RANDOLPH, NJ – When the township council announced they would purchase 565 Millbrook Ave for the school district, many parents and residents questioned the purpose or need for this property. Since then, the district worked out a payment plan with the township, and at Tuesday’s board of education meeting, they announced the planned purpose for the property.
Currently, the Special Service department has a model apartment located inside Randolph High School where they work with students in grades 9-12, as well the 18-21 year old transition students, to teach various life skills -- safely using a stove, washing and drying their clothes, ironing, meal prep, budgeting and much more.
Superintendent Jennifer Fano explained that the township will purchase this new property, and the board has committed to lease from the township, with the intent of purchase to expand this transition program. The home would be ADA compliant and will continue the program for 18-21 year olds.
“I remember I walked into Ironia 11 years ago, and Jillian [a student with Down Syndrome] was a student at Ironia Elementary School. I watched Jillian graduate on the high school field, along with some of her peers, and I thought, it’s great that she has this opportunity to come to this classroom,” Fano shared, “but then I thought about it, and she still has to come back to school even after she technically graduated. She finished her course work, but she still has some program left to finish.”
“If we had this opportunity, we could create a more authentic experience for not only Jillian, but for all of our students in the 18-21 program. There is not a program in Morris County that exists like this one will, and the expansion of it will not only create limitless opportunities for our students, but I think it sets an example for what we stand for as a school district, and it is all about the students,” Fano concluded.
“The high school can be an overwhelming place, we’re so excited at the opportunity to go across the driveway, to a smaller space decreased staff support, because the building is significantly smaller, and we can do so much more,” said Transition Services Coordinator, Brianne McBreen.
“[The students are] already talking about outdoor work and hosting barbecues, and all the different things that we can do that we can’t do in here,” she added. “But what we have here is better than what anyone else has, so it’s incredible that our high school students have this, and they can across the parking lot and have that.”
The Special Services staff continued with an update on the transition program and how it has changed over the years.
“Prior to 2004 we did have teachers who were certainly supporting students and had transition at the forefront in the classroom setting, and in 2004 we were able to implement that in the classroom with co-teaching for the students,” said Supervisor of Special Services, Evy Falcon-Duran. “When we were writing that curriculum, we thought how are we going to raise awareness and provide social opportunities for our students at that time, now the mission is totally differently.”
They started by giving access to the supply room for teachers and students to take inventory and begin involvement in the community that way. Soon, they went out into the township and students were able to visit work sites and express their interest in different types of work. By working with other districts and networks, Special Services began to notice more of their students’ needs.
“We also participated in the Morris County partnership, which we still participate in today, except that Randolph is now leading the way and paving new opportunities within the county,” Falcon-Duran commented.
Richard Eva, a special needs teacher in the transition program, explained how students learn to meal plan, budget and shop at Shop-Rite. Students use NJTransit.com to plan transportation and budget for field trips.
“One of our proudest moments this year was when we went to Morristown, and we can say we got one of our students to be a registered voter,” Eva said, “and that was a proud moment for our transition staff.”
Currently, the transition program works with students on career exploration and self-advocacy. The staff interviews the students and their families to guide students with what they want to do with their lives and employment. Through mock interviews, resume work and college campus visits, the transition team prepares students for the future.
“We have many wonderful businesses in the township which employees our students,” Eva explained. “If these internships are appropriate, they may lead to paid employment.”
McBreen also spoke to her work with these businesses and shared student testimonials.
“I pretty much cold call these business, I show up at their doorstep, and I tell them it’s a mistake for them not to let me in, because it doesn’t get any better,” she said. “We’re successful because we keep our students within our community.”
McBreen has placed students at JT’s Confections, Fuddrucker’s and La Strada depending on the individual needs of each student. Through working in the RAMshop at Randolph High School, students learn to count money and restock shelves, eliminating the need for specific Shop-Rite training.
Each year the team reviews where there might be gaps in education, “and we recognized recreation as a gap, so we took on the Unified Sports program,” McBreen explained. “We were formally recognized by the Special Olympics as the best unified school in New Jersey.”
“Acceptance, Awareness, Assimilation: that’s our ultimate goal,” McBreen concluded. “If I ever listened to people that doubted the ability of our students, they would never get to where they need to be.”