Special needs focus at Lighthouse campus

LYNDHURST —

Having settled in as Lyndhurst superintendent of schools (having swapped places with James Corino, now interim assistant superintendent), Shauna DeMarco is preparing to launch various initiatives for the fall term.

These include expanding the Community School program for preschoolers, upgrading student iPads, testing water in schools for lead content and revisiting the Lighthouse campus program.

This summer, the Community School has been registering 3-year-olds for its pre-K program, supplementing the existing complement of 4-year-olds at Columbus School on Valley Brook Ave.

So far, 17 of the 3-year-olds have been enrolled, according to Columbus School / Community School Principal Robert Giangeruso.

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They’ll participate in a morning session at 601 Riverside Ave. in space formerly occupied by the township Board of Health, Giangeruso said, unless enrollment grows to the point where the program can also accommodate an afternoon class.    

Giangeruso said the program had to find additional space outside Columbus School because the available rooms for the program are already full, with classes for pre-K age 4 plus two classes for pre-K age 4 disabled.

On the lead front, DeMarco and David DiPisa, business administrator/board secretary, have advised parents that, in compliance with state rules, the school board “conducted lead testing district-wide” June 7-9, collecting 52 samples that were tested by McCabe Environmental Services of Lyndhurst.

Of that total, “only one sink, located in the office of the high school athletic director, by the gymnasium, did not pass the lead test,” a July 28 advisory said. “This sink has been placed out of service and follow-up tests are being conducted … to locate the origin of the problem and resolve it accordingly.”

Parents can check out the full report submitted by McCabe by going to www.lyndhurstschools.net and clicking on the high school tab or they can call DiPisa at 201-438-5683, ext. 4728, for more details.

On the school technology agenda, DeMarco said the district has provided students with the latest version of Apple iPads. The devices will be distributed on a one-to-one basis at the high school while a batch of 60 will be shipped to each of the elementary schools, she said.

And then there is the Lighthouse, where Sharon King-Dobson, the district’s special services supervisor, is getting ready to implement a combination “Functional Academics/Life Skills” program for severely intellectually disabled students.

Last week, King-Dobson gave a reporter a tour of the newly revamped space, which is getting some last-minute adjustments. The space was previously used for small group instruction.

“Now we’re bringing it back to its original focus,” she said.

When school opens Sept. 7, the program will begin with pre-assessment tests of students’ skill sets and other preliminary activities allowing the students to orient themselves to their new surroundings, she said.

“By October, we should be in full swing,” she added.

Ten students from grades 6, 7 and 8 — and 16 from high school — will spend part of their day at their home school and the balance at 601 Riverside. School buses will take them back and forth, along with teachers Loretto Morton, Kimberly Hykey and Anthony Latti — and eight instructional aides.

Six of the 26 students are returning to Lyndhurst from prior outside placements in special facilities, thereby saving the district from paying costly tuition and transportation fees and enabling students to feel more secure being closer to home.

These students are exempt from the state-mandated PARCC test, so, instead of trying to master rather abstract concepts like algebra, for example, they will be focusing on the application of essential survival skills, King-Dobson said.

So, for example, she said, students will learn how to do budgeting for everyday expenses, maintaining a bank account and writing checks, figuring out how to read a map or a train or bus schedule.

They’ll be accountable for managing their time, plotting out and executing household tasks such as laundry, ironing, making beds, changing and cleaning sheets and bedspreads, preparing meals to help them “function on an adult level and maintain a certain level of independence.”

To that end, students are put through their paces with the aid of a replica house, or at least one with the key components of a typical dwelling: a model kitchen outfitted with stove, microwave, toaster, refrigerator and partly-stocked cabinets; a dining room; a boy’s bedroom and girl’s bedroom; an office where students can answer phones and print documents; a computer room with eight computer terminals that students can use to research ingredients for making meals or locating transit information; two classrooms, to be used by middle schoolers in the morning and secondary schoolers in the afternoon; and a lounge for social interactions.

To develop employable skills, some of the students will be involved in “Community-Based Instructional Transition,” meaning that they will visit local workplaces and try out preparatory work like folding boxes and sorting utensils.

High schoolers age 16 and older will participate in “Structured Learning” and will work at a job site with a coach.

Both staffers and the community have generously contributed to the program: ShopRite donated $200 worth of cake and pancake mix, pots and containers; the township Board of Health gifted wall paintings from its old offices, Lowe’s provided five house plants for the lounge, staff members came up with a love seat, a large cushion, furniture and paintings for the bedrooms and several puzzle pictures assembled by special needs students were hung in the bedrooms.

“But we still need a dining room table and/or set, dinner wear, cushions, sheets and towels and wall décor,” King-Dobson said.

Anyone wishing to help is invited to call her at 201-438-5683, ext. 4716.

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Ron Leir | Observer Correspondent

Ron Leir has been a newspaperman since the late ’60s, starting his career with The Jersey Journal, having served as a summer reporter during college. He became a full-time scribe in February 1972, working mostly as a general assignment reporter in all areas except sports, including a 3-year stint as an assistant editor for entertainment, features, religion, etc. He retired from the JJ in May 2009 and came to The Observer shortly thereafter. He is also a part-time actor, mostly on stage, having worked most recently with the Kearny-based W.H.A.T. Co. and plays Sunday softball in Central Park, N.Y.