Jason King was just five years old when he started at Hawkswood School, so when his school district case manager suggested to his mother, Debra King, that she look at the public high school for Jason to attend high school, she was understandably nervous. But with support from Hawkswood and some careful planning on the part of leaders at his school district, Jason is now a freshman at Freehold Township High School, where he is thriving. According to his mother, Jason now has a full schedule and switches classes, just like other high school students. He takes part in afterschool programs, school dances, and other activities.
Jennifer Dellett, Supervisor of Special Education at Freehold Township High School said the process started more than nine months before the start of the 2017-18 school year when Jason’s parents were invited to see the public school program.
“Hawkswood leadership worked with our CST and was very forthcoming with the information we needed to help make sure it was a proper fit, ensuring we knew the student and his needs.” – Jennifer Dellett, Supervisor of Special Education, Freehold Township High School
At the same time, the lead teacher and the child study team went to Hawkswood to see Jason and to gain more insight as to his needs. Jason started attending the public high school in July of 2017. By starting the program during ESY, Jason got to meet his peers in a summer environment, and with shorter days to help ease the transition.
Ms. Dellett describes the transition as a team effort. “Hawkswood leadership worked with our CST and was very forthcoming with the information we needed to help make sure it was a proper fit, ensuring we knew the student and his needs.”
While Jason uses a communication device, Mrs. King credits the educators at Hawkswood School as giving her son a “voice.” “What Hawkswood gave him was the education he needed to learn to use words; when he started there, he did not talk. It took years, but now he uses full sentences,” she said. “They got him ready for public school.” As part of planning the transition, staff in Jason’s classroom at the public school were fully trained in how to use devices to support Jason.
Ms. Dellett underscores the vital importance of strong relationships and good communication as having helped to make Jason’s transition back to the local public school successful.
When considering a transition to an in-district program, Ms. Dellett advises families to start the planning process very early, find the right fit in the district, and then to work closely with their CST and the out-of-district school so they can set up the supports.
Mrs. King says that since starting at the public school, Jason has shown a willingness to try new things. “He never used to eat in the cafeteria – I used to have to make his lunch every day – but now he eats the school lunch every day like all the other kids.”
She admits that it is hard to leave the safety net of Hawkswood, “They really feel like family to us, but I knew I had to let Jason give it a try. And he was ready.”