students next year.
The school offers group and individual therapy, as well as family support and personalized learning. Moorfield said she also feels that by keeping students in district, they are able to maintain ties to their communities.
"Some of the students have expressed that it makes them feel like a family," she said.
Next year, the program will be adding Spanish, financial literacy and vocational training classes.