Innovations in Special Education Award

Congratulations Ms. Simpson for your program winning this year’s ASAH and NJSBA Innovations in Special Education Award!

Benway School’s Transitions Program has partnered with William Paterson University’s “Pathway to Professional Careers” placing transitioning students 18-21 years old in a college setting in order to acquaint them with a new environment much larger than that of their high school. The WPUNJ Transitions Program provides each sending district the ability to implement each student’s  IEP transition goals.

The WPUNJ also has a Share Time Program: Professional Certification Dual Enrollment High School Credit Program that offers dual enrollment for students in 11th and 12th grades. This program assists students by providing marketable professional certifications, job exploration, time management, healthy relationship management, public speaking skills, and goal setting.  

The wide variety of course offerings, collegiate setting, and the economically advantageous aspect of this program motivates students to participate in self discovery as they set a solid foundation for their future.  Benway provides this program to their students at no additional cost to the district, is free for the student and reaches over 150 districts within their geographical region. Therefore, students receive college level instruction, transportation to and from the college, and additional transitional services at the same cost of their undergraduate program. This cost effective approach allows Benway to expand its reach to students in Northern New Jersey who do not have access to such high quality instruction and support.  

When Transition Planning, it is important to offer a broad variety of career exploration opportunities that cater to each student’s strengths and interests. Without explicit instruction on self-determination, executive functioning, and social emotional skills – in combination with the exploratory aspect – students tend to end their services which puts them at risk of not continuing their studies or reaching their goals due to lagging skills not being addressed. This program addresses all of these concerns by  boasting  explicit systematic instruction in both areas by providing professional certificates and training in addition to the aforementioned skills. The curriculum within the pre-college program addresses self led Transitional Presentations, resume building, job coaching, Selective Learning Experiences, Community Based Instruction, Universal Design, and self advocacy skills with the support of WPU staff for IEP meetings. 

We have been measuring the program effectiveness by comparing how many students complete the certification process and subsequently work within their chosen field.  While the ASAH Outcome Study might have ended, we continue to use the same format to calculate effectiveness over time.  Each year the reach and success grows with more and more students being accepted into the program after watching their senior peers succeed. 

The original program idea was piloted in 2018 with a select few students by our LDTC and Transitions Coordinator collaborating with the college.  As a result we had 1 student from the group obtain an EKG, Phlebotomy, and Home Health Aide Certification with the others continuing their studies to the next year.  This program has proven to be flexible as the students explore their interests and develop their awareness they are able to adjust their outcomes to their individual needs. Additionally, during the pandemic students were still provided instruction virtually.

The years that followed we placed  between 5 and 10 students each year into various aspects of the program. Two students were provided a free immersive week at the college with a grant awarded afterward to attend the college for a CDA certificate.  The rest of the students chose the Phlebotomy Certifications, SORA Certification, Graphic Design  and Adobe Certifications.  There are additional students in the program who are still working towards their certifications and should finish in the coming months. 

Students who participate in the shared time program return to Benway in the afternoon to receive supplemental Transitional Services tailored to their specific needs. These services include therapeutic counseling, SEL programming to aid in problem solving, investigation of outside services like DVRS and assistance with connecting to these services.  

Our LDTC and Transitions Coordinator, Joli Simpson, has been collaborating with the college over the past 5 years in a number of programs and committees dedicated to empowering pre college students and providing them with the innovative tools they need to be successful. Her reach in helping to develop programs does not only benefit the students of Benway, but of hundreds of special education students who attend William Paterson University’s pre and post graduate programs.   In addition, Joli has worked with the university to provide best practices so that student teachers can leave with the most impactful knowledge about working with students with disabilities with an emphasis on acceptance and use of diversification.  

Benway offers students in their geographical reach which is over 150 districts the same opportunity to send their students to this program at no additional cost to the district and most importantly is free for the student.